The Centrist Illusion

May 11, 2018

Another irony is that, though Shermer is against economic protectionism, he is an advocate of “the modern pluralistic welfare state.” According to him,

today the strongest and fastest growing economies in the world allocate anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of their GDP to social expenditures. A 2015 study on global human development between 1870 and 2007, conducted by the economist Leandro Prados de la Escosura, reported a positive correlation between the percentage of GDP that an OECD nation allocated to social spending and its score on a composite measure of prosperity, health, and education. Germany, for instance, has created the strongest economy in the EU on the basis of a social-welfare system that provides citizens with cradle-to-grave security.

Here Shermer simply assumes that the outcome of an OECD nation such as Germany is representative of what would happen in America if we had a bigger welfare state. The reality is much more complicated. The fruits—or evils—of “social expenditures” will be determined by the characters and abilities of a nation’s citizens. A person who is irresponsible, and who lacks a sense of self-reliance, if given “a handout,” is unlikely to show it to have been money well spent.

Certainly this merits reflection now that the American family is in such a bad way. Forty percent of all children are born out of wedlock; among blacks, illegitimacy accounts for a staggering 74 percent of children. A bigger welfare state may be better at keeping people alive and well-fed, but children whose parents did not serve as models of responsible adult behavior do not turn out well just because the state was generous toward them. Moreover, children whose parents showed them how to be irresponsible and, in some cases, how to be freeloaders and even criminals can grow up to be quite harmful to and a burden on their fellow citizens owing to social welfare programs that, because they afford “cradle-to-grave security,” allow for dependency.

Michel Foucault himself understood that welfare produces “situations of dependency.” “The black family,” says Thomas Sowell, “survived centuries of slavery and generations of Jim Crow, but it has disintegrated in the wake of the liberals’ expansion of the welfare state.” “In 1960,” Sowell points outs, “just 22 percent of black children grew up in single-parent homes. Thirty years later that number had more than tripled.”

In short, Shermer’s assumption that a bigger welfare state in America will lead to a result like that which he describes in Germany is highly questionable. I myself am in favor of some sort of welfare state, but I see that, however well-intentioned, it may make for even more social ills, since welfare does enable those who are not, let us say, good citizens.

Shermer has not only grossly misunderstood the right; he does not see the intractable problem with classical liberalism as a doctrine—namely that, because it is not prescriptive but essentially negative and pluralist in regard to moral values, it tends toward the very chaotic leftism by which he is so vexed, although I don’t have the space to argue that point here.

It seems strange and, one might think, hypocritical for Quillette to publish an article that makes a cheap conflation between conservatives and racist alt-right types. The magazine is edited by its centrist founder, Claire Lehmann, who a year ago appeared in a video for Rebel Media in which she says, rightly, that people are “inherently tribal.” She also argues that “nationalism is the antidote to racism,” for “it brings people together” and “encourages them to cooperate.”

To be sure, though, Lehmann might respond: “I am no hypocrite; that I published Shermer’s article doesn’t mean I agree with him.” True enough, but the piece remains a shoddy piece of work, and a competent editor would have called attention to its palpable flaws, from which it could have gained. Yet, as I said in a column a little while back, neither Lehmann nor Jamie Palmer, senior editor of Quillette, seems to understand American conservatism or American politics generally.

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