The topic of government responsibility is a complex one on which opinions are divided. Do governments have a responsibility not to harm individual citizens? Or simply an obligation to ‘society’, i.e. to the mythical collective, and the dominant ideology? How should obligations to individuals, if they exist, be discharged? Are we right to be suspicious when governments bang on about how 'committed' they are to improving our welfare, our environment, or even our liberties, especially if their preferred method for doing so is the introduction of additional laws?
Beckham Jolly’s excellent book, The Government*, presents a credible argument for the government as a psychopath. The government's overriding belief in its responsibility to ‘society’ renders it incapable of sustaining long-term relationships with individual voters, or of experiencing guilt, or considering the harm its actions may cause others, and so on.
The model of psychopathy is highly apposite. The manipulative skills of some politicians may be valued for providing audacious leadership. However, these individuals will often cause long-term harm, both to the existing institutions of government and to society as a whole, due their manipulative, deceitful, abusive, and often fraudulent behaviour.
The government, like a psychopath, is:
• irresponsible — it puts individuals at risk in pursuit of social goals;
• manipulative — it manipulates voters’ opinions in pursuit of its goals;
• grandiose — it always insists that it knows best;
• reckless — it refuses to accept responsibility for the negative effects of its actions;
• remorseless — it cannot feel remorse;
• superficial — government agents relate to other individuals in ways that are ‘official’ rather than human.
Psychopathy may also be an apt description for social workers and other state-authorised agents of intervention. Psychopaths have been described as predators who use charm, manipulation, intimidation, and violence to control others and to satisfy their own destructive motives. Lacking in conscience and in feelings for others, they take what they want and do as they please, violating domestic and other private arrangements without guilt or remorse.
But another characterisation, that of the government as paedophile, is equally apt. Like the paedophile, the government in a mediocratic society thinks of itself as the friend of those it seeks to exploit; it uses its unequal power relationship with communities and groups (e.g. minorities) to manipulate them for its own ulterior motives. A paedophile might use a puppy and a van, but the government might use promises of higher welfare payouts, more ‘training’ for currently inept teachers and nurses, and so on. And, like the paedophile, the government sees nothing wrong in its conduct: doing well (to society) by doing harm (to the nasty bourgeoisie), as Marxists never tire of saying.
If I’m a seventeen-year-old kid and some multi-billion dollar government agency says it cares about me and wants what’s best for me, and only wants to incarcerate me in an unruly state school because it will improve my future quality of life, I know what to do. Oh wait, I don’t – I'm disenfranchised, therefore powerless.
(* Sadly unpublished, as it was considered too reactionary by media corporations — unlike a similar book trashing capitalism, which was lapped up by the ‘liberal’ intelligentsia.)
Apologies to: John Brissenden