The Namby-Pamby State

Much has been written about the hypertrophic growth of the nanny state and its unremitting assault on the dignity and independence of the responsible individual citizen. Its ill effects are seen everywhere in the devitalized West as an increasing number of people, approaching critical mass, have come to rely on government welfare and special entitlements while progressively abiding by the dictates of political correctness. Everyone is considered equal regardless of personal initiative, natural talents, or the extent of one’s contribution to the economic and cultural life of society. Everyone is empowered. Indolence is a right. No one must be offended (except capitalists, Christians, and white males). No one on the take is to be blamed for parasitical behavior. A spade is never a spade but a silverware fork. “Fair share” is the reigning mantra of the day, an Orwellian inversion if ever there was one. This means that the productive class will pay even more in taxes than it already does and approximately half the population, which pays no taxes, will reap the surplus. The sense of due and exemption is pervasive.

What Bruce Thornton writes about the Obama presidency is true of the neo-Marxist welfare state wherever it exists: the expansion of intrusive government power “in order to achieve dubious utopian notions like ‘income equality,’ ‘social justice,’ and ‘redistribution.’” As New York mayor Michael Bloomberg opined, “choice, gay rights, the environment are the real issues, more important than economics.” Where the money is to come from to fund these goods, if “economics” is relegated to secondary status, remains an open question. At the same time, the putatively marginal or disenfranchised are regarded as helpless victims of hidebound tradition and extortionate privilege and are not held responsible for their own plight or answerable for whatever condition they may resent or object to. The principles that govern the age in which we live are (1) obliviousness to fact and (2) unearned innocence; in other words, reality is seen as infinitely interpretable and the concept of accountability has been jettisoned.

We live in a time in which the marginal is conceived as central, and in which responsibility cannot be ascribed to the individual for his position in the world. Such attitudes form the collagen that binds the institutional practices of the nanny state, perhaps better dubbed the namby-pamby state, into a coherent if irrational whole. It assumes that lack is nearly always the fault of some other element or influence, almost never of the self, and that giving offense or wounding the sensibility of a member of a designated victim group verges on the criminal. Undifferentiated need is elevated over specific merit, and feeling is paramount, trumping reason, obligation, and genuine probity. The common individual is no longer understood as a nexus of thought, energy, moral conviction, and spiritual autonomy, but as a malleable lump of helpless suffering and justified desire to be pitied and served. And those who insist on inviolate personhood are conversely demeaned as oppressors, tyrants, and/or narcissists.

The namby-pamby state has enshrined the principle of bureaucratic supremacy ostensibly in the interest of its citizens’ welfare. On the one hand, it legislates down to the minor details of everyday life, which it punitively monitors and controls, everything from seat belts to Girl Scout cookies to recycling habits to school lunch guidelines to the shape of bananas. On the other hand, it conceives of its citizens, especially if they are not wealthy or successful, as victims of a repressive politico-economic system who need to be coddled, catered to, subsidized, and provided with every service regardless of worthiness or contribution to society, thus rendering them feckless and dependent while convincing them of their right to favored treatment.

One thinks of the Czech student, quoted by Rael Jean Isaac in The Coercive Utopians, who described Americans as “pampered children of your permissive, affluent society, throwing temper tantrums because father gave them only education, security and freedom.” This diagnosis goes back more than a generation; the situation has deteriorated markedly since then. Europeans are even further ahead in grievance mongering, expecting the state to act in locus parentis. Worse, what they are receiving is not education but diplomas, not merely security (and not much of that, given the unsustainability of the present system and the incursion of Islamic supremacists into the culture) but asylum from reality, not freedom but freebies, with the inevitable flaccid consequences: historical ignorance, geopolitical weakness, and entrenched stagflation. But to adopt a critical perspective on such license and opportunism is to be stigmatized as a social atavism or fiscal raptor. In the words of Walter Williams, “To be judgmental about modern codes of conduct is to risk being labelled a prude, racist, sexist or homophobe.”

The namby-pamby state originated in a hodgepodge of political and economic theories—soft Marxism, utopian socialism deriving from the work of Proudhon and Fourier, Keynesian economics—and gathered momentum as an effect of what is called Swarm Intelligence, that is, an innumerable host of single agents, in this case ordinary people, interacting randomly with one another and their surroundings. It has now congealed into a set of deliberate programs directed and controlled by a statist apparatus engaged in the administration of mediocrity. The namby-pamby state has followed the recommendations of George Brock Chisholm, first director general of the World Health Organization, who, in a speech for the Conference on Education at Asilomar, California (September 11, 1954) advocating world government, advised: “it is necessary to remove from the minds of men their individualism, loyalty to family tradition, national patriotism, and religious dogmas.”

The result should be evident to anyone with a modicum of intellectual clarity. We have embraced the spirit of self-contempt cloaked in the ideology of self-esteem. Scoured of intellectual virility and epistemologically neutered, we have become scions of a failed culture and, simultaneously, proud citizens of the namby-pamby state, celebrating the attributes that rob us equally of integrity and vigor. We have lost our sense of responsibility and self-respect, indeed, we have lost our very sense of individuality. As Victor Davis Hanson observes, we are now regarded as members of one or another tribe of the (presumably) dispossessed or deprived, a vision that “ignores all human individuality” while affirming a species of moral delinquency, limitless prerogative, and collective averaging-out.

One recalls the epitaph that the great Danish theologian and philosopher Søren Kierkegaard wished to have inscribed on his tombstone: “That Individual.” And of course, his wish was not granted.