Friday, October 7, 2011

"Care About" or "Care For"

The eternal complaint about the government is that the government doesn't care, and so politicians are always anxious to present themselves as caring.  The pollsters are always asking the question to voters: "Does the government care about people like me?"

So Peggy Noonan listening in on a couple of focus groups hears this:
What do they want in a political leader? Someone who cares about "Jane Doe on Main Street that can't pay her electric bill." Someone "with passion not for himself but for America."
The problem is that it is a short step from a leader "who cares about me" to a government that "cares for me."  But this is actually a big step.  It is the step into slavery.  Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger tell how this worked in England in The Year 1000.  Slavery back then could be a penalty for crimes ranging from "certain types of theft to incest."  And, of course, you could be captured by the Vikings and sold into slavery.  But you could become a slave by your own act.
People also surrendered themselves into bondage at times of famine or distress...  [I]n the year 1000 the starving man had no other resort but to kneel before his lord or lady and place his head in their hands...  It was a basic transaction--heads for food.
When a free man places his head in the hands of his lord he gives up his freedom, his birthright, in return for a mess of pottage.  He no longer wonders if his lord "cares about" him.  He has changed the relationship.  Now his lord must "care for" him and provide his food.

In reality this boundary is not as clear cut as it might seem.  You can see this in the way that ordinary people in Peggy Noonan's focus groups think about the role of the banks in the mortgage meltdown.
Who are the culprits behind our economic calamity? "The banks and the people who took the loans." But more the banks, because they had, as one woman put it, "the authority." When they gave out the loans, people thought "it must have been OK." People were "lured in" by the banks—don't worry, home values will keep going up—which pocketed the fees and kept walking.
I've noticed that a lot of people think this way.  The bank has responsibility because they shouldn't have loaned to me if I couldn't pay.  The whole authoritarian welfare state, of course, is built upon this equivocal attitude to freedom.  Employers don't just have a responsibility to pay you, but to provide benefits.  Corporations are supposed to act not just as purveyors of products and services but "give back" to the community.

This subordinate attitude, so encouraged by our liberal friends and the mainstream media, would have seemed shameful to the sturdy folk in George Eliot's Adam Bede.  In the English Midlands of 1800, Adam Bede is a modest carpenter, and believes that his work is part of his religion, "that good carpentry was God's will"; he is the perfect expression of Max Weber's Protestant ethic.  Adam looked to himself and his interpretation of the Bible to guide his life.  There is not a whisper of subordination in his character, or in the remarkable character of Dinah Morris, a twentysomething lay Methodist preacher and textile worker.  These people of the Great Awakening lived a culture of deep moral inquiry and personal responsibility.  They did not think to blame others for their troubles, and they had plenty of them.

Our time is a time when the "care for" culture of the authoritarian welfare state is collapsing in moral and actual bankruptcy.  There is a simple reason for the collapse.  Government is force.  Government does not care for anything except its power.  Government must "care about" its people, because their prosperity is the foundation and the reason for its existence.  But when it pretends to "care for" its people then it enters a wilderness of mirrors.

Conservative Jonah Goldberg, jokes that too many of our liberal friends believe in a government that is a "non-hierarchical, consensus-based, extremely deliberative form of direct democracy." In their confusion they grasp a truth.  Humans as social animals prize as an ideal a society that is non-hierarchical, consensus-based, and deliberative.  But government is necessarily hierarchical, and its consensus is always something of a sham.  Because when the majority votes a bill into law after due deliberation, it votes to compel the losers to obey the new law.  Government is force, and always will be.

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