The signs are not good

Friday, November 6th, 2009

The signs are not good, says John Derbyshire:

It’s tough getting through life by your own efforts in a world as crowded and sophisticated as this one. Postindustrial society has huge surpluses of wealth that can be harvested by the state and handed out as benefits. There’s a squeaky-wheel bias to it all — groups that can manipulate the process, for example by making emotional-blackmail (sometimes actual blackmail) appeals, tend to do best, but everyone gets something.

It’s pretty popular. That’s why the old self-support ideal of American life is dead, dead as mutton. It lingers on among some Americans as a fading dream; and to the degree that there is any difference between Democrats and Republicans, it is that Republicans appeal to that dream, while Democrats paint the old order as a scheme of oppression and cruelty. It’s a dream, though, a fading dream. The real difference between Democrats and Republicans is that Democrats want the authorities to confiscate 34 percent of your income for purposes of redistribution, while Republicans think 32 percent would be better.

Modern socialism — neosocialism, the socialism of Clinton and Blair — in which capitalism is given a pretty free rein, so that the state can harvest and redistribute the surpluses, is successful and very popular. A lot of conservatives are in denial about that. Sure, neosocialism has a vast bureaucratic overhead — tens of millions of paper-shufflers doing nothing useful with their working lives — but it can afford that. And sure, it destroys that fine spirit of adventure, striving, self-support and self-improvement that was instrumental in building our civilization.

So what? Nobody really wanted to build a civilization. Harsh necessity forced them to do something with their lives. If Cortez, or Shakespeare, or Gauss, or Mozart, or the Founding Fathers, or the prairie settlers, could have got nice cushy cube-jockey jobs as Administrative Assistants in the Department of Administrative Affairs, and gone home at night to watch American Idol from the comfort of a Barcalounger — well, they probably would have.

There is a quote I read 25 years or so ago, when I was working through a lot of Soviet-dissident literature. I am sure it was either Shafarevich or Zinoviev, but I have never been able to re-find it. It is to the effect that communism was not just imposed on a passive populace, but that as communism descended on the people, their spirits rose to meet it.

This strikes me as a profound and true insight, and applicable to the whole human race. It was a mistake to think that the people of the USA would forever remain indifferent to the attractions of socialism. Nations change, often very quickly. The wild and terrible Vikings became the pale, pacifistic Scandinavians. The savage Magyar horde became — much more quickly, in just a couple of generations — the Christian Kingdom of Hungary. Pious, priest-ridden, poverty-stricken Ireland became, as I watched with my own eyes through the 1980s and 1990s, a hedonistic, skeptical, bustling hive of entrepreneurial vigor that had to import priests from the Third World to keep churches open.

Just so, the land of the brave and the home of the free could become the land of the timid and the home of the servile. This could happen, could be happening. The signs are not good.

Leave a Reply