Sea of Reads

Peripatetic, itinerant, eclectic musings about books, politics, history, language, culture, and anything else that interests me.

The Importance of Deciding Between Food and Rent

Many if not most people would define an advanced society as one in which people do not have to choose between rent and medical care, or between keeping a job or taking care of a sick family member, or between putting food on the table and getting a university education, or between using a credit card to pay the mortgage and having the bank foreclose on you.

Not Theodore Dalrymple (the author of a new book that bemoans the moral decline of Britons under the “welfare state”) or Paul Hollander (the writer who approvingly reviews the book in the Washington Times).

The book’s title is Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline. Hollander’s review starts out this way:

The volume here reviewed, “Not With a Bang But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline,” is divided into Part I “Artists and Ideologues” and Part II “Politics and Culture.” The former reflects the author’s literary interests and includes essays about Samuel Johnson, Arthur Koestler, Henrik Ibsen, J.G. Ballard and new books on atheism. The second part focuses on British social pathologies and their political and cultural sources that will strike the American reader as unexpectedly similar to their counterparts in this country. There are also outstanding essays on Islamic terror and multiculturalism.

A sense of decline of the Western world, especially Britain, colors these writings. The author moved to France two years ago prompted by his despair over conditions in his native country: “I have removed myself: not that I imagine things are much better, only slightly different, in France. But one does not feel the defects of a foreign country in quite the same lacerating way as the defects of one’s native land; they are more an object of amused, detached interest than personal despair.” He considers the growth of social pathologies and the decline of cultural, moral and aesthetic standards in Britain more far-reaching and alarming than similar processes in the United States. He believes that the policies of the British welfare state have made a large contribution to these phenomena leaving “many people in contemporary Britain with very little of importance to decide for themselves. … They are educated by the state (at least nominally) … the state provides for them in old age and has made savings unnecessary … they are treated and cured by the state when they are ill; they are housed by the state if they cannot otherwise afford decent housing. Their choices concern only sex and shopping.

Presumably, what “many people in contemporary Britain” can no longer “decide for themselves” is whether to opt for a homeless shelter or a park bench when they are evicted from their home because the “choices” they have made all their lives (see first paragraph) have left them without any savings.

Hollander continues:

“No wonder the British have changed in character, their sturdy independence replaced by passivity, querulousness, or even, at the lower reaches of society, a sullen resentment that not enough has been … done for them. For those at the bottom, such money as they receive is, in effect pocket money, … reserved for the satisfaction of whims. As a result they are infantilized. If they behave irresponsibly — for example by abandoning their own children … — it is because both the rewards for behaving responsibly and the penalties for behaving irresponsibly have vanished.”

So, what are the “rewards for behaving responsibly” for a parent who does not abandon her or his children, but instead works at one company for a lifetime and then is laid off and loses all or most of his or her pension?

Via Arts & Letters Daily.

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This entry was posted on February 10, 2009 by in Books That Make Me Want to Scream.
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