January 3, 2013
A friend of mine recently gave me a couple of books that he had two of. One was The Thirties by Malcolm Muggeridge, first published in 1940. I am nostalgically fond of Muggeridge. He appeared on the tele in the late 1950s, when I was in my youth in provincial England. Intellectual to his boot heels, affected and extremely posh-voiced, there were no people like him in my street.
These days young people are not exposed to people like Muggeridge; if they now exist. But in those days tele provided limited fare. There were only two channels to choose from and my Dad liked political discussions. Bedrooms were not avenues of escape. They were mostly cold, bare, and contained no attractions. I was a captive audience.
Among a number of acute observations in The Thirties is this: “It is impossible for one man, however determined and cunning he may be, to impose his will on other men for long unless they recognise themselves in him”. He goes on: “A tyrant may linger on for a little while after those over whom he rules and he may have become strangers, but not for long”. He quotes Hobbes: “Every man is author of all the sovereign doth”.
Thus Hitler reflected (and manipulated) the nationalistic yearnings of the German people. He didn’t invent the yearnings. Another way of putting this is to say that we get the leaders and governments we deserve. The question is what have the American people done to deserve Obama or the French to deserve Hollande or the British to deserve Cameron or us to deserve Gillard?
I suggest that the answer is that the question no longer makes the same universal sense as it did in 1940. What for present purposes I call the Muggeridge Rule, sound in most circumstances, is breaking down in Western societies as elections increasingly become single-focussed contests between the constituency of beleaguered and dwindling givers and the constituency of pillaging and proliferating takers.
Three excellent articles in the latest issue of Quadrant pinpoint the latter “constituency”. Daryl McCann calls it “a confederacy of social, ethnic, demographic and ideological grouping held together by...negative cohesion”. Steven Kates sees it as a coalescence of sub-constituencies susceptible to “a campaign of fear based on the threat of losing programs or payments”. Phillip Hilton sees it as a constituency “doomed to unrelieved hardship”, as [in my words] the price of being beguiled into beggardom.
Election campaigns are quite different when state mendicants form the majority. In the United States 70% of eligible voters pay zero or near zero federal income taxes. They simply don’t pay the bills for defence, for Medicare, or Medicaid, or the dole, or food stamps. Put yourself in the position of those who have fallen into being wholly, or mostly, or substantially dependent on the state. Their life is mean and wrapped around unearned benefits. One party targets them and promises more. Never mind other considerations, who gets their vote?
The declining transnational species who pay materially more in taxes than they receive in state benefits will, and are, being progressively and systematically disenfranchised. They pay for the apparatus of the state but have a rapidly declining say in its complexion. In fact they are victims of the state which everywhere has become despotic.
The state’s major function is no longer the protection of the realm, or the keeping of law and order, or the provision of essential services. It is to extract wealth by threats of penal servitude from the productive and transfer it to the ostensibly indigent.
In these circumstances, except for the useful idiots among them, taxpayers can justifiably say it is not my fault. You can’t attribute Hitler’s rise to most of those whom he persecuted. They must be given a pass. Equally, taxpayers contributing materially more to the public purse than they receive in benefits can claim a pass. The current crop of leaders and governments are not their fault. Relax then if you are reading this. Gillard is probably not your fault. Scant consolation though that may be.
Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics
The Quadrant Book of Poetry: 2001 - 2010
edited by Les Murray