By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
It has become the stock retort of secular leftists when it is pointed out to them that the wealth redistribution programs of liberal Democrats are doing more harm than good to the “beneficiaries”: Rather than deal with the proposition, they accuse the person making the argument of being misanthropic and cynical.
Sometimes racism gets thrown into the mix as well, with the contention that opposition to social spending would not be as intense if the beneficiaries were white. At other times, the accusation will be that the motive of critics of the welfare state is not a concern about destroying the initiative of the poor, as much as a selfish interest in keeping their taxes low.
I have in mind people like Fox News commentator Bob Beckel when he argues, “How can any right-minded person think that people would not prefer a job to welfare and unemployment payments? People who rely on these programs do so only because they have no choice.” Liberal Democrats in the Congress and the media can be found all over our television screens taking the same stance.
For anyone who finds himself hit with these accusations, there is a place to go for help in formulating a response: British author Theodore Dalrymple, the pen name of Dr. Anthony Daniels, a doctor and psychiatrist who worked for many years in a prison in Birmingham, England. In that assignment, Dalrymple got an up-close look at the attitudes that shape the thinking of the British underclass. He chronicled his experiences in a series of widely applauded books, including The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism and Our Culture, What’s Left of It.
An article by Dalrymple in the May/June issue of Imprimis (a publication of Hillsdale College, free upon request from the college at 33 E. College St., Hillsdale, MI 49242, or at https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/subscriber/new) brought Dalrymple’s thinking front and center for modern readers.
In it, he argues, “There has been an astonishing gestalt switch in my lifetime. When I started out as a doctor in the mid-1970s, those who received state benefits would say, ‘I received my check on Friday.’ Now people who receive such benefits say, ‘I get paid on Friday.’ This is an important change. To have said that they received their check on Friday was a neutral way of putting it; to say that they get paid on Friday is to imply that they are receiving money in return for something.”
He is describing the sense of entitlement that is destroying the moral fiber of many who live on welfare programs.
It must be stressed that race is not part of Dalrymple’s analysis. His focus is on the modern white British working class, the people whose forebears built the British empire and the industrial system that made Great Britain the world’s leading economic and military superpower in the late 19th century.
In his earlier writings, specifically Our Culture, What’s Left of It, he argued that a significantly large number of this segment of the British people has been transformed into a group no longer able to function as productive and moral members of society by “the idea that man should be freed from the shackles of social convention and self-control” and that the government should provide a “welfare system that protected people from some of…the economic consequences” of such a lifestyle.
Dalrymple does not deal in abstractions and generalities. He gives specific examples. He writes of a woman patient who “already had three children by three different men, by no means unusual among my patients.” She left the first husband because he was violent to her; the second died in an accident while driving a stolen car. The third left her, a week after her child was born because he “no longer wished to live with her. (The discovery of incompatibility a week after the birth of a child is now so common as to be statistically normal.)” Dalrymple insists he is not talking about a small segment of British society; that “nearly a quarter of British children are now brought up” in such families.
Dalrymple writes that this woman knew “perfectly well the consequences and meaning of what she was doing”; that the men she had chosen to have sex with “had evil written all over them,” often literally “in the form of tattoos” boasting of their antisocial behavior; that she knew her choice would “lead to the misery and suffering not only of herself, but — especially — of her own children.” Yet she continued with this way of life.
Why? And why do the men in her life behave so shamefully? Dalrymple charges it is a consequence of a devastating one-two punch: the welfare state and the counterculture mentality that came of age in the late 1960s, the combination of which makes it economically possible to live in such in an irresponsible manner — without the sense of shame that earlier generations had to contend with.
The implications are impossible to overstate: This woman is not an outlier. What modern liberalism has done is to convince large segments of the once Christian West to live lives that would have been seen as debauched by our ancestors — irresponsible, idle lives of sloth, drugs, and promiscuous sex — and then provided the social “safety net” to enable them to escape the consequences of that choice. All in the name of compassion and tolerance. His point, of course, is that it is neither compassionate nor tolerant to put in place social programs that do this to a society.
In Our Culture, What’s Left of It, Dalrymple asks, why “such conduct was once much less widespread than it is now (in a time of much less prosperity, be it remembered by those who think that poverty explains everything)?”
What has changed? “A necessary, though not sufficient, condition is the welfare state, which makes it possible, and sometimes advantageous, to behave like this.” The modern welfare state “guided by the apparently generous and humane philosophy that no child, whatever its origins, should suffer deprivation, gives assistance to any child, or rather the mother of any child, once it has come into being.” A woman with an illegitimate child, “without support from the fathers of the children” becomes “dependent on the state for income. She is then a priority; she won’t pay local taxes, rent, or utility bills.”
Beyond that, the fathers are absolved of responsibility. “The state is now father to the child. The biological father is therefore free to use whatever income he has as pocket money, for entertainment and little treats. He is thereby reduced to the status of a child, though a spoiled child with the physical capabilities of a man: petulant, demanding, querulous, self-centered, and violent if he doesn’t get his own way….A spoiled brat becomes an evil tyrant.”
The welfare state is the first punch. The second punch is the notion “peddled by the intellectual elite” that it is “morally permissible” to behave in the above fashion, a notion that has taken “a long march not only through the institutions but through the minds of the young. When young people want to praise themselves, they describe themselves as ‘nonjudgmental.’ For them, the highest form of morality is amorality.”
Dalrymple is showing us the consequences of modern liberalism: We live in a world where the elites devote themselves to providing cradle to grave security for those they have taught to believe that “amorality is morality.” It will take us a long time to find our way out of this mess, if indeed we ever do.