Saturday, October 06, 2012

Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad, State?

When Patrick Deneen writes, read it!

Before the [rise of the State], memberships in various social settings were overlapping and varied, ranging from families, neighborhoods, townships, boroughs, regions, guilds, Church (parish and Catholic), nation, even empire. 

...No one was more influential in the definition of the modern state than Thomas Hobbes, who through the conceit of the “state of nature,” portrayed humans as naturally autonomous and individual, with a shared membership solely through one institution—the State.

(We might add that that 'autonomy' and 'individuality' was lauded by R W Emerson, along with many other New England innnerlekshuls.  This point was made by Kirk, who described those folks as '[statist] tinkerers.'  Think GHW Bush, or the Kennedys.)

 Deneen quotes W. Cavanagh:

For Hobbes, the individual was not oppressed but liberated by Leviathan. In his view, the State is not enacted to realize a common good or a common telos, but rather to liberate the individual to pursue his or her own ends without fear of interference from other individuals. In the peculiar new space created by the state, the individual members do not depend on one another; rather, they are connected only through the sovereign—as spokes to the hub of a wheel

And this leads to a key point we haven't discussed here:

Thus, Robert Nisbet wrote in his classic work The Quest for Community, “The real conflict in modern political history has not been, as is so often stated, between State and individual, but between State and social group.

This is not merely a complaint about Democrats, by the way:

Austrian legal theorist Eugene Ehrlich perceptively observed, “After the associations into which individuals have been placed as members of society have been dissolved and destroyed, the only connecting links that remain between the individual and society are ownership, contract, and the State.”

(....a lot of self-described "conservatives" love them those 'ownership and contract' things.  Maybe they love them too well, and ignore that "state" part.)

..This ambition has informed Obama’s candidacy from its first days to its recently concluded convention....This picture of a radically individuated human being gave rise to the observation during the Democratic National Convention that “government is the only thing we all belong to” [sic].

Thus, the "Mandate."

Note the conceit: Employees at Catholic (or other similarly informed religious institutions) are “coerced” by not having free contraceptives provided as part of their health plans. The state, through the threat of punitive fines ..., acts as the liberator of these oppressed people. This narrative seems plausible to many, because we have been deeply shaped and trained to associate the word “liberty” with the freedom of individuals “to pursue their own ends”—requiring, among other things, the liberation of recreational sex from any consequences—and not the rights, privileges, immunities and liberties of groups, societies, associations, even a corpus mysticum like the Church. In such a view we find Leviathan run rampant

Deneen correctly categorizes this Statism as part of a troika including Communism and Fascism.

And it's here.

1 comment:

Grim said...

Good stuff.

The ties that bind are really about caring for the weak: the elderly, the children, the poor, and the sick. If that is done by family, then family is the institution that will be strongest and most vibrant in society. If it is done by the church, then the church will be powerful and important in peoples' lives.

We've allowed the state to take over these duties, and we should not be surprised to discover that the state has assumed an outsized role and power. The only way to trim it back is rebuilding the capacity in the social institutions, while also trimming the state's ability to do it.

That's something that many free-market oriented conservatives don't get: you can't have small government without big family and church. The market doesn't take care of the weak. Whoever does gains great power and authority -- a paradox, perhaps, but a true one.