Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Welfare State vs the Individual

Lefty wrote, “ . . . you read them with the mind that believes that order should trump liberty. Those are (as I read you) fundamentals with you. My fundamentals are almost opposite. . .”

Let’s see if this is true: Marcel Gauchet in his The Disenchantment of the World, A Political History of Religion describes the move away from religious hierarchy during the Reformation as one of the necessary steps toward Western Liberal Democracy. The higher up the Roman Catholic hierarchy the closer you got to God, but Luther and more especially Calvin changed that for Protestants. Inasmuch as all Christians are saved by grace through Jesus Christ, not through an intermediary, no one is closer to God than anyone else. No office or classification gets one closer to God. We can see the birth of the Liberal-Democratic idea of equality in this. Prior to Luther and Calvin you were not equal to a priest or a bishop. They were higher up the Catholic hierarchy than you were.

Gauchet argued that Christianity, primarily Protestant Christianity, gave rise to Liberal Democracy. It also gave rise to the idea of autonomy. The modern idea of autonomy probably isn’t one that Calvin would approve of, but Arminius might: We are the source of our acts and representations; thus it is entirely up to us whether we choose to follow Jesus Christ or not. Our will is free; we can exercise it to choose whatever we like. Gauchet has observed that over time, a majority in Europe has exercised this will to reject Jesus Christ and Christianity.

The idea of the individual also grew from Protestant Christianity. Alain Renaut draws a distinction between an Autonomous person, one who is the source of his acts and representations, and an Individual, one who rejects restraints upon his liberties. Renaut describes a hypothetically consistent individual who denies any restriction upon his liberties whatsoever. No such person exists any more than an utterly consistent autonomous person can exist. But consider Lefty’s statement above. He believes that I would have order trump liberty whereas he would almost hold to an opposite view. Thus if we set up a spectrum and put order at one end and liberty at the other, Lefty believes he would be far closer to the liberty end than I would; which may be true. I don’t know, but I thought about this in relation to something else, the Welfare State.

The Welfare State is far closer to a Catholic Hierarchy than the Liberal Democracy we have in the U.S. is. It is based on the idea that you need someone to help you from the cradle to the grave. It has the power and the money to take care of you. I would assume, although I can’t recall a specific discussion with Lefty on this subject that he favors the Welfare State over the form of government we have here in the present, but a Welfare State is more intrusive than American U.S. Liberal Democracy. It needs to gather more statistics, check more things, have you fill out more forms, have you meet more requirements. And of course there are more penalties when you don’t meet the requirements; so there are more agencies overseeing the people benefiting from the welfare state. In short, the Welfare state is closer to the “Order” end of the spectrum than the U.S. form of government which would be much closer to the “Liberty” end. Since I favor American Liberal Democracy over the European Welfare State, I am much closer to the Liberty end of the Spectrum than Lefty is.

Lefty could shoot my speculation down by saying he is not an advocate of the Welfare State and far prefers the U.S. form of Liberal Democracy, but is that true? And if he does favor the Welfare State, how does he reconcile that with his great interest in the preservation of his liberties? I think what he really means by “liberty” is “license.” And if ewe make a different spectrum and put order at one end and license at the other, I quite agree that he would be much closer to the license end than I would.


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