The modern Western state has grown exponentially since World War Two. In 1940, UK tax revenue (for example) was about $100 billion in today’s money; now it is getting on for $1 trillion per annum. Some right-wing politicians have attempted to reduce the size and power of the state by trying to cut back on public expenditure. Often, given the political difficulty of doing so, they have resorted to selling off assets from the public sector.
Left-wing politicians have appealed to voters by promising them more, or better, public services. Some electors realise — though many do not — that increased government spending comes at the cost of higher taxes even if this fact isn't advertised. As a result, Western democracies have experienced fairly regular oscillations between governments of the left, and governments with some free-market sympathies.
This pattern lasted until a number of left-wing academics, and radical leftist journalists such as Will Hutton and Naomi Klein, came along. Academics and activists have spent the latter half of the 20th century developing a strategy for overcoming public resistance to overt left-wing agendas. This strategy, which has been called 'disaster socialism', involves waiting for a health scare, child abuse scandal, terrorist attack, climate-related catastrophe, banking crisis, or similar disaster. The upheaval throws citizens into a state of shock and fear, providing a window of opportunity for far-reaching changes in legislation, increases in the power of 'social workers' or other arms of the state apparatus, the lifting of restrictions on police and other interventionist agencies, and the proliferation of bureaucratic red tape.
Legions of philosophers and sociologists, trained in the ideology of leftist intellectuals such as John Rawls, Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky, have travelled the world, offering intellectual support to politicians seeking to exploit opportunities for increased statism. Temporarily overwhelmed citizenships have been pressured into exchanging their liberties in return for ‘protection’ from the state. Important rights bought painfully over centuries with the sweat and blood of freedom fighters, such as habeas corpus and the right to a jury trial, are being sold off at fire-sale prices.
Certain elements of the left-wing intelligentsia openly praise crises and upheavals as conducive to 'progressive' (i.e. pro-state) social change — although their agenda is often kept more covert than this. Will Hutton, for example, has written that
No state has been able to recast its society to the extent that Britain must do, without suffering defeat in war, economic collapse or revolution ... *
clearly implying that crises might be the only way to achieve significant change in a left-wing direction. Other left-wing writers stress the need for radical transformation, referring scathingly to 'capitalism' or 'markets', when what is really meant is the freedom of individuals to engage in commercial exchange without interference. Al Gore, for example, has argued that
Minor shifts or moderate improvements — these are forms of appeasement, designed to satisfy people’s desire to believe that a wrenching transformation of society will not be necessary. **
Initially, the focus of disaster socialism was on the specific emergencies of war and dealing with terrorist threats. More recently, leftist intellectuals have realised that similar opportunities arise as a consequence of less extreme problems such as health scares (e.g. AIDS, smoking, obesity), the failures of the state education system, and the violence and chaos fostered by a pseudo-proletarianised culture that encourages yobbishness and irresponsibility.
A 'corporatist' alliance has emerged between social-democratic governments and mega-corporations catering for an economically empowered but culturally impoverished mass. This alliance has now moved on to its final frontiers: the world outside the Western ideological system, where a similar philosophy combining mass consumerism with state-sponsored reductionist education and culture is to be introduced as the new hegemony.
Disaster socialism succeeds only by deliberately stupefying and brainwashing hundreds of millions of innocent people. Among the victims may be counted, for example, the 50 million Britons forced to rely on inadequate state medical and educational services, which leave many of them iller and stupider than before.
The novel and important concept of 'disaster socialism' calls for a fuller treatment, in the form of a research thesis or book. However, given the hegemony of the left-wing viewpoint in academia and other cultural institutions, such a treatment is highly unlikely to be forthcoming.
Apologies to: The Vancouver Sun
* The State We’re In, p.319
** Earth in the Balance, p.274