Monday, November 9, 2015

Perhaps the Wages of Liberalism is Cultural Death

I've been having something of an epiphany in the last couple of weeks, ever since reading Karl Polanyi's Great Transformation and running at the same time into Kevin D. Williamson's report on the Tudor war on the castles in his The End is Near.

Karl Polanyi dresses up in rather fine livery the left's central argument that the working class were cruelly treated in the heyday of capitalism in the early to mid 1800s owing to a cavalier rejection of an age-old social consensus that provided for the poor. In response to the cruel capitalist industrial revolution the workers naturally pushed for "social protection" against the ravages of the market and its commodification of their labor with market wages and the ruthless proposition that they work or starve.

This is all part of the left's standard narrative, arguing that the Manchester liberals cruelly broke up the old Poor Law that had protected the poor in England ever since the Tudors.

Kevin Williamson reports indirectly in The End is Near how the Tudor Poor Law came to be. In my view he rather damages the narrative about the old social compact. The Tudors, he relates, were engaged upon a project to build their monarchial power in a nation state. To do that they had to crush the power of the barons. We are talking about the powerful families that we've grown to know and love that appear in Shakespeare's Wars of the Roses plays: marcher lords of the north like the Percies; the Dukes of Buckingham, Earls of Worcester, and so on. The Tudors disarmed these folk and disbanded their private armies. And they demolished their castles. Thus ended the great age of medieval castles and also the end of the heyday of primogeniture in the nobility. It was the immense power of the castle, according to Frances and Joseph Gies in Marriage and Family in the Middle Ages, that induced the nobility of Europe to concentrate family power in the eldest son and the family castle.

But this is what occurred to me. Once the nobles were stripped of their castles and their private armies, who needed the useless mouths of peasants? Now the noble families would express their power through money: money for grand houses in the capital city, and money to influence and persuade.

Now exactly at the same time we experience the agricultural revolution: its enclosures, its sheep farming its drainage and improvements. The result of the revolution was to maximize the income from the noble or the gentry estate. They kicked out the peasants from their customary subservience that was useful to the lord only when he needed the peasants to form his army. The Tudors, naturally, were left holding the baby. Eventually, as governments will, they decided to "do something" about the poor, with the Poor Law and the Statute of Artificers.

So, on this view, the whole history of the Poor Law is not about a caring and humane society, but just politicians trying to patch up the latest disaster. The poor in the reign of Elizabeth I were a problem for the government, so the government "did something" to try and make it go away. It didn't go away, not until the industrial revolution 200 years after the Tudor bid for national, central power.

So now I am looking at the latest flap about the white working class, publicized in The Atlantic, about how the working class are dying off from alcoholism and drug dependency, and I am thinking that to the regime the working class, like the "useless retainers" of agricultural England, are just an embarrassment. Back in the 19th century the working class were useful soldiers to deploy in the political battles of the day, one in which the old landowners could stick one in the eye of the parvenu factory owners and capitalists and join with the socialists that were engaged in their own bid for political power.

Now that the working class doesn't enter into anyone's political calculations, what with the votes of blacks and women and Hispanics and gays being more useful to America's party of the left, the Democratic Pary, the white working class is toast. And since they have spent the last century sucking off the teat of government as little darlings of the liberals, they lack the fighting spirit that you need to make a difference in war and politics.

We sentimental conservatives have nurtured a daydream that one day the white working class would get a clue and join the Republican Party. But, writing over the weekend about the decline of the working class I suddenly had a thought. What if they don't hit bottom? What if they just subside deeper and deeper into despair and alcohol. What if they just keep going on down?

We don't like to think about it, but the truth is that it's the way of the world. They say that languages and cultures are disappearing every day. Here in Australia we just had a day with a tour guide, Bridget, who's an Australian indigenous. But she is living with a "white fellah." Bridget makes her living being a professional indigenous, telling us about how her grandmother was abducted from her parents and taken to a mission to be raised by the cruel nuns.

But Bridget is living with a white fellah, and you can see where that leads. Right now, she says, 78 percent of indigenous in Australia live in urban areas.

You can emote all day about the noble working class and the authentic indigenous experience. But the world is living in cities and people are offering their labor on the labor market. Liberals have told the working class and the indigenous that they are special people and have been cruelly treated and they care about them.

No doubt. But the only way to wive and thrive in the world today is to learn how to live and work in the market economy and make your peace with it. Anything else -- from the liberal politics of class to the liberal politics of race or the liberal politics of gender -- is liberal flim-flam, and the wages of liberal flim-flam is personal extinction, which is a lot different from the hard, but bearable, cultural separation from pre-industrial culture as you move and adjust to the city.

Like I say in my American Thinker piece this week, liberal politics encourages extinction. Liberal welfare encourages people not to work; liberal sexual revolution encourages people not to marry; liberal abortion encourages people not to have children. And the stirring up of grievance, like with the Black Lives Matter folks, funded in part by George Soros, encourages people not to be responsible. When you look at liberal politics that way you have to wonder: is all this deliberate? Are liberals actually trying to extinguish their political clients?

I have to believe that liberals are not evil, just stupid. The alternative is unthinkable.

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