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  Road to the Middle Class
Tuesday April 25, 2017 
by Christopher Chantrill Follow chrischantrill on Twitter

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Liberals and the Welfare State

epigraph

Ever since the emergence of the first proto-state, government has been organized as an armed minority, occupying territory, holding power by rewarding its supporters. If the feudal state maintained itself by rewarding its feudatories and the absolute monarch maintained his territorial state by rewarding the great merchants whose credit financed his standing army, then the modern democratic welfare state maintains itself by buying the support of the voters.

Often enough this armed minority experienced itself as a ruling class, “uniformly conscious and organized” over an empire1, as in the Roman Empire, or a multi-state region, as the warrior aristocrats in medieval and early-modern Europe, and this ruling class developed a self-conscious ruling-class morale to sustain itself in power.

Our modern ruling class, the gentry liberals, is such a self-conscious ruling class, sustained by a class morale that experiences itself as an educated and evolved elite called to create a just and peaceful world to replace the cruel and unjust predecessor regimes ruled by kings, bishops, landed aristocracies, and bourgeoisies.

In practice our modern ruling class seeks to create a pleasing aesthetic world, as described by James C. Scott in Seeing Like a State, a ruling strategy first conceived by absolute monarchs in the early modern period. It is a ruling ideology that seeks to simplify society and make it legible, and it deploys an administrative welfare state to regulate and control the people, in their own best interests, as 18th century British aristocrats employed Capability Brown to create, out of the profits of slave plantations, estates pleasing to the eye. The modern ruling ideology culminates in a spiritual and aesthetic project to save the planet from environmental and climate disaster that gives the ruling class of gentry liberals a sense of meaning and provides a satisfying scope for scions of high-born liberal gentry to obtain for themselves a meaningful life trajectory in politics, the academy, the media, the foundations, and activism.

But underneath the spiritual and aesthetic superstructure of any ruling class is its power project, the means it uses to maintain itself in power by rewarding its supporters. In pre-modern societies the ruling class offered security from the real threats to its retainers from marauding bandits in the borderlands. In the modern state the ruling class offers security from the uncertainties of life in the market economy. It sequesters up to one half of the productive labor of its retainers in taxes and offers in return a modicum of security in government administered social insurance programs. The retainers trust the government to maintain the programs and fear any modification or reform, much as feudal retainers must have feared the removal of their traditional benefit before the modern era.

Of course, the ruling class does not just bind its retainers to it with promises of security; it also attracts support with direct offers of loot. In the United States the ruling class buys the support of African Americans with welfare, affirmative action, and race politics of the kind that President Obama executed so consistently during his two terms in office. It buys the support of women with abortion politics and “affordable healthcare” and women’s liberation politics. And this is tearing the nation apart. Of course, the gentry liberal ruling class possesses not only political power but also cultural power, as its votaries set the agenda for the culture in the schools, the universities, and the media. It neutralizes opposing cultural memes with its “politically correct” power of naming and shaming cultural rebels.

The various ruling classes have operated for centuries in the strict Marxian meaning of a class, as a self-conscious group of humans organized in active pursuit of its class interests. But the rise of a self-conscious merchant and trading class in medieval Europe and the rise of the bourgeoisie in the early modern period has meant that class consciousness now permeates not just the ruling class but the whole of society. The French Revolution was a revolt of the middle-class Third Estate against the ancien régime led by the First and Second Estates. Following the example of the middle-class revolutions Marx sought to spark class consciousness in the workers that were thronging into the cities to work as factory hands in the aftermath of the industrial revolution, thus creating class conflict between the capitalists and the proletarians. In our day ruling class of gentry liberals uses so-called identity politics to create class-consciousness in its supporters, minorities, young people, and women. It likes to think of itself presiding over society and protecting the marginalized groups from the exploitations of big business and white patriarchal supremacists. Its regime shock troops like to think of society as a class society of oppressors and the oppressed mediated by the champions of the oppressed. In fact, the gentry liberals are organized merely to pursue the class interests of the gentry liberals acting as a ruling class. The encouragement of class morale in its supporters is merely a tactic to maintain the loyalty of the regime supporters.

In this book we have proposed to explain the world with a different class system. In our model, the ruling class consists of the people of the creative self allied with the people of the subordinate self. In the middle are the people of the responsible self.

Thus the gentry liberals have created an over-under coalition, on the feudal model of the Middle Ages. The gentry liberal class moves forward on a creative project of modernization, administration, equalization, institutionalization, in which its members are to obtain satisfaction in the aesthetic project of societal improvement., supplemented by the usual ruling class perquisites of money, power and the love of beautiful women. Part of this project administers pensions and privileges for the members of the under part of the coalition. These unders are, according to the system developed above, people of the subordinate self; they are soldiers in the army of the gentry liberal class, and as soldiers have ever wanted, they expect free stuff in return for their vote and their support for the regime. They are the clients in a patron/client relation, and they willingly play their part to keep the gentry liberals in power.

But we have seen that in the modern age a large section of the population has moved from living as people of the subordinate self and clients of great patrons, and instead has aspired to individual responsibility. And we have also seen that the modern economy cannot succeed on the feudal model where the landed lord directs the traffic upon his estate and the feudal retainers touch their forelocks and wait upon the lord’s orders, expressed through his stewards. That is the point of the George Eliot’s uber-responsible Adam Bede and the Garth family in Middlemarch. Carpenter Adam Bede and estate manager Caleb Garth willingly seek their fortunes in early 19th centuy rural England as responsible individuals.

But for many the 19th century was terrifying, particularly to the sons of self-made businessmen, and so the original political program of the welfare state proposed that lordly politicians and experts, acting as social physicians, would treat the raging fever of capitalism with social insurance programs legislated and administered by government for the benefit of subordinate and exploited workers. In the role of social physician, the gentry liberals worried about the lives of workers in the mines and the factories. But they found, once the working class started moving up into the middle class and started to live and vote like people of the responsible self, that there were really not enough subordinate victims of capitalistic cholera occupying beds in their fever hospital to guarantee ruling class jobs in the future. It was the genius of the Frankfurt School Marxists to grasp that the concept of exploited victims, that worked so well in the early years of the welfare state, could be extended from the working class to other groups. Women, racial and sexual minorities also had their grievances, could be enticed with political favors, and could be enrolled into the great army of progressive voters. And it was the practical good sense of politicians to see that the declining ranks of workers needed to be replenished with fresh recruits for the army of the people of the subordinate self: immigrants from Central and South America.

We have argued, from the first chapter, that the administrative state that has grown up following this political dispensation cannot thrive. It claims to protect the people against hardship, it claims to assist them in obtaining health care, it insists on educating their children, and it does it all very badly. This is because the welfare state turns back the clock on social cooperation; it sets humanity on a road to serfdom, in Hayek’s felicitous phrase. Humans are social animals; we minimize force and compulsion among “us” and thrive best when the cost and the cruelty of force is minimized. As human society has developed from small nomadic groups that fought every day for survival into a post-industrial society where it is routine to trust and cooperate with people on the other side of the planet, the need for force has radically declined. So we have argued that the authoritarian administrative welfare state that operates on a principle of force, where its subjects are forced to pay for security with swingeing taxes on labor, are forced to pay for childhood education and mandatory schooling, must pass away into history, to be replaced by a welfare state that is not administrative, not dominatory, but social, in the sense that security will be secured by horizontal social and economic relationships rather than vertical, hierarchical relationships in pensions, in health care, in education, in the relief of the poor. Vertical, hierarchical provision of social goods just doesn’t work very well; it takes too much force.

But what about the liberals, today’s ruling class? As the “over” part of the over-under coalition between the people of th creative self and the people of the subordinate self that we know in the United States as the Democratic Party, they will be out of a job in the world that is to come, because nobody will need the politics of entitlement and race/class/sex division that binds the administrative state’s supporters to the ruling class. This will be a big change for them. Where will they go? What will they do?

You know what? They will do just fine, just as Scarlett O’Hara probably did just fine after Rhett Butler finally gave up on her.

The question is: what will make them go? The answer, of course, is: nothing short of revolution, the revolution that will occur when the ruling class runs out of money with which to bribe the voters and reward its supporters. Meanwhile it is the duty of every responsible individual to deflate the conceit of their apology for power, and the conceit of every apology for power is that things are so bad that only force can fix it. The argument of this book is simple; it urges us to remember every moment that government is force. Since that is true, every argument for more government is making the argument that things are so bad that only force can fix them. The opposing argument is: really? You mean to say that things are really so bad that only force will fix them? Are you sure? Every day in every way we people of the responsible self must ask the question: why must our rulers resort to force? They say they believe in inclusion; they say they believe in compassion; they say they believe in creativity. Why then is every problem an excuse for force?

The whole argument of this book is that when bad things happen in the modern world, where wealth is found in knowledge rather than in land, then almost always force is not the answer.

But we admit that this is a new thing.

For the chimpanzee, we saw, territory equals food, and the males are properly engaged upon a perpetual border war. For the human nomad upon the Asian steppe fierceness and war is the only way to guarantee access to pasture for the flocks. For the agricultural empire, the marcher lords must patrol the border and keep the nomads from looting the temple granaries. For the trading nation-state the navy must keep the oceans clear of pirates and the arteries of commerce must be kept safe for merchants and travelers. In the industrial city the police must keep young single males just off the boat from preying on ordinary people going about their business. These are, we propose, valid and necessary uses of social compulsion and necessary deployments of force against other human groups.

But in this day and age, how much force is really necessary, and how much is the conceit of people that have responded to the ancient instinct to seize power if they can? This book argues that modern society needs less government because it needs less force. It needs less force because the modern world runs not on access to land but access to knowledge. The modern individual is not like the First Individual of George Bernard Shaw’s Fabian Essays myth, staking out his plot of land and its harvest of life-giving food. Today’s imperative is the search for knowledge and, even more important, the exploitation of knowledge: the knowledge of how to serve others, how to make things for others, how to cooperate with others. Today’s individual is the Responsible Individual. The responsible individual does not search for the shelter of a powerful patron; the responsible individual does not experience himself as a victim. The responsible individual does not experience himself as a genius in the making.

What we are saying is that there will be less demand in the future for great political leaders, government experts, central banks full of economics PhDs, activists running NGOs, universities full of “studies” departments, investigative journalists, artists bashing the bourgeoisie, and the rest of the left-wing culture. In other words, liberals will have to go and find something else to do. People that want to live lives of “expressive individualism” will have to fulfill their creative destinies in ways other than as creatively thinking up and acting out creative uses of government power. There would be two reasons for that, both from liberal philosopher Charles Taylor. First of all, government power does not contribute to human flourishing. Second, we too often find that government power tends to “crush, mutilate or deny what is essential to our humanity.” In recent times, all too often, it has been the educated class, the people of the creative self, that have acted upon the idea that the transformation of society through politics and government – compulsion and force – was the highest and best way for them to express their creative impulse and yearning. This goes against the fundamental experience of the age of knowledge that has succeeded the age of agriculture. It must change.

1Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Vol. I, Cambridge UP, 1986, p. 528.

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?

Liberals and the Welfare State
Liberals, the ruling class of the administrative welfare state.

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.”

conservative manifesto


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 TAGS


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


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


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


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

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... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


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


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


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


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


 

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