The Destruction of Character by the Welfare State
In 1909, with American Progressivism still in its infancy, Winston Churchill was already an advocate of government programs to help the most needy. On May 23rd of that year he proclaimed,
I think it is our duty to use the strength of the resources of the State to arrest the ghastly waste not merely of human happiness but of national health and strength which follows when a working man’s home which has taken him years to get together is broken up and scattered through a long spell of unemployment, or when, through the death, the sickness, or the invalidity of the breadwinner, the frail boat in which the fortunes of the family are embarked founders, and the women and children are left to struggle helplessly on the dark waters of a friendless world.1
By 1951, with the welfare state, including the National Health Service, well established and the socialists controlling the Labour Party, he had developed some reservations, remarking that,
All the boastings of the welfare State have to be set against the fact that more than what they have given with one hand has been filched back by the other.2
In the latest edition of Imprimus from Hillsdale College Dr. Anthony Daniels, an Englishman himself and the Dietrich Weismann Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, describes something vital that the welfare state has “filched back”, and at the same time, like a good physician diagnoses one of the basic social pathologies afflicting the Western Democracies. First: what began as a well-meaning effort by government leaders to provide help for those temporarily or permanently unable to care for themselves has evolved into an indiscriminate system of wealth redistribution that is enabling, nay encouraging, the worst aspects of human nature to flourish at the expense of the greater society. And, that the current welfare state is corrupting both the citizenry and the government, making the former more dependent and the latter more dishonest. His insightful article, The Worldview that Makes the Underclass, though based on his personal experience as a physician treating the poor in both Africa and Great Britain, is really a compelling commentary on human nature and the consequences of ignoring it either through well-intentioned ignorance or crass political calculation.
Using representative social problems as examples, he clearly illustrates the classic human tendency to behave badly and then blame someone or something else when things go wrong. But he goes beyond that to describe the lengths to which British society has gone to sanction, reinforce and foster this delusional, self-destructive behavior.
Dishonest passivity and dependence combined with harmful activity becomes a pattern of life, (snip) This is surely a very curious but destructive state of mind, and one that some politicians have unfortunately made it their interest to promote by promising secular salvation from relative poverty by means of redistribution.
He saves his sharpest criticism for those who knowingly undermine the nuclear family and its value in providing a safe and effective milieu for the early socialization of children. He especially emphasizes the importance of stable parental relationships and the participation of fathers.
I worked for 15 years as a doctor and psychiatrist in a general hospital in a poor area of a British city and in the prison next door, where I was on duty one night in three. (snip) I could not, of course, have spoken to so many people, and heard about so many others, without some general impressions forming themselves in my mind. One abiding impression was of the violence of their lives, particularly that between the sexes -- largely the consequence of the fluidity of relations between the sexes -- and also of the devastating effect of prevalent criminality upon the quality of daily existence.
He goes on,
I should mention a rather startling fact: By the time they are 15 or 16, twice as many children in Britain have a television as have a biological father living at home. The child may be father to the man, but the television is father to the child.
Surveys have shown that a fifth of British children do not eat a meal more than once a week with another member of their household, and many homes do not have a dining table. Needless to say, this pattern is concentrated in the lower reaches of society, where so elementary but fundamental a means of socialization is now unknown.
He concludes that,
By a mixture of ideology and fiscal and social policies, the family has been systematically fractured and destroyed in England, at least in the lowest part of the society that, unfortunately, needs family solidarity the most.
Upon reading the whole article it becomes quickly apparent that all his observations and conclusions apply equally well to our own culture and country. Many here are old enough to have seen first hand how the character of our citizenry has changed, especially since 1965, under the influence of moral relativism and the Progressive belief that government action is the best way to solve the people’s problems.
As our founders understood only too well, human nature cannot be ignored in the context of civil society. The Constitution they left us was designed specifically and primarily to solve the problem of allowing imperfect beings to govern imperfect beings. By contemning the wisdom of the founders and the importance of family life, Progressives and their descendants in the modern Democratic Party have created government dependence and economic weakness where once there was resiliency and wealth. Well-intentioned Democrats would do well to consider the words of Dr. Daniels carefully before the next election. It’s their world too.
1. Langworth, Richard. Churchill by Himself. New York: Public Affairs, 2008. Page 397.