Insidious benevolence

The nineteenth-century German politician Otto von Bismarck was hardly anyone’s idea of a nanny, but he constructed the world’s first nanny state for the sole purpose of making German citizens so codependent on the German Reich that they would never think of rebelling against it. By offering Germans a prototype of the modern welfare state, Bismarck’s goal was not improving the common man’s lot—it was his way of inducing the common man, when faced with personal difficulties, to expect the state to look after him, instead of relying on himself to deal with his own problems.

Ironically, Bismarck launched the first welfare state because he feared the influence of Karl Marx on the German working class. Marx opposed the welfare state precisely because he recognized that it would create a population codependent on the ruling elite in charge of the German Reich. It would tend to make them more docile and helpless, less self-reliant and rebellious. Today’s European socialists, along with America’s welfare statists, are not the descendants of Marx; they are the great-grandchildren of Bismarck.

A rather cynical take on the social psychology behind the construction of a welfare state nowadays.

But as paranoid as some Libertarians may sound, there exist throngs of well-meaning politicians and policy-makers with intentions to improve the general well-being of citizens, but inevitably cultivate a culture of dependence and co-dependence.  The spirit of independence might be the de facto norm in many lands, but the zeal to defend it is hardly universal.

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  • Shadox

    Dana – don't know about you, but if I lose my job, I want to know that I will have some unemployment benefits until I can find another. It's also nice to imagine that if I come down with a serious illness my community will not throw me out in the street, and help me pay for life saving medicine.

    This is called a safety net. A social contract – we all help each other in a time of need, and we all pay for others needs when we are lucky enough to be able to do so. This is not about making people dependent on the state, it's about common sense, ethics, and human nature.

  • Dana

    There’s of course a balance that needs to be found. I do think that the US’ welfare safety net is perhaps a bit too thin. I’m on the other side of the equation, where there’s rampant abuses of the idea of solidarity. Just saying, extreme is unattractive on either sides.