Skip to comments.The death throes of 20th-century ideology
Posted on 06/01/2008 9:36:25 PM PDT by bruinbirdman
The idea that the state is the only repository of civic virtue and moral authority has come to a dead end
Question one: what happens when you leave rubbish outside people's homes for two weeks? The planet stops overheating and life on earth is saved? Nope. But you do get lots of well-fed rats and flies happily paddling around the households of suburban Britain.
Apparently, the Government has been sitting on research which made the startling discovery that failing to empty rubbish bins every week produces a rise in disease-carrying rodents and insects. Who, one wonders, actually commissioned this project? Have we not known since the Middle Ages that festering piles of discarded food attract vermin? Why, in heaven's name, are we arguing about this?
Startling: failure to empty rubbish bins every week produces
a rise in disease-carrying rodents and insects
Question two: what happens when you turn drunken 14-year-olds into a criminal problem, instead of what they have always been depicted as in English life, from Hogarth to Dickens: a social nuisance and a sign of moral degradation? You transform the prospects of young people and restore a sense of responsibility to their parents? Nope. But you do manage to bung up even more police time by turning obnoxious behaviour into an official offence that will need to be recorded, documented, logged and pushed through the magistrates' courts, to be solemnly followed by an Asbo (ha, ha) and a penalty for parents that will no doubt require a separate judicial procedure.
Within living memory, it was possible for kids who drank in public to be picked up in a squad car and delivered home with a stern (unofficial) warning which they and their parents took seriously because the authority of the police actually mattered. And it mattered precisely because not every species of annoying transgression was actually a crime, in the full-blown sense, and the police felt as much responsibility for maintaining the standards of respectable behaviour as they did for achieving successful prosecution targets.
Question three: what are the consequences of introducing the kind of surveillance techniques once associated with Eastern Bloc countries to prevent terrorism, without providing careful safeguards against their misuse? Local councils adopt them (at God only knows what cost in man-hours and resources) to pursue the careless depositors of dog poo and to prosecute people for putting the wrong kind of rubbish in their wheelie bins, presumably so that the fines thus collected can help to pay for the ridiculous numbers of staff required to carry out these persecutions of the law-abiding.
Now I really, really want to understand this: I would like to get inside the head of that person - that self-important, officious nebbish of a council official - who actually believes that these are appropriate uses of the anti-terror legislation designed to prevent mass murder. But I can't. I am reduced to the helpless cry of the more excitable sections of the popular prints: "Has the world gone mad?" To which the answer is obviously "No".
You and I, and the millions of despairing Britons who are either personally victimised by these idiotic policies or who sympathise with those who have been, can see clearly not only that common sense and proportionality are vanishing commodities in public policy, but that those in power seem to be losing their grip on recognisable reality.
So who is it, then, that is technically insane? Lots of people, obviously: this mania has infected whole swaths of the governing and public administrative classes.
In order to understand how perfectly ordinary functionaries - and even some seemingly lucid politicians - have come to be swept up in mass psychosis, we need to understand what all these various instances of it (not to mention dozens of others, which there is no space to list here) have in common. What is the thread that runs through the obtuse failure to understand the consequences of not collecting rubbish, of making the police (and the hospitals) conform to Soviet-style production targets, and of using draconian espionage techniques on blameless citizens?
It is the confusion, the desperate disorientation of a collapsing belief system. What we are living through is nothing other than the death throes of 20th-century ideology: the idea that the state is the only repository of civic virtue and moral authority.
The notion that Big Government (whether in the central or the local form) could solve all social problems, and through its interventions achieve absolute justice and harmony, is collapsing. And in its last moments, in its disbelief and agony at its own failure, it is lashing out in every direction: if the earlier measures haven't dealt with crime/public disorder/anti-social behaviour/under-performing hospitals/insufficient recycling, we must add yet more layers of official interference.
If government fails to achieve its objectives, it must be because it isn't doing enough, isn't being sufficiently pro-active - so let's pass another law, bring in a further layer of intrusion, take away another dimension of personal responsibility from community life.
But somehow, everything that government does makes things worse: leads to more perverse consequences and unforeseen complications. And the panic increases and the desperation grows and we get yet more laws and rules and targets and misapplied regulations.
Because they have taken so much power over our lives, we feel free to blame the governing classes for everything that goes wrong. And they feel they must address our every difficulty because everything is their fault. (Indeed, their interventions so frequently exacerbate our problems that we are actually quite right to blame them much of the time.)
When there is a real crisis - not just dog poo or over-loaded wheelie bins - the solution always follows the same formula: take more power away from the people.
For example, the price of home-heating is now a serious problem, so what does the Government suggest? A return to zero VAT for heating fuel, which would lower the price instantly and significantly for everyone? Nope. What they propose is a hugely intrusive programme (at present illegal under data protection laws) in which private financial information about the poor would be handed to power companies, in the hope that the disadvantaged might be given more leeway in paying their bills.
So somewhere in the corridors of Whitehall, someone could have the power to decide which of us is deserving enough to have the confidential details of our hardship handed over to some anonymous manager at British Gas or Npower for their compassionate consideration. (Why not medical records, too? Surely the chronic sick could be given heating privileges?)
This madness is not all Gordon Brown's fault. He just happens to be the man presiding over the final moments of a political philosophy that has reached a dead end.
Very nice, thank you. I’m printing this out and reading it later.
Wow. Very cool article. For my British Freep friends, is the Telegraph typically a conservative-minded paper?
The only problem with the “collapse” of the big government belief structure is that elected Conservative governments can no loner tame the bureaucratic beast. Its too big, its self-perpetuating, and its going to take everyone down with it in its death throes.
Good article! I see much the same attitude in Stateside bureaucrats, and the same frustration with it in my countrymen.
France elected a president who ran against the Socialist Party.
Italy's last election chose a conservative PM and at the same time unseated every single Communist and Socialist in parliament.
UK Socialist Labour Party has been humiliated in all off calendar votes for parliament this year, including the London Mayor that has been socialist for 60 years, and is due to be creamed in the next general election.
Bump for later
Yes, the telegraph is generally rigtht wing, sometimes remarkably so, other times it bottles out. But hey, that’s life....
I would urge American Freepers to note that although a lot of tosh still comes out of our government and local authroities there is real evidence that we Brits are waking up. The mood has changed a great deal from (say) this time last year.
The Labour government and its socialist / liberal politics are now seen as a 12 years of failure, and Brown and his mindset are clearly bankrupt.
Go there Brits!!!!