Political Theology Today A forum for interdisciplinary and interreligious dialogue

What Bismarck Knew

David Frum’s most recent offering is extremely important.  Like the early medieval Irish monks who kept alive classical civilization in their monasteries on the craggy Celtic coast midst the depredations of the barbarian and Muslim horde, Frum is one of the last remaining members of the conservative punditocracy who has not been victimized by the Tea Partying body snatchers.

As Frum reminds us, recognition of the benefits of the welfare state among conservatives has  a long history, though it has been forgotten by today’s variety.  Few people today ever mention the fact that for at least fifty years, from the end of the 19th and well into the 20th centuries, the problems surrounding the rise in industrialization, which created tremendous wealth for a few and prosperity for many, but which also left in its wake some “losers” who derived little or no benefit from the expansion, and who thus regularly threatened the peace and stability of the various societies in which this deep divide had opened up.  The modern welfare state was the antidote to the hard left-wing aspirations of the Marxist movement, to name just the most recognizable variant, who were urging the proletariat to unite, revolt and take over industry themselves. The German Chancellor Bismarck and his generation were not bleeding heart, mushy-minded, do-gooder liberals, but smart conservatives who knew that the proletariat had a point and that if that point wasn’t acknowledged there would shortly have to be another point acknowledged, namely the one in the ribs aimed right at the capitalist’s heart.

So I wonder what goes through the mind of contemporary conservatives who are proposing the dismantling of Medicare and Medicaid, the slashing of Social Security benefits and all of the other social programs that regular people depend on which they have placed on the chopping block.  Do they imagine that there Draconian measures will go unnoticed by the people at the margins?  That if they have enough to amuse and entertain them in the culture that this will satisfy them, like the Roman emperors who hosted games when the economy flagged in antiquity?  I realize that the conservative answer would be “All these people will find work and thus gain prosperity on their own,” but as Frum notes, there aren’t any jobs, there won’t be for years, and the jobs that many of these people will eventually go back to will only pay them what they made thirty years ago when they started out in the workforce and will not sustain them in any manner even close to that to which they had become accustomed.

How long will the people just take it, without rising in protest?

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