The Bread Bias of Modern Government
As previously noted, the modern individual is a synthetic plutonium fabricated in the heated laboratory of the enlightenment.
For the ancient Greeks (and most others before modernity), the fundamental building-block of society was not the individual (which didn’t meaningfully exist) but the family, and families navigated their places in and contributions to communities. The modern individual gnaws at the fibrous ends of both family and community until the individual threads bare themselves frayed.
The synthetic individual is but one component of modernity. The other, which would be equally foreign to many in the past, is the fundamental material bias of modern thought. This material bias is most evident in political thought, which is another reason why Victorian capitalism and Leninist-Marxism are but two variations of the same analysis of the same problem-set.
In the field of social problems (which are generally addressed by Victorian capitalism and Leninist-Marxism by wealth redistribution), the feign of difference is conjured by comparing outcomes. For example, whether the government should or should not feed the poor is often an analysis of efficiency and effectiveness of the outcome. If the focus turns to the process, it’s usually a debate over which process produces a better outcome. And so, with feeding the hungry, the primary objective is delivering bread. The debate is over which process best achieves that outcome.
Yet, what if the bread doesn’t matter — not because the bread doesn’t matter but because any system of government, operated by any reasonably competent people, can deliver bread? And any government may do so more or less efficiently than any other government — really, the system doesn’t much make a difference. Rather, the people do.
But what if the value is not the material outcome at all but rather the process? What if the barrier to understanding the bread objective lies in the language used to describe the problem? Both Victorian capitalism and Leninist-Marxism use the same language, the same analysis, the same objectives (“deliver bread to the hungry”).
If the objective is the bread, then the process analysis is entirely around the policies and governments that best deliver bread. The ‘how’ is irrelevant as long as it meets the bread delivery criteria. But what if that criteria is not only wrong but also harmful? And what if both Victorian capitalism and Leninist-Marxism trap us in a small analytical box that subjugates the non-material and subverts our ability to value it (or even locate it)?
If the objective and not the process is of primary importance, then the non-material “community” that engages the process is subjugated to the material “bread.” Subjugated as in made irrelevant. The communities and their institutions are relegated to minor player or cultural curiosity because much of their practical functions have been seized by government — and this is equally true under Victorian capitalism and Leninist-Marxism. The process and legitimization of this relegation is different — one the violence of workers’ revolution and the other the leviathan of secular democratic policy — but both achieve the same ends: establishing a material basis for society. Thus, solutions for something like “poverty” focus on the material end in opposition to the acts that establish and strengthen community. Why? Because community is a challenge to government.
The “compassionate conservative” movement (begun in the late 1970s; energized in the 1990s) addressed some of these issues: mending the social fabric should not be weaponized to destroy communities and their institutions while elevating the government.
Compassionate conservativism was embraced by President Bush in his 2000 presidential campaign but, predictably, it failed. Or, it was never tried. Perhaps its failure is due to the fact that many of its proponents, particularly those in government, failed to realize how radical it is before they subscribed. In the end, no government is going to willingly implement its own destruction — which is why policy discussions continue to focus on bread instead of the act of feeding the hungry. Compassionate conservativism is, fundamentally, an argument for localism, and as such, is opposed to centralized power.
And so, if someone speaks of wealth redistribution, one could respond with “why are you a communist?” One could equally respond with “why are you a Victorian capitalist?” Both value policies based on their capacities to deliver material ends; both abhor competition from local communities.