THE DAILY TELEGRAPH: The struggle to curtail the social democratic state could have ugly consequences, says Janet Daley.
There seems to be only one political argument of interest left in the Western democracies: how “big” should the state be, and what are the proper limits of its responsibilities? Abstract as it may sound, this question has had a quite startling impact on the everyday experience – and voting habits – of people in the most advanced countries of the world.
In the United States, the electorate’s considered answer to it has humiliated a president and swept an extraordinary number of neophytes – whose primary attraction was their loathing of government power – into the most powerful legislature in history. In Britain, it has become the dominant theme (in fact, the raison d’être) of a coalition between a Left-of-centre party and a Right-of-centre one, which has managed to achieve a remarkable degree of agreement on the need to reduce – or, at least, to examine rigorously – the role of government intervention in all areas of social life.
The dominant economies of Europe, too, are going through quite momentous re-examinations of the post-war philosophy which accepted the state as an unquestionable source of benevolence and all-pervasive social justice. And this massive reassessment of the role of government has not come about simply because of the economic crisis, and the terrifying degree of sovereign debt which it produced. The governments of what were the richest countries in the world may be broke, but what is interesting is their response to this: the plan is not to make themselves rich enough once again to do all the things that they used to do, but to rethink the whole enterprise so that government never again finds itself so extravagantly overextended.
On this side of the Atlantic, there is now a broad understanding that the social democratic project itself is unsustainable: that it has grown wildly beyond the principles of its inception and that the consequences of this are not only unaffordable, but positively damaging to national life and character. The US, bizarrely, is running at least 10 years behind in this process, having elected a government which chose to embark on the social democratic experiment at precisely the moment when its Western European inventors were despairing of it, and desperately trying to find politically palatable ways of winding it down.
The American people – being made of rather different stuff and having historical roots which incline them to be distrustful of government in any form – immediately rejected the whole idea. But in Britain, too, among real people (as opposed to ideological androids) there is a general sense that governments – even when they are elected by a mass franchise – become out of touch and out of control, and that something essential to human dignity and potential is under threat from their overweening interference. Read on and comment >>> Janet Daley | Saturday, November 06, 2010