December 23, 2012
One of the consequences of such notions as “entitlements” is that people who have contributed nothing to society feel that society owes them something, apparently just for being nice enough to grace us with their presence. — Thomas Sowell
When I was in the US in September, I saw a pro-Romney bumper sticker: “Last time you proved you are not a racist. Now prove you are not an idiot.” It was too much to ask. Not many listened. The illiterate did not read it. The stupid did not understand. The dependent did not wish to understand. The pork barrel-fed ignored it. And so it came to pass—Obama won.
The uniqueness of these presidential elections lies in the unprecedented amount of money spent and the what’s-in-it-for-me? manner in which the electorate responded to each candidate and his proffered programs.
The incumbent successfully utilised the dependency of many Americans on governmental largesse. As Mitt Romney said in his ill-timed remarks, 47% of Americans depend on various forms of welfare. This is the country which, not so long ago, prided itself on independence and generosity of spirit, its “can do” attitude and a mutual reliance of like-minded equals on each other’s support in times of crisis.
Obama’s economic policy, based on the pre-eminence of an interventionist state, means a further reduction of the role of an independently robust private economy. It also means the gradual loss for many of the non-government-related possibility of obtaining a paying job. Controlling such a person or people is a leftist’s dream -- a dream dressed up in well-worn clichés of “equal opportunity for all, a level playing field, and protection of the underdog”.
In reality, it means an increase in the number of bureaucrats and their power; an increase in the power of the state; redistribution of wealth with an accompanying gradual removal of incentives for hard work. It also means an appeal to the basest of human emotions—envy, jealousy and resentment of success. The best illustration of such an appeal is the successful portrayal of Mitt Romney as a shifty plutocrat hiding his ill-gotten wealth offshore. This was interpreted as “socially unjust” and, by implication, it presented Obama as a knight in shining armour, tirelessly fighting for the rights of the oppressed, depressed and dispossessed.
The tragedy of presidential elections in the USA is that the ability to be a good president and the qualities necessary to win an election are not the same. There are historic examples aplenty and yet people still step on the same garden rake.
Social justice—resentment of success
In his well-known book Will the USSR Survive Beyond 1984? which landed him in the labour camp where he died, Andrei Amalrik made an astute observation about what the Left calls “social justice”. He believed that Russia would have to overcome tremendous psychological difficulties in order to prosper in a post-communist future. His belief was based on an unusual interpretation of the word justice by Russians. Justice (spravedlivost in Russian), in this interpretation, is a commonly-held belief which expects the majority to frown on people who have more material assets than others; someone else’s prosperity is regarded as an injustice (nespravedlivost). In other words, “Let everyone be poor, so no one will have more than I do.”
It is plain to see how destructive and impoverishing this kind of popularly-held notion could be for a society. People able to accumulate wealth by dint of hard work or business acumen would be regarded as exploiters, bloodsuckers and “enemies of the people”.
A disturbing corollary to this perception is the thought: “Whatever these class enemies get as their comeuppance would be just.” The most horrible example of such “justice” was “dekulakisation”—the impoverishment and forced exile of the most productive peasant farmers in Russia. According to Stalin’s own assessment, shared by Churchill, ten million people died as a result.
The most active in this orgy of violence and state-sanctioned highway robbery were people too lazy to work, alcoholics, layabouts and no-hopers. Marx called them the lumpenproletariat and regarded them with thinly disguised contempt. So did Lenin.
I believe the Australian “tall poppy” syndrome is not far removed from the Russian concept of “justice”. It seems to be a universal human trait. What happened in Russia is not necessarily confined to that country, which has no monopoly on envy, jealousy and resentment. Without these human traits, no revolution is possible anywhere.
It is my contention that the logical progression of any utopian ideation, in the service of electoral victory, gradually leads to tyranny—by supplying state largesse to a population unwilling to work, and by making everyone who wants to work rely on the state as their only source of livelihood. This process is triggered regardless of the good intentions of the idealists. Therein lies the danger. That is where, I believe, democracy is in peril.
Bread and circuses
An election strategy of “bread and circuses” is effective in achieving political pre-eminence— reward the unproductive stratum of society (the lumpenproletariat) and get the votes. This strategy is exceptionally dangerous for democracy. This danger was eloquently formulated by Alexander Fraser Tytler, Scottish lawyer, academic, historian and translator:
A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largesse out of the public treasury. After that, the majority always votes for the candidate promising the most benefits, with the result the democracy collapses because of the loose fiscal policy ensuing, always to be followed by a dictatorship, then a monarchy.
The historical descriptive cycle, commonly referred to as “The Fatal Sequence” (erroneously named after Tytler), was borrowed from a speech given by Henning Webb Prentis Jr in 1951 in New York.
The historical cycle seems to be:
from bondage to spiritual faith;
from spiritual faith to courage;
from courage to liberty;
from liberty to abundance;
from abundance to selfishness;
from selfishness to apathy;
from apathy to dependency;
and from dependency back to bondage once more.
I don’t know which stage of this cycle America has reached. What I do know is that the US has voted into its highest office a man who rewards non-producers with tax money. Obama has given us a scenario of which nightmares are made. He has awakened a sleeping giant of popular dependency.
If you think the Tytler scenario far-fetched, think again. For example, it is quite plausible that an immigration amnesty will be declared repeatedly, making significant numbers of hitherto illegal aliens eligible for social security benefits and programs. As a result, the demographic profile of the entire country -- or, more specifically, of key electoral regions will change. Guess who these people will vote for.
Americans already have a significant group of people whose families are not now in the workforce and who have not been in it for generations. So does Australia. So do many other developed countries. Naturally, in order to be maintained in the lifestyle they feel they are entitled to, these people require others, who work, to support them.
The number of workers supporting the non-workers, however, is getting lower. The taxation base and GDP will gradually shrink. Given the political imperative to win elections, money to maintain the dependency needs of a demographic giant will come from other areas of the budget. The day will come when this situation will affect military spending—no money in the kitty to build aircraft carriers, do the research and development, train special operations troops, because these funds will be necessary to buy votes with more and more services and handouts to state-dependent voters.
So far we have been lucky in that immigrants who have come to settle in the democracies have not been in the habit of changing the status quo. Not any more. Uncontrolled immigration from impoverished areas of the globe, such as the Middle East and Africa, brings in a qualitatively new type of immigrant. Along with poor education and a lack of marketable skills, this immigrant brings with him a mindset of tribalism, religious and ethnic intolerance, racism and xenophobia, as well as an utter lack of capacity or desire to integrate into the host society.
This immigrant is not content with the parameters of the society which accepted him for settlement—he wants to change it, to re-create the cultural, religious and societal conditions he has left behind. An increase in numbers in this immigrant category corresponds with the parallel processes of the use of welfare services of the host country and the lobbying of political establishments, promoting, and sometimes forcing, changes particular to the group.
Naturally, the political establishment responds to such pressure with more and more handouts to these particular groups, hoping for their votes in return. This was clearly demonstrated in the USA during the recent election. The pattern is not exclusively American, but universal. Take the recent Australian decision to abstain during the UN General Assembly vote on granting the Palestinian Authority an enhanced status of “observer state”. Traditionally, Australia has voted in tandem with that staunch Israel supporter, the USA, which was against this move.
The Australian Prime Minister’s inclination was to vote against, despite the widespread support such a move had, right or wrong, among members of the General Assembly. Despite the PM’s insistence on voting along with the USA, her cabinet colleagues rebelled and forced her to abstain instead. Some lofty reasons were cited in support of this decision, including independence of Australian foreign policy from the USA, the necessity to be in step with the rest of the world, a desire to be “on the right side of history” and similar drivel. The real reason, as we now are told, is much simpler—some government members hold seats with a high proportion of Muslim voters antagonistic to Israel. One cannot demonstrate a better example of the power of demographic changes brought about by immigration and the dangers inherent in it.
The future's grim face
This election has demonstrated a simple but terrifying fact—a constituency has discovered that it can vote itself largesse from the Treasury, which suggests the US is at the beginning of a downward spiral. Political lobbying is a feature of democracy, but his time it is different. Political lobbying infested with tribal prejudices and imported hatreds has been combined with a pecuniary, self-interested voting pattern.
I have written this essay wishing to share my deepest concern about the plight of freedom with like-minded people, who are not conceited, apathetic or dependent enough to be satisfied with the present state of affairs. Little of what I have written is new or particularly revelatory. A.F. Tytler, quoted here, formulated his concerns almost two centuries ago. Friedrich Hayek expressed similar concerns in The Road to Serfdom, written in 1944. So have many others.
The persistence of this kind of anxiety indicates two things. First, it shows how fragile is the beautiful flower of democracy, and how easily it can be damaged, corrupted or destroyed. Second, just as important, it shows that our longing for democracy must be expressed and renewed time and time again.
Dr Michael Galak and his family came to Australia as refugees from the Soviet Union in 1978
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray