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  Road to the Middle Class
Wednesday July 23, 2014 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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The Middle Class Without The Welfare State

In place of the old liberal hegemony, with its groups and group antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.

If the poor can thrive, as we have seen, without the supervision and the resources of the welfare state, why not the middle class?  Indeed, it is the middle class that bears the moral responsibility for the entitlement state and its promises that cannot be kept, debt that cannot be paid, and a course that cannot continue.  We middle-class people rather like the well-worn paths of the welfare state; it saves us the bother of making our own way.  All we need to do is keep up a good report card and we can fall into the middle-class entitlements when our turn comes.  Social Security?  Better than relying on the stock market.  Medicare?  Better than the bother of making decisions about your own health care.  Education?  Who has time, with today’s two-income families, to volunteer at the neighborhood school?

Modern middle-class Americans might be excused for thinking that life is just school writ large, for our highly organized childhoods teach us exactly that.  We all troop off to school, to the government’s child-custodial facility, from Kindergarten to 12th Grade, boys and girls, to prepare for the working world.  Should we?  There’s a telling commentary on all this that we learned from the slave drivers and the manufacturers of the early industrial revolution in an earlier chapter.  They found it difficult to break post-pubertal males to “industrial discipline.”  Is that what modern schooling is all about? Boys have never done well at sitting still, and have always gone unwillingly to school.  Modern schooling does seem to require remarkable obedience and conformity from the children; maybe the economy couldn’t work unless we are all broken to the culture of conformity suited to work in the post-industrial work-place.  Or maybe humans in general are more than bums on seats graduating from classroom to classroom in the child custodial facility of life.

If the welfare state is bad for the poor, by teaching them dependency and the low cunning needed to pass through the benefit stations of the via dependencia, it must be even worse for the middle class.  At least the poor learn something on the street about how to outwit the Man.  The middle class can easily become deracinated, losing the basic culture of the middle class that has obtained since the Axial Age religions first invented the idea of the “responsible self.”  The temptation for the poor is to sink to a culture of low cunning; the temptation for the middle class is to live life as an inmate in an institution, starting at school, the government child-custodial facility, continuing on a “career” working in big bureaucracies for the system, and then ending in a senior planned community — really, a luxury barracks — in man-made Florida or Arizona.

If welfare dependency for the poor is a kind of addictive drug, the middle-class life in the welfare state is a form of social sterilization, and the living proof is the remarkable lack of fecundity in welfare state females.  Simply stated, middle class people work too much and commune too little; we spend too much time as wage slaves at the business park and too little time socializing in the community, living a life in common with our families, our neighbors, and our communities.  It all starts with the standard middle-class welfare-state benefits.

In today’s America the average business-park salaryman does not earn a wage.  He gets take-home pay, the monies left over after he and his employer have paid taxes to pay for the government pension, the government old-age health care, the government unemployment tax, and the government work-place disability premium.  And that is before the employer’s deductions for a 401k pension plan, health insurance, dental insurance, and disability insurance.  All these taxes and deductions amount to forced savings against the common vicissitudes of life, and very worthy they are.  They also amount to forced sterilization, because the salaryman in question does not have beneficial ownership of his forced savings, not yet.  Suppose he wants to buy a house.  Wouldn’t it be a good idea for him to access his savings and thus reduce the necessary mortgage?  Suppose he wants to start a business?  Isn’t that the whole purpose of savings?  Suppose he wants to go back to school?  It would be nice to apply the unemployment insurance part of his forced savings to his school fees and his living expenses.  But he can’t, because the government in its wisdom and the employer in his cunning, have sequestered the salaryman’s savings away — as an insurance against reckless or independent action.  

You can see the government’s interest in all this.  It can take the forced savings and spend it on buying votes until the salaryman needs it decades later.  You can see the employer’s interest.  He would like the worker to work and not spend time on non-work-related activities like financial and health-care planning and management.  He would also like the worker not to bother his silly little head about setting up in business — perhaps in competition with his former employer.

All of which is to say that perhaps, in spite of 200 years of political propaganda,  the yoke of the factory system has fallen hardest on the shoulders, not of the manual worker, but on the middle-class knowledge worker, disciplined, controlled, confined, as perhaps no factory hand in the 19th century or slave on a sugar island had to be.  For let us not forget the words of the slave drivers and the factory bosses, that post-pubertal males could not be made to submit to the gang system or to factory discipline.  We need our government school system to create the submissive personality suited for work as human cogs in large bureaucratic systems.

In this book, a manifesto for modern conservatism, we have appealed more than normal to writers from the left.  We have done this following the injunction of F.S.C. Northrop in his Meeting of East and West at the beginning of a chapter on German Idealism.

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature, which defined the foundations of traditional modern French and Anglo-American democratic culture, has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate.1

It is one thing for conservatives to appeal to Edmund Burke and the good old days of Locke and Hume and Montesquieu.  Conservatives are already persuaded by the conservative Enlightenment.  But arguments based on Burke and Co. do nothing to persuade the modern ruling class, which regards the culture and philosophy of the American founders to be “shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate.”  Anyway, they were slave owners!  The modern ruling class rose in the 19th century, as we have seen, as an intellectual movement that replaced the Enlightenment agenda of freedom and limited government with the idea, from various critiques of capitalism, that a strong government was needed to right the wrongs of the industrial system or at least to mitigate its harshness.  But now, as we have seen, new generations of critics have arisen to apply the same critique to big government, both from right and left.  Conservatives are familiar with the critiques from the right.  There was Ludwig von Mises’ Socialism in the 1920s that socialism was impossible because it could not compute prices.  There was F.A. Hayek in the 1940s making the bandwidth argument that the man from Whitehall or Washington could not know more or outperform the millions of producers and consumers.  There were James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock with The Calculus of Consent in the 1960s making the argument that government legislation always tended to exploitation and rent-seeking unless constrained by a rule of unanimous consent.  Peter Berger and John Neuhaus argued in To Empower People for a middle ground of mediating institutions between the megastructures of big business and big government.  Modern conservatives, following Edmund Burke, argue for a social space of civil society between the dominating systems of the modern Bigs.  But the ruling class of educated liberals has rejected the conservative critique, by ignoring its thinkers and by demonizing its reform politicians and their policies.  

The critique of the welfare state has not come exclusively from the right.  As we have seen, the Frankfurt School of neo-Marxists found that both big government and big capitalism tended to be dominating, with Jürgen Habermas contrasting the domination of system with the collaborative space of communicative action.  Left-wing radicals like Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their radical Empire trilogy argued for a multitude of “singularities” living a “life in common” of creative production and “affect” that was now replacing the masses of working-class factory workers doing standardized and routine work.  James C. Scott has illuminated modern government as an effort to make individuals “legible” to government, and thereby taxable and controllable.  It is one thing for our ruling class to ignore the attack on the welfare state from the right; it is another thing to ignore the critique of the welfare state developed by left-wing writers.

This critique attempts to transcend the arguments of both left and right.  In the analysis of modern government in Chapter Two and modern business in Chapter Three we have attempted to expose the original sin of both modern government and modern business.  Both are seduced, more than they can bear to admit, by the sirens of system, of force, and domination.  The fact is that modern government is founded upon the successful effort of the absolute monarchs to penetrate the mediating structures of the early modern period, the guilds and confraternities, in order to make their subjects individually legible, taxable, and controllable.  Nothing much has changed since then on the governance front, except for the worse.  The fact is that modern business is founded upon the successful effort of slave drivers and factory owners to bend humans to the gang system and so-called “industrial discipline.”  Admittedly there has been a change in the last two centuries: the slave driver cowskin whip has been confiscated, although it made a surprise farewell tour in the 20th century in the lands of communism and fascism, and survives in the miserable hell-holes of the thug dictators.  The power of the factory boss has been softened.  But not by much, and often not for any noble reason but the practical one that businessmen have discovered that profits are bigger when workers are fat and happy rather than cringing under the infernal speedup of Taylorism.  They have learned, with the German generals, that the best workers are “self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility” and much more productive than the shuffling squads of proletarians in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis.  

Long ago, the 20th century’s great writer Willa Cather posed the problem of the conformist middle class in The Professor’s House.  Professor Godfrey St. Peter was an adventurous soul in his youth.  But then came love for Lillian, and “because there was Lillian, there must be marriage and a salary.”  The only outlet for adventure was to write about it in a chilly attic, in his multi-volume “Spanish Adventurers in North America.”  Then came into his life Tom Outland, an unschooled boy without a high-school diploma looking to enroll at Hamilton College.  Tom, orphaned as a baby, actually had lived life as an adventurer, and in a year’s work cowpunching in New Mexico had discovered a priceless lost cliff city of the pueblo Indians, a fictional equivalent of the ruins in Mesa Verde National Park.  Tom gets into college after four months cramming his mathematics, and later makes a patentable discovery as a physicist that makes them all wealthy.  Except that Tom goes off to Europe with the Father Duchene that had taught him Virgil and dies in World War I. Is Professor St. Peters a mere mass man leading Thoreau’s life of quiet desperation?

Ever since the coming-out of Reason in the French Revolution men have been asking whether it is possible to escape Reason’s domination.  It seems that despite the warning of Horkheimer and Adorno that what men want from nature is to dominate it and other men, the systems that men design so they may dominate nature end up dominating them.  So we have sought liberation in Romanticism, in socialism, in environmentalism. It is provocative that precisely the age in which man has dominated nature woman has emerged from subservience and privacy into the public square.  Is this because Man’s domination of nature has freed women from the yoke of nature’s oppression or is it because it has freed women from the patriarchy’s oppression?  Alternatively it may be that the domination of the disciplinary culture of modern government and modern industry has pressed upon the brow of men none other than the age-old crown of thorns taken suddenly off the collective brow of womanhood.

If we desire emancipation from the culture of compulsion we must also liberate ourselves from the systems that dominate us.  We must, following Habermas, balance the power of system with the discourse ethics of the communicative lifeworld, the German Lebenswelt that translates into the Anglo-Saxon civil society.

 

1F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West, Ox Bow Press,  1979, p. 193.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.americanmanifesto.org.

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The Crisis of the Administrative State
It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Government and the Technology of Power
If you scratch a social reformer, you will likely discover a plan for more government.

Business, Slavery, and Trust
Business is all about trust and relationship.

Humanity's Big Problem: Freebooters and Freeloaders
The modern welfare state encourages freeloaders.

The Bonds of Faith
No society known to anthropology or history lacked religion.

A Critique of Social Mechanics
The problem with human society reduced to system.

The Paradox of Individualism
Is individualism the gospel of selfishness or something else?

From Multitude to Civil Society
The larger the government, the smaller the society.

The Answer is Civil Society
In between the separated powers.

The Greater Separation of Powers
If you want to limit power then you must limit power.

Conservatism Three by Three
Conservatism, political, economics, and cultural.

The Culture of Involvement
Imagining lives without the welfare state

The Poor Without the Welfare State
Can the poor thrive without the welfare state?

The Middle Class Without The Welfare State
How would the middle class live without all those middle-class entitlements?

From Freeloaders to Free Givers
The path to the future lies through moral movements.

The Real Meaning of Society
Broadening the horizon of cooperation in the “last best hope of man on earth.”

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 TAGS


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Civil Society

“Civil Society”—a complex welter of intermediate institutions, including businesses, voluntary associations, educational institutions, clubs, unions, media, charities, and churches—builds, in turn, on the family, the primary instrument by which people are socialized into their culture and given the skills that allow them to live in broader society and through which the values and knowledge of that society are transmitted across the generations.
Francis Fukuyama, Trust


Hugo on Genius

“Tear down theory, poetic systems... No more rules, no more models... Genius conjures up rather than learns... ” —Victor Hugo
César Graña, Bohemian versus Bourgeois


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Postmodernism

A writer who says that there are no truths, or that all truth is ’merely relative’, is asking you not to believe him. So don’t.
Roger Scruton, Modern Philosophy


Faith and Politics

As far as the Catholic Church is concerned, the principal focus of her interventions in the public arena is the protection and promotion of the dignity of the person, and she is thereby consciously drawing particular attention to principles which are not negotiable... [1.] protection of life in all its stages, from the first moment of conception until natural death; [2.] recognition and promotion of the natural structure of the family... [3.] the protection of the right of parents to educate their children.
Pope Benedict XVI, Speech to European Peoples Party, 2006


China and Christianity

At first, we thought [the power of the West] was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity.
David Aikman, Jesus in Beijing


Religion, Property, and Family

But the only religions that have survived are those which support property and the family. Thus the outlook for communism, which is both anti-property and anti-family, (and also anti-religion), is not promising.
F.A. Hayek, The Fatal Conceit


Conservatism

Conservatism is the philosophy of society. Its ethic is fraternity and its characteristic is authority — the non-coercive social persuasion which operates in a family or a community. It says ‘we should...’.
Danny Kruger, On Fraternity


US Life in 1842

Families helped each other putting up homes and barns. Together, they built churches, schools, and common civic buildings. They collaborated to build roads and bridges. They took pride in being free persons, independent, and self-reliant; but the texture of their lives was cooperative and fraternal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


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©2011 Christopher Chantrill