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Jewish Journal

Liberalism and the decline of a society’s character

by Dennis Prager

June 21, 2011 | 5:30 pm

While most American Jews and other liberals believe in the intrinsic goodness and moral superiority of liberal policies, powerful arguments can be made that liberal policies actually diminish a society’s moral character. Many individual liberals are wonderful people, but the policies they advocate tend to make a people worse.

First, the bigger the government, the less the citizens do for one another. If the state will take care of me, my parents, my children and my neighbors, why should I?

This is why Western Europeans, people who have lived in welfare states far longer than Americans have, give less charity and volunteer less time to others than do Americans of the same socioeconomic status. They have been raised to believe the state will and should take care of everyone.

The greatest description of American civilization was written in the early 19th century by a Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville. One of the differences distinguishing Americans from Europeans that he most marveled at was how much Americans — through their myriad associations — took care of one another.

Until President Franklin Roosevelt began the until-now inexorable movement of America toward the European welfare state — vastly expanded later by other Democratic presidents, especially President Lyndon Johnson and his “Great Society” and President Barack Obama with his 2,000 pages of laws governing health care — Americans took responsibility for one another and for themselves far more than they do today. Churches, Rotary Clubs, free-loan societies and other voluntary associations were ubiquitous. As the state grew, however, all these associations declined. In Western Europe, they have virtually all disappeared.

The welfare state citizen’s instinct upon seeing anyone, including one’s own parents or children, in need is to go to the state for help. If you think this makes for morally superior people, people with greater moral character, then our definition of a good person differs.

Second, the welfare state, though often well intentioned, is nevertheless a Ponzi scheme. Conservatives have known this for nearly a century. But now, any honest person must acknowledge it. The welfare state is predicated on collecting money from today’s workers to pay for those who paid in before them. But, today’s workers don’t have enough money to sustain the scheme, and there are too few of them to do so.

As a result, virtually every welfare state in Europe, and many American states, like California, are going broke. For at least a generation, there have not been enough citizens to sustain such a welfare state.

Third, citizens of liberal welfare states become increasingly narcissistic. The great preoccupation of vast numbers of Brits, Frenchmen, Germans and other Western Europeans are how much vacation time they will have and how early they can retire and be supported by the state. Those are the issues over which Western Europeans routinely riot.

Fourth, the liberal welfare state makes people disdain work. Americans work considerably harder than Western Europeans, and, contrary to liberal thought since Marx, work builds character.

Fifth, the more one receives from the state for not working hard, the more selfish he or she becomes. Nothing more guarantees the erosion of character than getting something for nothing. One develops an entitlement mentality — another expression of narcissism. When students at public universities demonstrate, let alone illegally take over college buildings, to demand free or inexpensive education, one sees the selfish fruit of expecting something for nothing.

The very rhetoric of liberalism — labeling every new entitlement a “right” — produces less responsible, more entitled individuals.

Sixth, the bigger the government, the more the corruption. As the famous truism goes, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Of course, businesses can be corrupt. But they are eventually caught or go out of business. The government cannot go out of business. And, unlike corrupt governments, corrupt businesses cannot print money and thereby devalue a nation’s currency, as the current liberal administration in Washington has been doing.

Seventh, the welfare state corrupts family life. Even many Democrats have acknowledged the horrific consequences of the welfare state on the black community. It has rendered vast numbers of black males unnecessary to black females, who have looked to the state to support them and their children (and the more children, the more state support) rather than to husbands. In effect, these women took the state as their husband. Whereas in the past, women sought out men for financial support, the welfare state enables women to stay single and get support from the government. No wonder single women of all races are far more likely to vote Democrat than married women of all races.

Eighth, the welfare state enables its citizens — especially young men — not to mature into responsible adults. I was raised, as were all generations of American men before me, to aspire to work hard in order to marry and to support a wife and children. No more. One of the reasons so many single women lament the prevalence of boy-men — men who have never grown up — is that the liberal state has told men they don’t have to support anybody. They are free to remain boys for as long as they want.

None of this matters to most liberals. Against all this destructiveness, they will respond not with arguments to refute these consequences of the liberal welfare state, but by citing two terms, “social justice” and “compassion,” and by labeling their opponents “selfish” and worse. If you want to feel good, liberalism is awesome. If you want to do good, it is largely awful.

Dennis Prager’s nationally syndicated radio talk show is heard in Los Angeles on KRLA (AM 870) 9 a.m. to noon. His latest project
is the Internet-based Prager University (prageru.com).

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