A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Institutionalized Dishonesty. I claimed that liberalism has incorporated reflexive untruthfulness into our national fabric. Whether in the government, the media, or ordinary life, more people are engaging in what are regarded as justifiable lies. These have become business as usual.
Now I am about to assert that irresponsibility has also become institutionalized. It too has been integrated into the social structures upon which we depend. No longer do most people feel accountable for their destinies. Now they believe they have a right to be protected.
Where did they get this idea? Why are millions of us certain that we are entitled to cradle to grave success and security? The source of this conviction should be obvious. It is an article of liberal faith. Progressives, whether in the media, academe or government, constantly proclaim it as a birthright.
But from whence did they derive this notion? How did they get it into their heads that the state must supply everyone with a good job, as well as shelter them from any hazard an uncertain universe might throw their way?
Although left-wingers sometimes maintain that they are in favor of personal responsibility, their actions shout otherwise. After all, they want to jack up the minimum wage, provide all and sundry with free medical care and higher education, and institute reams of regulations so that no one ever injures anyone else.
This has been called the nannie state, but it might also be labeled the feather-bed factory. The theory is that we all should be able to lean back and be served whatever we desire merely because we exist. We ought not have to work hard—or make decisions we could get wrong. Faceless others are to do the heavy lifting.
So I repeat: How did this peculiar worldview arise? Why did so many of us come to believe that we do not have to support ourselves by the sweat of our brows and that a set of rules emanating from Washington D.C. must ensure that we never come to any harm?
The culprit, I am afraid to say, is Marxism coupled with rampant bureaucratization. Karl Marx taught his disciples that virtually all of the world’s evil could be laid at the feet of a few selfish capitalists. If these malevolent oppressors could be overthrown, the exploitation they sponsored would disappear.
But freedom from maltreatment was not enough. People still wanted to live comfortably. The Industrial Revolution had provided a cornucopia of goods and services. No one wanted to see these vanish. They were to be redistributed.
This was deemed feasible because industrial production was regarded as automatic. It was a matter of setting the machines in motion so that the affluence they generated would appear of its own accord. All the government had to do was make sure everyone received their fair share.
The state bureaucracy was itself conceived of as an automatic machine. Once the correct rules and procedures were put in place, these, and not fallible human agents, would guarantee prosperity and social justice. No one would be responsible because personal responsibility was now to be unnecessary.
And so here we have it. The government can supposedly make us rich merely by forcing employers to pay us more. It can also render us better educated by making universal education gratis. Our health can likewise be enormously improved by its underwriting the costs of medical care. We have to do nothing—except enjoy the bounty.
We won’t even have to worry about being moral. This too will be the state’s responsibility—which it will discharge with everlasting compassion. Because the philosopher kings overseeing the bureaucratic machinery are to be unswervingly nice, their kindness will theoretically rub off on the rest of us. We won’t need to control our selfish impulses because they will evaporate.
In this brave new liberal world, we need not dread mistakes, because we won’t make any. Nor will we have to develop complex skills, because these are to be built into our mechanical servants. Rather than act responsibly, we can concentrate our ever narrower attention spans on Facebook and computer games. Won’t that be fun!
Melvyn L. Fein, Ph.D.
Professor of Sociology
Kennesaw State University