The Right Opinion

A Victory for Creatures of the State

By Jonah Goldberg · Nov. 9, 2012

The Progressives won on Tuesday.

I don't mean the people who voted Democrat who call themselves “progressive.” Though they won, too.

I mean the Progressives who've been waging a century-long effort to transform our American-style government into a European-style state.

The words “government” and “state” are often used interchangeably, but they are really different things. According to the founders' vision, the people are sovereign and the government belongs to us. Under the European notion of the state, the people are creatures of the state, significant only as parts of the whole.

This European version of the state can be nice. One can live comfortably under it. Many decent and smart people sincerely believe this is the intellectually and morally superior way to organize society. And, to be fair, it's not a binary thing. The line between the European and American models is blurry. France is not a Huxleyan dystopia, and America is not and has never been an anarchist's utopia, nor do conservatives want it to be one.

The distinction between the two worldviews is mostly a disagreement over first assumptions, about which institutions should take the lead in our lives. It is an argument about what the habits of the American heart should be. Should we live in a country where the first recourse is to appeal to the government, or should government interventions be reserved as a last resort?

These assumptions are formed and informed by political rhetoric. President Obama ran a campaign insisting that Democrats believe “we're all in it together” and that Republicans think you should be “on your own” no matter what hardships you face. We are our brothers' and sisters' “keepers,” according to Obama, and the state is how we “keep” each other. The introductory video at the Democratic National Convention proclaimed, “Government is the one thing we all belong to.”

Exactly 100 years before Barack Obama's re-election victory, Woodrow Wilson was elected president for the first time. It was Wilson's belief that the old American understanding of government needed to be Europeanized. The key to this transformation was convincing Americans that we all must “marry our interests to the state.”

The chief obstacle for this mission is the family. The family, rightly understood, is an autonomous source of meaning in our lives and the chief place where we sacrifice for, and cooperate with, others. It is also the foundation for local communities and social engagement. As social scientist Charles Murray likes to say, unmarried men rarely volunteer to coach kids' soccer teams.

Progressivism always looked at the family with skepticism and occasionally hostility. Reformer Charlotte Perkins Gilman hoped state-backed liberation of children would destroy “the unchecked tyranny … of the private home.” Wilson believed the point of education was to make children as unlike their parents as possible. Hillary Clinton, who calls herself a modern progressive and not a liberal, once said we must move beyond the notion there is “any such thing as someone else's child.”

One of the stark lessons of Obama's victory is the degree to which the Republican Party has become a party for the married and the religious. If only married people voted, Romney would have won in a landslide. If only married religious people voted, you'd need a word that means something much bigger than landslide. Obviously, Obama got some votes from the married and the religious (such people can marry their interests to the state, too), but as a generalization, the Obama coalition heavily depends on people who do not see family or religion as rival or superior sources of material aid or moral authority.

Marriage, particularly among the working class, has gone out of style. In 1960, 72 percent of adults were married. Today, barely half are. The numbers for blacks are far more stark. The well-off still get married though, which is a big reason why they're well-off. “It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” Andrew Cherlin, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, told the New York Times.

Religion, too, is waning dramatically in America. Gallup finds regular church attendance down to 43 percent of Americans. Other researchers think it might be less than half that.

In the aftermath of massive American urbanization and industrialization, and in the teeth of a brutal economic downturn, Franklin D. Roosevelt promised to fight for the “forgotten man” – the American who felt lost amidst the social chaos of the age. Obama campaigned for “Julia” – the affluent single mom who had no family and no ostensible faith to fall back on.

In short, the American people are starting to look like Europeans, and as a result they want a European form of government.

© 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

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10 Comments

Ayn Rand in CO said:

Winning in 2016 starts today. Tweet daily. Post You Tube videos and purchase ads showing the things we value: our extended families, veterans, gold star families, state's rights, local control of our schools and taxes, personal responsibility for managing our lives and helping our neighbors. Define the issues and the platform in simple language. Identify the candidate NOW. Build the ground game. Focus on the goal.

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:24 AM

sfj in Alabama replied:

Nobody cares about the things we value only what "freebies" they can get.

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 11:49 AM

Wayne in Hinesville, GA replied:

sfj, You hit the nail on the head with your statement. They have no values or morals and the only thing they care about is the government taking care of their wants and needs. Heaven forbid that they would have to work for a living. It is easier to sit on ttheir sorry asses and let the taxpayers support them.

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 2:05 PM

RNGR-475 in OHIO said:

HEAVEN HELP US ALL

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:47 AM

Tod the tool guy in brooklyn ny said:

When I heard, Wednesday morn' at 2am that the Neo-Marx diablo won, I figured that it is over for the America, we know. I'm thinking of becoming a hyper Evangelist for God-here in progressively lost NYC. I'm just beginning to feel better, after the funeral service, for free markets, on Wednesday! LOL J.G.

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 5:37 PM

Kevin from Arkansas in USA said:

Just take a look at the DC vote. 91% went for Obama. Now just who lives in that crap hole where politicians don't even send their children to the public schools? Takers.

I bet those other Democrat success stories like Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland and other formerly great American cites have the save voting breakout.

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 7:13 PM

M Rick Timms MD in Georgia said:

Pull up the map of union states vs Right to work states. It is exactly the map of this election.

The union thug electrical workers in NJ and NY would not let volunteer power linesmen from Alabama work -- because they were not union. The folks up there are still without power and near riot.

I cannot imagine the burden that union regs place on the productivity in places like that. Take a look at the two maps, and think about where the takers live.

Friday, November 9, 2012 at 10:37 PM

Orf in Pennsylvania said:

Too much immigration and too little assimilation has led to this disastrous result. America is balkanized into two distinct factions, the regressive (not in anyway progressive) one represented by lazy oafs, felons, the gender disoriented, the government-indoctrinated morons, illegal immigrants, amoral self-styled "intellectuals" and all those whose religion is liberalism. This faction is growing much faster than the traditional faction. The end result is socialism/communism, which always fails because the state runs out of other people's money.

Saturday, November 10, 2012 at 6:50 PM

Gregory in Yakima said:

Jonah Goldberg hopes you don't understand what just happened. That's because he has no clue and needs you to think about his subject instead of questioning his premise. He offers you someone to blame "Progressives who've been waging a century-long effort to transform our American-style government into a European-style state" What a load of crap.

The G.W. Bush disaster is evident in spite of billions of dollars spent on propaganda to blame President Obama. People like Obama Care, a path for Latinos to citizenship and a national sense of responsibility when natural disasters strike. Romney's pathetic and lame recollection of cleaning up a football field is one case in point among thousands of why Romney couldn't even carry his own state.

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 6:32 PM

Robinius in Broomfield, Colorado replied:

Greg, I gave a thought - why don't all the productive people in this country stop their productivity and let you and Obama take care of their needs? Let the rich take their money elsewhere. We don't need it! We have the government to take care of us all! Yay! Forward!

Sunday, November 11, 2012 at 11:58 PM