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2012: The Art of Intimidation Women of the Welfare State

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If Conservatives are Social Darwinists, then...

by Christopher Chantrill
May 02, 2012 at 12:00 am

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THAT PRESIDENT Obama certainly has a way with words. The other day he called Paul Ryan’s House-passed budget “thinly veiled social Darwinism.” Does he mean that Ryan’s budget is like a burqa? Anyway, he prompted Catholic Rep. Ryan (R-WI) to take his budget to Georgetown University, where the congressman lectured the profs at that Catholic university about solidarity and subsidiarity on the off-chance they hadn’t been reading their papal encyclicals.

Social Darwinism has been an all-purpose pejorative ever since the thinly-veiled anathematist Richard Hofstadter wrote Social Darwinism in American Thought in the 1940s. He also wrote Anti-Intellectualism in American Life. So you can see what he was all about. Today we would call him a thinly-veiled enemy of civility. But his writing obviously had its intended effect. In Freethinkers, a mindless liberal screed about secularism, Susan Jacoby anathematizes Herbert Spencer, “who applied Darwin’s principles of natural selection to the social as well as the natural world—a mistake Darwin never made.”

Well why not? Surely, a theory of the evolution of social institutions is of vital interest to humans, especially right now when European social democracy is in thinly-veiled collapse. But liberals like Susan Jacoby know that liberals don’t believe in social evolution. They believe in Intelligent Design, in accordance with the ancient syllogism you can probably find somewhere in Aristotle: All liberals are intelligent. Liberals advocate big government. Therefore big government is intelligent.

A corollary of this Aristotelian truth is that only liberals can intelligently design modern social institutions, and that the complexity of modern society demands that an educated elite of intelligent liberals be empowered to rule the less intelligent. Without this intelligent design, liberals believe, individuals will find themselves "on their own" and reduced to helplessness and marginalization. Thus, liberals know what to do about senior health care when intelligently-designed Medicare is about to go belly up. Just repeat after Nancy: “Republicans want to end Medicare as we know it!”

There are some people—they now call themselves “progressives” but I think a more apt term would be witch burners--who are even more of a throwback than the Intelligent Designers. They believe that corporations are possessed by evil demons and are responsible for poisoning the air and the water. Ditto oil companies that are poisoning the fracking gas wells. Ditto greedy insurance companies that prevent us from getting affordable health care. These witch hunters dream of a gigantic auto-da-fe at Wall Street and Broad in which the corporations and fundamentalists will be burned at the stake and purged of their demons in a great struggle of the 99% against the 1%.

President Obama’s problem with Social Darwinism is that conservatives use it to promote an “on your own” society. Like many liberals, he has studiously avoided studying what conservatives actually believe. He would rather parrot what Hofstadter—or was it Niebuhr—taught him. Real conservatives believe something different.

Real conservatives believe that the real “on your own” system is big-government liberalism. That’s because big government hollows out the “little platoons” of society; it orders people out of the face-to-face neighborhood into a wind-swept plaza dominated by the mega-structures of big government. Believe me, you don’t want to be on that plaza when the Fannie Mae skyscraper is toppling over. Catholics like John Paul II and Benedict XVI want to protect modern man from the mega-structures with “solidarity” and “subsidiarity.” Solidarity, according to Paul Ryan, is “the virtue that does not divide society into classes and groups but builds up the common good of all.” Subsidiarity is the notion that “matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority.”

And we know what Americans do when big government leaves them “on their own.” They get together and build a thick safety net of voluntary associations. Europeans? Not so much.

The reason that conservatives are thinly-veiled Social Darwinists is rather obvious. We believe that the most practical, most humane way of dealing with change is to admit that a natural selection process directs the evolution of social institutions. Social institutions that fail to provide for the common good will end up extinct, whether nation states, churches, corporations, or labor unions. A society with a thick safety net of voluntary institutions lets ordinary people adapt to economic and social change by joining voluntary social institutions that seem to be thriving. That way, conservatives believe, individuals can avoid getting flattened by the mass extinctions of dinosaurs like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, not to mention Medicare and Social Security and their $100 trillion unfunded mandates.

Of course, this conservative Social Darwinism is premised on the radical idea that humans are adaptable social animals that naturally seek out social solutions to their problems. They are not helpless victims waiting around for the next brilliant idea to arrive in the living room with a thump, all 2,700 pages of it, from the Intelligent Liberal Designer upstairs.

Christopher Chantrill blogs at www.roadtothemiddleclass.com.

Buy his Road to the Middle Class.

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Faith & Purpose

“When we began first to preach these things, the people appeared as awakened from the sleep of ages—they seemed to see for the first time that they were responsible beings, and that a refusal to use the means appointed was a damning sin.”
Finke, Stark, The Churching of America, 1776-1990


Mutual Aid

In 1911... at least nine million of the 12 million covered by national insurance were already members of voluntary sick pay schemes. A similar proportion were also eligible for medical care.
Green, Reinventing Civil Society


Education

“We have met with families in which for weeks together, not an article of sustenance but potatoes had been used; yet for every child the hard-earned sum was provided to send them to school.”
E. G. West, Education and the State


Living Under Law

Law being too tenuous to rely upon in [Ulster and the Scottish borderlands], people developed patterns of settling differences by personal fighting and family feuds.
Thomas Sowell, Conquests and Cultures


German Philosophy

The primary thing to keep in mind about German and Russian thought since 1800 is that it takes for granted that the Cartesian, Lockean or Humean scientific and philosophical conception of man and nature... has been shown by indisputable evidence to be inadequate. 
F.S.C. Northrop, The Meeting of East and West


Knowledge

Inquiry does not start unless there is a problem... It is the problem and its characteristics revealed by analysis which guides one first to the relevant facts and then, once the relevant facts are known, to the relevant hypotheses.
F.S.C. Northrop, The Logic of the Sciences and the Humanities


Chappies

“But I saw a man yesterday who knows a fellow who had it from a chappie that said that Urquhart had been dipping himself a bit recklessly off the deep end.”  —Freddy Arbuthnot
Dorothy L. Sayers, Strong Poison


Democratic Capitalism

I mean three systems in one: a predominantly market economy; a polity respectful of the rights of the individual to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; and a system of cultural institutions moved by ideals of liberty and justice for all. In short, three dynamic and converging systems functioning as one: a democratic polity, an economy based on markets and incentives, and a moral-cultural system which is plural and, in the largest sense, liberal.
Michael Novak, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism


Action

The incentive that impels a man to act is always some uneasiness... But to make a man act [he must have] the expectation that purposeful behavior has the power to remove or at least to alleviate the felt uneasiness.
Ludwig von Mises, Human Action


Churches

[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm


Conversion

“When we received Christ,” Phil added, “all of a sudden we now had a rule book to go by, and when we had problems the preacher was right there to give us the answers.”
James M. Ault, Jr., Spirit and Flesh


Living Law

The recognition and integration of extralegal property rights [in the Homestead Act] was a key element in the United States becoming the most important market economy and producer of capital in the world.
Hernando de Soto, The Mystery of Capital


presented by Christopher Chantrill

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