Monday, 20 September 2010

Thou shalt love the state thy God . . .

There has been rather a lot in the news recently about the coming cuts in government expenditure, in particular with regard to the possibility of civil unrest that might result.

And while the ASI blog and Jeff Randal and many others have pointed out that these cuts are actually not as deep as some people would have you believe, anyone involved in local government will tell you that difficult decisions will have to be made, the result of which will be some very unhappy people.

Public sector trade unions are particularly concerned, and are speaking of the need to defend jobs and services. My gut feeling is that they are more concerned about the former than the latter. What really worries people is losing their jobs. For the unions, the state sector exists to protect jobs.

This has been brought home to me by a couple of recent conversations that I have had. One was a with a politician. He told me that many rural communities simply cannot survive on the private sector, because the private sector will never create enough jobs. These communities need a substantial state sector in order to provide employment.

The other conversation was with the head teacher of a primary school. We chatted about the huge growth in the number of people employed in small rural schools in recent decades. She admitted that it was a waste of money, but said (with great feeling) “At least it provides jobs. Where would these people find employment if it were not for these jobs?” In other words, she felt that the jobs didn’t really need doing - but creating jobs, even if those jobs are somewhat pointless, is a reasonable use of tax-payers’ money. The state is there to provide us with a living.

But is that what the state exists for?

And then there is the case of a young man I know called Ben. Ben is a very nice chap. He could, potentially, get a job - though he doesn’t have one at the moment. In fact, because of a hereditary condition, he might have difficulty getting one - and his condition means that he will never be able to be completely independent. He could stay at home with his parents, but, in order to be less dependent on them, he stays in a house with some friends, who would also have difficulties looking after themselves. Ben’s rent is paid by the state, and he lives on state benefits. This is, obviously, a great relief to his parents, for whom his condition has been a great worry over the years.

When I think about Ben, and about my two recent conversations, it is not difficult to see why many people in Britain today greatly appreciate the state. Indeed, we don’t just appreciate the state, we love it - because we depend on it. We look to it to step in and solve our problems, in a way that nobody would have dreamed of doing 100 years ago. It has become our saviour.

But it has become more than that. Ben has relatives who are reasonably well off. They do not, however, give anything to him. They have been advised not to include Ben in their wills. And the reason, of course, is that Ben has everything he needs at the moment, and any additional wealth that comes his way will simply lead to a loss of state benefits. Ben will not benefit from any money that is given to him. The state is, in this case, encouraging people not to provide for their relatives. And that bothers me. Surely people should be encouraged to make financial provision for their relatives?

The state, in other words, is becoming our provider and our life - that which we simply cannot survive without. The state has become not simply a safety net, if everything else fails - it is our first port of call. This is not, of course, the state as people conceived of it 300 years ago, or 200 years ago, or even 100 or years ago - but the modern, welfare state.

To many, it sounds good. Unfortunately, it doesn’t just mean wasting money, creating dependency, and discouraging responsibility. Because the state doesn’t just give. It also takes, for it has nothing of its own, and can only give what it takes from others. But the real problem is not the fact that it takes our money. The real problem is that the state finds it very difficult not to tell us what we can and cannot do - and when we are totally dependent on it, we will have little inclination to defend our freedoms.

The state was designed to be servant. But as it has increasingly become our all powerful provider, it looks like it has become our god. Is the state one of the great idols of modern Britain?


DaveF said...

The state is designed to be like a beneficent god. The Beast in the Book of Revelation could certainly be interpreted to be an all-encompassing global secular state that controls the lives of the people. It also operates through an image that demands submission and worship (however that may be interpreted). We know all about image, don't we? - it's the lifeblood of politics. The substance behind it is always ugly. I see biblical parallels..

Young Mr. Brown said...

Mr Faulks,

Your thoughts mirror mine. In the last dozen years, the Book of Revelation has seemed to me to become remarkably relevant.

At least if one understands it correctly.


DaveF said...

I'm interested in the relationship between the beast that is from the sea and the other one - which comes from the earth. The sea represents the unstable, fallen human world, thus reflecting the (geo)political sphere and all events associated with it. The other beast suggests something earthly - rather than heavenly. Which - as William Hendricksen points out - is false religion. The state has always needed religion to provide coherence to society - preferably one that conforms with the zeitgeist.
There are likely to be some serious attempts at partnership with the 'false prophet' - what/whoever he is - at least until he has served his purpose..