Thursday, March 18, 2010


I've long had a theory that the European welfare state can be explained as the democratization of the aristocratic ethos.

In an aristocratic system, working for a living is considered ignoble because it is what the peasants do. The supposedly "noble" pursuits are those that are possible only to those who did not have to make a living: at best, that meant art, literature, and scientific dabbling. At worst, it meant hunting, card playing, gambling—the pastimes of the idle rich.

The European welfare state accepts this outlook and attempts to make the noble life of leisure attainable for the masses. Perhaps the masses cannot be freed entirely from the necessity of working—but they can be guaranteed, for example, a 35-hour work week and six weeks of paid vacation every summer to travel and enjoy a life of leisure. And of course artists and musicians are to be subsidized by their new royal patron, the state.

You can also see this increasingly in the European style of governance, which is delegating more and more power to an unelected bureaucratic elite. This new ruling class is selected, not by hereditary succession, but by a more "democratic" criterion: they are chosen, for example, from among the graduates of the Ecole Nationale d'Administration.

The left is attempting to bring an element of this democratized aristocratic culture to America. For example, our new ruling class of Harvard and Yale graduates will decide what legislation is best for us and leave us to "find out what is in it" later on. And they will create a properly aristocratic entitlement to government support for a life of leisure.

In the case of the report below, Nancy Pelosi is selling the health care bill as a measure that will make it easier to live as an unemployed artist—supported by the efforts of a dwindling group of toiling peasants.

"Pelosi's Republic," Mary Katharine Ham, Weekly Standard, March 12

"Think of an economy where people could be an artist or a photographer or a writer without worrying about keeping their day job in order to have health insurance."
If Pelosi wants us to imagine it, let's do it with a few caveats, shall we? If liberal Boomers such as Nancy Pelosi insist on creating government incentives for a generation of people to be unemployed artists who nonetheless have their health care paid for by productive members of society, there will be fewer productive members of society.

If they insist on creating a generation unable to care for itself up to and past the ripe old age of 26 by incentivizing "children"—and I use to term loosely— to stay on parent's health insurance policies until they're turning the corner from Clearasil to Botox, there will be fewer educated, able-bodied people who ever learn to take care of themselves.

If they insist on creating a generation incentivized to "move out of the money-making industry" entirely and "into the helping industry," as Michelle Obama put it, with student loans forgiven by government if and only if students stay away from icky, profit-making industries, there will be fewer people making a profit….

[T]he extent to which liberals actively discourage the very productivity that is the life's blood of their beloved entitlements, is astounding.

Robert Tracinski writes daily commentary at He is the editor of "The Intellectual Activist (TIA)" and contributor to "The Freedom Fighter's Journal."

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