February 27, 2012

Thoughts of de Tocqueville on the welfare state

If you've read my FAQ page you have no life, but you've probably read that there a number of philosophical influences that I've listed as having had an impact on me.  One is Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859), who is best known for his work Democracy in America.  Below is a wonderful quote from one of his lesser known works, Memoir on Pauperism.
Any measure which establishes legal charity on a permanent basis and gives it an administrative form thereby creates an idle and lazy class, living at the expense of the industrial and working class. This, at least, is its inevitable consequence if not the immediate result. It reproduces all the vices of the monastic system, minus the high ideals of morality and religion which often went along with it. Such a law is a bad seed planted in the legal structure. Circumstances, as in America, can prevent the seed from developing rapidly, but they cannot destroy it, and if the present generation escapes its influence, it will devour the well-being of generations to come.
That's powerful stuff.  But he goes on with this;
If you closely observe the condition of populations among whom such legislation has long been in force you will easily discover that the effects are not less unfortunate for morality than for public prosperity, and that it depraves men even more than it impoverishes them.
This seems like it's aimed squarely at the Democrats of today with the notion that state charity - welfare - normalizes and institutionalizes laziness and therefore a need for a welfare state.  His  thought was that in a single generation changes can be made that cause this institutionalization of welfare to start and once started the 'bad seed' will continue to grow and in essence rot the country more and more with each succeeding generation.




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