Sunday, February 11, 2007

This is England . . . This knife of Sheffield steel . . . This is England . . . This is how we feel . . .

Those interested in preserving what remains of freedom in the US would do well to monitor events in Britain, as those interested in salvaging what's left of freedom in Britain would do well to monitor events in the US. The few lonely souls on the Continent still daring enough to show an interest in this arcane matter would, I suppose, do well to monitor events all over the place. We all seem, from our various positions, to be drifting in a similar direction, at least as regards freedom, and we can perhaps learn from each other's catastrophes before it is too late. Or not.

Today's Telegraph reports that fully one third of UK households now receive at least half of their income from the state. Government figures "also reveal the huge gulf in welfare dependency between single parent and two-parent households."

Well, who would have guessed?

Once a sense of independence and self-reliance is leeched from a population, I suspect that constitutional guarantees of freedom are easily enough amended out of existence. There is a cultural structure that under girds the Western sense of freedom; it's foundation consists of a deliberately fostered awareness of one's obligations and personal responsibilities, and an interest in the rights of others. These responses - ingrained in culture rather than DNA - are not intrinsic to human nature and are far from universal, even within our own society, as is made clear with depressing regularity whenever we turn on the TV.

In much of the world, such appeal as freedom has is based primarily on the license it grants to do whatever the hell you want, disregarding all consequences to others. Freedom, as understood in these terms, validates and unleashes what is least admirable in human nature. Hence, the understandable ambivalence toward "freedom" in cultures that do not share our curious and rapidly diminishing notion of a freedom bound by willingly assumed responsibilities. These responsibilities start with the effort to provide - to legally provide - for one's own material well-being, rather than always and inevitably turning to the state.

I don't see how a free and independent populace, in the sense that we have traditionally understood it, can sustain itself when one third of its households depend largely or exclusively on the state for their upkeep. It may be in the nature and the in interests of politicians and bureaucrats to see to it that these figures remain high, but the consequences of such dependence are easy enough to understand, and to forecast. Over centuries, we've been taught - or rather, we've taught ourselves - to value freedom, and to sacrifice security and leisure in defense of its fragile existence. Those lessons can be unlearned, or simply forgotten, and they are being unlearned, and rapidly forgotten.

Freedom, in historical terms, may simply be passing out of vogue.


Thoughts from Kabul said...

Great post, I agree completely. The question is, how do we keep this (the erosion of personal freedom tempered by personal responsibility) trend from progressing?

Anonymous said...

Mr Sea,
as we know only too well, fostering dependency among the populace is a form of political safeguard; opposition parties either have to accept the new norms created by the incumbent party (e.g. the promise of greater and easier access to state handouts), or rely on 'the people's' inherent sense of decency and morality.

Since 1997, the British government seems to have been hell-bent on supplanting those traditional values with ideas of 'fairness'; where every aspect of life can be quantified according to its position on some arbitrary financial 'score-sheet', rather than its true moral worth. Having created, literally, millions of non-jobs in local government and in QUANGOs, for the semi-educated of the country, Blair's government has done its best to create a climate in which, not only those indirectly employed by the State, but those in private employment are equally dependant on the survival of that government for the survival of their own 'life-style'.

Philosophical arguments about whether or not 'freedom' is a relative term (or indeed about freedom in any sense) become meaningless when the populace believe that they continue to enjoy freedom - despite the fact that such 'freedom' is conditional upon relinquishing their autonomy.

Your post, unfortunately, highlights the effects of such a perversion on the psyche of that once-proud and independent nation. Equally unfortunate for Britain is the well-founded suspicion that the Tory party, who should be able to capitalise on successive scandals and much evidence of serial ineptitude within the NuLab ranks, are so mesmerised by the past successes of the Blairites, that they will seek to compound, rather than confound, much of their anti-democratic legislation.
God help all us Brits.

Black Sea said...

I think Kyle raises the big question, to which I'm afraid I have no optimistic reply. I think this atmosphere of widespread dependence on the state will only come to an end when it is no longer financially sustainable, and I think most of us realize that - in addition to being enervating - it is financially unsustainable.

I agree with Grumpy that this is not a case of unconsciously creeping government expansion, but rather a very deliberate political course of action founded on a awareness that those who are dependent are more easily controlled (bullied is probably more accurate).

I suppose that the best that most of us can do is to quietly remind people, when they ask for the millionth time why the government doesn't tackle some new problem, that any government large enough and invasive enough to take on said problem would have to be totalitarian.

You know the type: why doesn't the government do something about obesity, why doesn't the government do something about junk food, why doesn't the government do something about kids watching too much TV, and on and on and on.

Anonymous said...

Although Gordon Brown (the UK's Finance Minister) has often - and at full volume - proclaimed his devotion to 'prudence' in his conduct of Britain's economy, the sad truth is that he has plundered pension schemes, private savings accounts and virtually every other source of hard cash in his support for the 'New Labour' version of Utopia. At the beginning of NuLab rule, the country's balance of payments was tens of billions of pounds in credit. It stands currently at hundreds of billions in debit and the debt is growing daily.
Why is this of relevance to the present discussion?
Because, despite the absolute truth of Black Sea's claim that the creation of widespread dependence on the state is, ultimately, financially unsustainable, such an analysis assumes that whoever controls the country's finances will concern him/herself with the long term viability of such policies.
Like every other Labourite government, Tony Blair's pals have - and continue to - capitalise on other countries' preparedness to lend, or give extended credit, to the UK. Given that any mention of an impending crash of the UK economy is so well suppressed, the government continues to enjoy the power to - almost literally - enslave the British people.
Meanwhile, of course, those who seem so willing to sell what remains of their souls are heard to greet every new diminution of their autonomy with the words, "If you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear".
Why doesn't the government do something about it?