Friday, March 04, 2005

Peter Pan and the Nanny State

Call me slow, but I realized just this morning the intellectual underpinnings of the modern expansion of the state and its bureaucratic organs. Of course, it has a lot to do with the vision of nature, or else it'd be rather off-topic for this blog.

We've already seen how the transition to the modern era brought a new conception of nature as lacking any inner dynamic and being a purely passive recipient of human molding. We can call this way of thinking the Philosophy of Control.

If there's any tendency characteristic of (fallen) human thinking, it is the implicit exemption of one's self from the burdens one places on others. From this fault the modern age is by no means immune. The person subscribing to the Philosophy of Control (each of us) seeks to control the external world, while exempting himself from self-control. One's original, immature state is held up as somehow sacred and "natural" (as if growing up weren't natural). Self-control is "unnatural" according to this new conception of nature. (Recall the "state of nature" in Enlightenment philosophies is definitionally chaotic.)

Individuals are absolved of any expectation to control themselves. Chaos would result, but no one likes chaos; no one wants "the other" or "everyone else" to arbitrarily restrict his unformed, "natural" impulses. So the state must intervene to control "everyone else." In a democratic society we are all equally part of "everyone else", so we all together become prisoners of our individual lack of self-control. As self-control deteriorates and individuals come to rely on state control (and litigation), state interventions can only grow more necessary and meddlesome.

The result is an inexorable tendency for the individuals and institutions that comprise society to shuffle off responsibility and transfer control to the state. In the name of public order and security, the state's authority expands ever more comprehensively into private life.

In sum, the state takes up control where the individuals fail, and individuals fail to control themselves because maturity and growing up are "unnatural." If self-discipline could be reinstituted as a natural attribute of a civilized human being—if "Peter Pan" weren't subject to such low expectations—there would be no need for the "Nanny State."

But this can only happen once the conception of nature has been restored to its dynamic reality.

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