Monday, 2 June 2008

Daily Telegraph: The death throes of 20th-century ideology

(Ed: Brilliant. If you read one article today, make it this one.)

[...] I would like to get inside the head of that person - that self-important, officious nebbish of a council official - who actually believes that these are appropriate uses of the anti-terror legislation designed to prevent mass murder. But I can't. I am reduced to the helpless cry of the more excitable sections of the popular prints: "Has the world gone mad?" To which the answer is obviously "No".

You and I, and the millions of despairing Britons who are either personally victimised by these idiotic policies or who sympathise with those who have been, can see clearly not only that common sense and proportionality are vanishing commodities in public policy, but that those in power seem to be losing their grip on recognisable reality.

So who is it, then, that is technically insane? Lots of people, obviously: this mania has infected whole swaths of the governing and public administrative classes.

In order to understand how perfectly ordinary functionaries - and even some seemingly lucid politicians - have come to be swept up in mass psychosis, we need to understand what all these various instances of it (not to mention dozens of others, which there is no space to list here) have in common. What is the thread that runs through the obtuse failure to understand the consequences of not collecting rubbish, of making the police (and the hospitals) conform to Soviet-style production targets, and of using draconian espionage techniques on blameless citizens?

It is the confusion, the desperate disorientation of a collapsing belief system. What we are living through is nothing other than the death throes of 20th-century ideology: the idea that the state is the only repository of civic virtue and moral authority.

The notion that Big Government (whether in the central or the local form) could solve all social problems, and through its interventions achieve absolute justice and harmony, is collapsing. And in its last moments, in its disbelief and agony at its own failure, it is lashing out in every direction: if the earlier measures haven't dealt with crime/public disorder/anti-social behaviour/under-performing hospitals/insufficient recycling, we must add yet more layers of official interference.

If government fails to achieve its objectives, it must be because it isn't doing enough, isn't being sufficiently pro-active - so let's pass another law, bring in a further layer of intrusion, take away another dimension of personal responsibility from community life.

But somehow, everything that government does makes things worse: leads to more perverse consequences and unforeseen complications. And the panic increases and the desperation grows and we get yet more laws and rules and targets and misapplied regulations.

Because they have taken so much power over our lives, we feel free to blame the governing classes for everything that goes wrong. And they feel they must address our every difficulty because everything is their fault. (Indeed, their interventions so frequently exacerbate our problems that we are actually quite right to blame them much of the time.)

When there is a real crisis - not just dog poo or over-loaded wheelie bins - the solution always follows the same formula: take more power away from the people. Read more
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