Yuval Levin--writing at the NRO's The Corner--explored the concept of dependency the other day, in kind of a tangent to Senator Mike Lee's well-received speech before the Heritage Foundation. In the speech, Lee talked about the recent lapse--as he sees it (and I agree)--from conservatives with regard to properly explaining what conservatism is really all about. Lee noted that conservatives had allowed their ideological opponents to successfully paint them into a corner in far too many cases, had taken to defending strawmen versions of their ideology, rather than the ideology itself.
He reminded his listeners that social institutions and communities have important roles to play in the conservative vision, that cooperation and unity are not dirty words for conservatives, are in fact vital elements of a properly functioning society within that vision:
We need to remind the American people – and perhaps, too, the Republican Party itself – that the true and proper end of political subsidiarity is social solidarity.It's a brilliant and moving speech, it really is. And Lee is dead on right about the failure of conservative voices--especially those in the Republican Party--to properly explain and defend the ideology. Because it is undoubtedly true that Lee has captured a critical point here, though rarely understood let alone explained: for conservatives--and libertarians, really--the "voluntary" nature of civil society is their point of divergence, both from what we refer to today as liberalism and from progressivism. Philosophically, the divergence traces back to classical liberalism versus modern liberalism, the first resting on the ideas of Locke, Smith, and Burke and the latter following the ideas of Bentham and later Hegel.
Ours has never been a vision of isolated, atomized loners. It is a vision of husbands and wives; parents and children; neighbors and neighborhoods; volunteers and congregations; bosses and employees; businesses and customers; clubs, teams, groups, associations… and friends.
The essence of human freedom, of civilization itself, is cooperation. This is something conservatives should celebrate. It’s what conservatism is all about.
Freedom doesn’t mean “you’re on your own.” It means “we’re all in this together.”
Our vision of American freedom is of two separate but mutually reinforcing institutions: a free enterprise economy and a voluntary civil society.
Levin draws out the issue of dependency from this track, contrasting the government-induced dependency of the welfare state with the voluntary dependency that takes shape within actual communities (my boldface):
While I think the argument about dependency gets at a real problem—the ways in which the welfare state undermines personal responsibility—the term dependency and the concept it describes point us toward a radically individualist understanding of that problem that is mistaken in some important ways. We are all dependent on others. The question is whether we are dependent on people we know, and they on us—in ways that foster family and community, build habits of restraint and dignity, and instill in us responsibility and a sense of obligation—or we are dependent on distant, neutral, universal systems of benefits that help provide for our material wants without connecting us to any local and immediate nexus of care and obligation. It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul. Such technocratic provision enables precisely the illusion of independence from the people around us and from the requirements of any moral code they might uphold. It is corrosive not because it instills a true sense of dependence but because it inspires a false sense of independence and so frees us from the sorts of moral habits of mutual obligation that alone can make us free.The portion I put in bold is just so perfect, I'm tempted to put it on a coffee mug or a tee-shirt. Here is is again:
It is not dependence per se, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul.Dependence on government, dependence on any organization wherein one only takes but never gives, this is the problem. It not only "corrupts the soul," it also fosters a vision of the world wherein others are tools to be used or mere means to an end (never an end in their own right, to invoke a little Kant). And it creates people who express themselves through demands, more often than not: "where's my money?" or "where's my food?" or "where's my any such thing?" They expect, they demand, and they believe they are owed.
What, you may ask, does any of this have to do with terrorism. It's quite simple really:
Marathon bombings mastermind Tamerlan Tsarnaev was living on taxpayer-funded state welfare benefits even as he was delving deep into the world of radical anti-American Islamism, the Herald has learned.Some are using this information to suggest that maybe the state was somehow "funding" the radicalization of the brothers. That may be a fair way to argue the point, but I think it more germane to simply note that the brothers were raised in and continued to live in a state of dependency. They had visions, hopes, and dreams beyond their current situation sure enough (who doesn't?), but they lived on the dime of others, likely from the moment they entered the country.
State officials confirmed last night that Tsarnaev, slain in a raging gun battle with police last Friday, was receiving benefits along with his wife, Katherine Russell Tsarnaev, and their 3-year-old daughter. The state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services said those benefits ended in 2012 when the couple stopped meeting income eligibility limits. Russell Tsarnaev’s attorney has claimed Katherine — who had converted to Islam — was working up to 80 hours a week as a home health aide while Tsarnaev stayed at home.
In addition, both of Tsarnaev’s parents received benefits, and accused brother bombers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan were recipients through their parents when they were younger, according to the state.
The older brother--the deceased Tamerlan Tsarnaev--remarked that he had no American friends, that he didn't understand them. This is surely a sign of his lack of communal ties in his immediate environs, despite his wife and child. And in some ways, that's sad, if not tragic (he's no less guilty for what he has done, to be sure). His is the isolation that leads to bad places and terrible things, the isolation Hannah Arendt has warned us about. And it is an isolation created by dependency at its root, dependency on the state.
Again, this is not to suggest that such dependency really does lead to terrorism, but it certainly enables the exact kind of situation wherein radical--and violent--ideologies and religions can take hold of the indvidual.
It is not dependence per se, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul.Cheers, all.