Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The Brutal Underpinning of the "Limited Government" Dogma

Incredibly, even as most sensible people -citizens know the import of government in contributing to decent schools, highways, and infrastructure repair, not to mention regulation that assures a basic quality in our food and water, many on the Right see these as encumbrances. Thus, when Rightists speak of "limited government" it is important to understand the context of their words and that they absolutely don't mean limited in all aspects, but only some.

For example, in terms of corporate subsidies and corporate welfare (now $125 billion a year and growing) there is certainly no sense or pretension of "limited government" Rather, the more government can do for the corporatocracy the better. Let citizens sink or swim, but come hell or high water, the corporations will get their due. Errr....payback for their campaign contributions.

In terms of military spending and military resources, conservatives certainly don't favor "limited government". Rather, the more money and government largesse for tanks, planes, missiles, missile "shields" and whatnot for "defense", the better. (Particularly since these help line the pockets of defense contractors and big business).

No, what the conservatives mean when they tout "limited government" is greatly reduced social spending, for items like welfare, Medicaid, and universal health care - as well as social entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. This is why the (Paul) Ryan non-budget is so very popular, and why - if ever implemented - it will send this country into the proverbial crapper in perpetuity.
How exactly did this dogma demanding self-sufficiency for the populace but allowing governmental dependency for the military-corporate state arise? As Richard Hofstadter notes ('Social Darwinism in American Thought', American Historical Association, 1955) its initiation coincided with the visit of Herbert Spencer to the U.S. in 1882, for a speaking tour. Spencer, for those unaware, was a British philosopher who sought to extend the principles of natural selection in Darwinian Evolution, to society as a whole. Second, Spencer's path to being lionized by elite Overclass circles, media and corporatists (like Andrew Carnegie) in the U.S. was already paved by the serialized 1872-73 publication of his controversial book, 'The Study of Sociology' by Popular Science Monthly. This series of tracts and screeds was penned to try to show the benefits and desirability of a "naturalistic social science". In particular, that any political or social system had to be bankrupt and witless if tried to rush human development faster than the glacial rates peculiar to evolution.

But one is still left to wonder how an 'oddball' academic who distorted Darwin's theory -and was barely given the time of day in Great Britain- could attain profound celebrity status in the U.S. To the extent of having his skewed philosophy seamlessly integrated into a growing conservative ideology.

Two things:

First, the American landscape - as Garry Wills notes in his superb monograph 'A Necessary Evil- A History of American Distrust of Government', 1999, p. 318, combined the frontier tradition embedded in U.S. history with the distorted "Lockean individualism" of our political theory. The latter developed as the myth of the "self- sufficient" man in John Locke's social contract theory. The false assumption that a human can be complete in and of itself, and each increase in state power for the social commonweal represents a sacrificed increment of this self-sufficiency.

As Hofstadter points out (pp. 41-42) Spencer absolutely repudiated all state assistance to the poor, needy, physically feeble, or infirm. In terms of the role of natural selection in "social evolution" such aid amounted to unwanted artificial interference in nature. Not to mention, meddling in the "natural development" of a superior society.

Thus, the poor and infirm were deemed "unfit" if they couldn't compete for resources without state assistance and it was their lot to be eliminated if they couldn't manage. As Spencer put it (ibid.):

"The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such, to clear the world of them, and make room for better."

Nor would humans necessarily be to blame for this, rather it was simply nature's doing. Her process by which the unfit and uncompetitive could be eliminated once and for all. The beauty of it- in Spencer's mind- was that all alike were put on trial by nature, and so had to undergo equal judgment before her. In his words again (ibid.):

"If they are sufficiently complete to live, they do live, and it is well that they should live. If they are not sufficiently complete to live, they die, and it is best that they should die."

It is important to note here that Spencer asserted this fate need not be inevitable. He allowed that any voluntary or private charity - including faith-based- could give to those who needed assistance. He asserted over and over he was not opposed to THIS form of help, since it was voluntary and not state-enforced or regulated. He merely opposed any state measures or budgets allocated to that end.

Interestingly, the "faith-based" voluntary charity is a hallmark of the limited government agenda. Thus those of Romney's or Ryan's ilk while seeking to eviscerate government support, say in food stamps, will gladly allow voluntary charity to step in and fill the vacuum. Clearly, they wants seniors, the indigent, the infirm and others to have a fall back "support" after they finish devastating Social Security and Medicare by privatizing them, and forcing states to cut Medicaid and welfare rolls to the bones.

It is quite evident that Ryan - like Spencer before him - believes that "voluntary" charity is the way to go, if the needy are to be saved from the ravages of natural selection and evolutionary forces at work in the "free market" jungle....er, society.

Over the years this cruel Spencerian doctrine seeped into American conservatism, the soil already rendered fertile by the fanatical American adulation of individualism. Indeed, more than eighty years later similar Spencerian refrains could be heard in the words of Texas Oil Magnate and arch-conservative Haroldson Lafayette Hunt, when he averred in 1962 (cf. 'Farewell to America', Frontiers Press, 1968, p. 248):

"All services to the public should be eliminated in place of personal enterprise."

If Mitch Romney is elected, and Ryan's budget becomes his economic centerpiece, you may be sure that this maxim from a foul  Texas oil tycoon (and very likely one of the masterminds of the Kennedy assassination) will be the template on which the majority of this nation get flushed down the Social Darwinian toilet. Are people aware of this - those of the putative 99% - if they contemplate a vote for Mitt? Maybe they should be!

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