03 May 2010

“Doctor State Syndrome.”

Will Wilkinson | Easily Ignored Insights

An excellent passage from Josef Joffe’s review of Tony Judt’s Ill Fares the Land:
The central problem with “Ill Fares the Land” is a classic fallacy of the liberal-left intelligentsia, more in Europe than in the United States. Call it the “Doctor State Syndrome.” The individual is greedy, misguided or blind. The state is the Hegelian embodiment of the right and the good that floats above the fray. But the state does not. It is a party to the conflict over “who gets what, when and how,” to recall Harold Lasswell’s definition of politics. It makes its own pitch for power; it creates privileges, franchises and clienteles. This is why it is so hard to rein in, let alone cut back. The modern welfare state creates a new vested interest with each new entitlement. It corrupts as it does good.

It also invites corruption of itself because the more the state distributes and regulates, the more it tempts its citizens to outflank the market and manipulate public power for private gain. The founding fathers grasped this hard truth, and hence they hemmed in government. Even the most moderate of social democrats tend to ignore this insight, and so does Tony Judt.
Hear, hear.

See also Glenn Allport:
The single most damaging error of the modern age is the misperception of government as an agency of compassion.  As a replacement for the "divine right of kings," this misperception has, for those in power, been an astonishing success.  For the rest of mankind, it has frequently been a disaster beyond imagining. Government is nothing more than structured, widespread coercion, and the idea that it can implement compassion for us by force is simply a vile and cunning lie.  It is cunning because people are primed and willing, even desperate, to believe it.
As well as Arnold Kling:
The old idea of the Divine Right of Kings was a way to combine [justification by Command and Control] and [by Deity and Disgust]. Today, that has been replaced by the Divine Right of Electoral Victory. This doctrine is that once elected, leaders can do whatever they please, and we must obey. The way I see it, our rulers get away with combining C and D. I view those who appeal to the Divine Right of Electoral Victory as offering support for the too-powerful against the nearly-powerless.

I also object when people treat government redistribution as altruism. When you contribute to charity, that is altruism. When leaders take your money to give to what they claim is a good cause, that is not altruism. That is command and control, perhaps buttressed by a D-type justification.

When President Obama claims to have the authority of "us," he is claiming a D justification for his command and control. The Divine Right of Electoral Victory is so firmly ensonced in people's minds that to challenge his claim is considered shocking.

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