Friday, June 04, 2010

Will on Voegeli on The Welfare State

George Will reviews William Voegeli's Never Enough: America's Limitless Welfare State in his Thursday column. I chose the link at my local paper, the Manchester Union Leader, once notorious as the main conservative newspaper in the country. The Barrister over at Maggie's Farm put me on to this editorial, and I quote a slightly longer section than he does.
Wilsonian progressives believe that History is a proper noun, an autonomous thing. It, rather than nature, defines government's ever-evolving and unlimited purposes. Government exists to dispense an ever-expanding menu of rights -- entitlements that serve an open-ended understanding of material and even spiritual well-being.

The name "progressivism" implies criticism of the Founding, which we leave behind as we make progress. And the name is tautological: History is progressive because progress is defined as whatever History produces. History guarantees what the Supreme Court has called "evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society."

The cheerful assumption is that "evolving" must mean "improving."
It put me in mind of CS Lewis's comment via Prince Caspian in Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
"But that would be putting the clock back," gasped the governor. "Have you no idea of progress, of development?"
"I have seen them both in an egg," said Caspain. "We call it Going bad in Narnia. This [slave] trade must stop."
Conservatives sometimes get stuck on the true, but oversimple point that we cannot keep expanding government because it costs too much. It's not just the price, because we might theoretically become a rich enough nation some day that the price wouldn't matter so much. It is the few acquiring power via the money of the many and distributing this to their chosen recipients that is troubling. It not only rankles (bad enough), it destroys. It is the granting to government the responsibility of making us whole and happy. Finally, it is the demand that others come along for the experiment, despite considerable evidence from history that it will not work.

Voegeli plants this in the philosophical battle between Madison's constitutionalism and Wilson's progressivism for control of the government. We associate liberals and Democrats with the latter, but the belief is well-embedded in conservatism at this point as well.

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