Friday, February 11, 2011

Beyond Blame

If we want to understand who to blame for the current cock-up in government, it is easy: our liberal friends.

It is liberals that have championed the neo-feudal welfare state and its politicization of everything.

Yes, of course, years ago liberals had noble thoughts about helping the helpless. But because their social vision did not extend beyond the administrative model of the absolute monarchs, their noble initiatives have inevitably descended into simple patronage politics. Politicians bid for the votes of the voters by dangling benefits before them. Inevitably, they offer more than the economy can deliver, and so, at some point, the government runs out of money to tax, borrow, or print.

So far so good. But there is a question ultimately more interesting and more uplifting than the tawdry question of blame. After all, all governments are a mess, stumbling from one disaster to another. All governments. Even in its heyday in the 19th century, the British Empire was a succession of disasters. First there was the mess of the Crimean War. Then there was the Indian Mutiny, called, in India, the Uprising. Then there was Gordon in Khartoum, followed by the Boer War. What a mess!

No, my question is: what is it about the belief system of our liberal friends that led them into the blind alley of the administrative welfare state? What was it that allowed them to imagine that their big government would be any different from the big governments of history? What made them believe that the vast expansion of government would be anything other than a moral and cultural disaster? What made them think that you could have liberation, dignity, and justice with a big overweening government? After all, the whole point of a good belief system and its moral universe is to help its believers and practitioners avoid the common pitfalls of self-delusion and hypocrisy. A good religion should be a prop, and help you live a worthy and a meaningful life. It should not lead you into a reactionary political system and a swamp of hypocrisy.

In my view the big problem is that our liberal friends cannot see that their moral and political enthusiasms are, in the strict sense, religions. They think that they have grown beyond the superstitions and the narrowness of religious belief. In fact they think that religion is on its way out as people come to rely on science and reason instead of fanciful belief in gods and spirits.

In fact, of course, the history of the modern era is the story of one secular religious movement after another. You can start with the French Revolution and its cult of Reason. Then there is Romanticism, a belief that there is something deeper than reason that explains the nature of life. There is socialism in all its variants, the nostalgic idea that we can return to the Garden of Eden of perfect, eternal community. There is Comte and his Religion of Humanity. There is fascism, the nostaglia for the tribe and the kindred. There is Nietzsche and the Ubermensch, the extraordinary individual. There is the cult of creativity, the transformation of the natural generative urge into a metaphor of non-physical creation. There is the puritanical environmentalist movement that seeks to purify and save a polluted and corrupted world. It goes on and on.

Our liberal friends fail to understand that the meaning of life, its telos, is always a mystery. We do not know our human purpose, if we have a purpose. We do not know how we should act in order to survive and flourish. We do not even know if human survival is warranted. What we have is faith. We believe that certain ways are the best way to survive, to flourish, and to create a moral society. In the day-to-day social life we try to work out what is best for us, best for our families, best for our larger social groupings, and best for the world. In the arena of national politics, liberals believe in certain liberal folkways and conservatives believe in certain conservative folkways. It seems pretty certain that the other guys have got the wrong end of the stick and are likely to bring the nation to disaster. And because government is almost always a train wreck in progress, the governing class must bear the weight of the blame.

In the United States, over the last century, the educated class of liberals, progressives, creatives, secularists--whatever you want to call them--have dominated politics and culture. It is their ideas that drive the government, with its trillion dollars a year in government pensions, its trillion dollars a year in government health care, its trillion dollars a year in government education, and its three-quarters of a trillion dollars a year in government welfare. It is liberals that dominate the universities, liberals that dominate the entertainment media. They have caused the current crisis because they lacked the self-consciousness to realize that they, just like everyone before them, have a religion. It's a secular religion, for sure, but religion all the same. When you take your religion and you breathe it into all the organs of government, legislating morality with that secular religion, then you break down the separation between church and state, between the political sector and the moral/cultural sector. Of course, you don't believe that. You think that only right-wing preachers and right-wing politicians can create a theocracy.

But it takes a remarkably narrow and pinched understanding of the modern age not to understand that, in socialism and communism, and now in environmentalism and the climate change movement, we have what we have often had in the past, militant religions enthusiastically pursuing a vision to save the world from sin.


  1. Excellent article, Mr. Chantrill. We are buying indulgencies, just like in the Middle Ages.