The alliance against daddy

Imagine super-nanny on crystal meth. That’s how Lawrence Mead‘s ideal case manager deals with recalcitrant welfare recipients:

One man I know in Milwaukee, who works for a private employment program … summarized his message to his male clients this way: “I’ll do anything to help you. I’ll get you a job. But if you disappoint the employer — if you make me look bad — if you screw me over — you better watch out. I’m coming after you. I’m in your face. You’ll wish you’d never been born” (pdf).

In Mead’s hands, the caring and sharing nanny state is transformed into the do-it-or-else ‘daddy state’. According to journalist Paul Starobin. Mead is "the leading theologian" of a movement where "Government acts not as a compliant supplier of personal needs, but as a demanding, if caring, enforcer of civic responsibilities." The Centre for Independent Studies’ Peter Saunders is Australia’s best known promoter of daddy statism. He argues that governments need to exercise moral authority by making sure that laws and institutions reinforce social norms and traditional institutions such as the family.

Of course Starobin’s ‘daddy state’ tag is just a cute new name for paternalism. For paternalists the government’s authority flows from the values of the community. But for some critics the whole idea of a national community with a single set values looks both implausible and undesirable. At LP Mark Bahnisch argues that there’s no such thing as ‘the community’ — only individuals and the myriad of heterogeneous communities they create.

Seen in this way, the moral authority of the state is one of the spoils in a war between society’s most powerful communities. When one community takes power, their enemies are condemned and excluded as racists, sexists and ignorant bigots. And when the tables turn there’s a backlash and the politically correct are frozen out of positions of influence. The state the shifts its attention to the evil doings of welfare dependents, criminal gangs and ethnic minorities who refuse to assimilate.

It’s no surprise that leftists like Mark have started to see the daddy staters’ in-your-face approach to government as a threat to community. A more community minded state would restrict itself to administering a set of abstract rules — rules to protect property rights, enforce contracts, and provide citizens with the resources they need to live lives they value. A thin state would allow more room for the growth of thick communities — places where values would emerge spontaneously and standards of behaviour would be enforced by social norms rather than by bureaucratic rules.

In their pursuit of this polytopia, community minded leftists are now looking to right wing libertarians for support. Long ignored and mistreated by their conservative big brothers, libertarians have started to wonder whether higher taxes are a reasonable price to pay for a freer market and a less intrusive state. After all, the only thing polytopians seem to be asking for is that every citizen has access to an income and the education and healthcare they need in order to benefit from it.

I can’t help wondering where this conversation will lead. For example, will polytopian leftists support the libertarian push for school vouchers? What about intelligent design — if parents want their children taught an alternative to evolution, are they entitled to tax-payer support? And what if the members of a spontaneously generated community want to exclude muslims, gays and basic income ‘bludgers’ from their schools and neighbourhood organisations? And how far will free market libertarians be willing to support a system which confiscates their earning so that ‘looters’ and ‘moochers’ can avoid the discipline of the market?

Update: Gary Sauer-Thompson continues the conversation by linking Mead and Murray’s ideas to the literature on governmentality.

But wait… there’s more! At Catallaxy Jason says that Mark’s comments about community are "spot-on". And over at LP Gummo Trotsky has an extended commentary on Peter Saunders’ 2000 Bert Kelly lecture ‘Chasing our Tails?‘. Both Jason and Gummo link back here.

Also at LP, in an amusing comment that comes in at just over 450 words, Linda Carruthers argues that there are "serious economic problems" that can’t be solved by "post modern discursive deployment alone". Who else thinks that Linda should think about starting a blog herself?

And more! At Polemica, Cam is definitely "not saying the conservatives and nationalists are the enemy within and need to be eradicated" but he does argue that conservatism clashes with progressives, republicans and libertarians — all of whom share a commitment to the freedom of the individual.

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Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

will polytopian leftists support the libertarian push for school vouchers?

You might like to check the Catallaxy archives, Don!

Hugh
Hugh
15 years ago

Among the many points of (potential) contemplation that leap at me from your thoughts, I’m choosing to pick on the “teaching” of ID in schools.

No, parents aren’t entitled to taxpayer support for such education. Hinch says that all we owe the dead is truth; I say all we owe the young is the same. It’s criminal to give young minds anything but that.

Don Arthur
Don Arthur
15 years ago

Mark — If you give me a link I’ll add a note to the bottom of the post. Thanks for the tip.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
15 years ago

and I’ve now linked to your post a second time, Don. Peter Saunders is getting talked about an awful lot this month!

http://catallaxyfiles.com/?p=2110

Mark Bahnisch
15 years ago

Sorry, Don, I really don’t have time to look for the link right now. It was a recent Sam McSkimming thread on education policy, and an older Andrew Norton one (perhaps a couple of months ago).