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Discussion Point XXVI

Government has never been more popular or more trusted.

33 comments to Discussion Point XXVI

  • Ian B

    Probably true, sadly.

  • Oh gimme a break… it was practically worshipped in the 1930’s and 1940’s, the Golden Age of Totalitarianism… this is the Age of Ever Growing Cynicism.

  • Ian B

    I don’t think so Perry. There is a lot of discontent with the party in government, but belief in the idea of government itself seems to be watertight. All those angry people are just upset with the particular government we have. The idea of government itself probably is stronger than it ever was. The People are akin to alcoholics seeking a tipple that won’t give them hangovers. They’ve no apparent desire at all to quit drinking. Metaphorically.

  • Bah, it is almost impossible to find a person who is not party activist who does not think The Gubbment’ is incompetent. The ‘man on the street’ has no meta-contextual references to really imagine ‘a better way’ (and the sheer failure of our side to get the message out to fill the void in this ideology-free period of time is inexcusable… we did not win the culture war because of our tendency to unerringly fight the wrong battles… but that is a blog post I think)… but most people in my experience also overwhelmingly think politicians are venal jackasses but “that’s just the way it is”.

    I remember a time when The Government was ascribed almost mystical knowledge and insight into things us mere peons could know nothing of, but that notion is now well and truly the preserve of the committed true believers (who are actually quite rare).

    We are in the stupefied age of shoulder shrugging indifference to the state.

  • Discuss: “Shit mixed with ice cream tastes just like ice cream”

  • I think both Perry and Thaddeus are right – the two statements are not incompatible. The people who mistrust the Government are the same people whose default position is to ask: “Why doesn’t the Government do something about it?” even when the correct answer would be “Because it’s not the Government’s place to interfere.”

    I don’t think government is popular, but far too many people feel that the government is right to stick its nose into everyone’s business. Sadly.

    We live in an age of little or no personal responsibility. Government takes its place. Having abdicated responsibility to the Government, we (not me and you, but you know what I mean) then moan that said Government is useless.

    For a large swathe of the population, government is both panacea and scapegoat.

    A very sad indictment of where we’re at.

  • Anthony

    This proposition is not straightforwardly true or false. It has to be weighted in favor of one or the other. For example, students do trust government, and they trust it because they live almost entirely under its control. Experienced people, including those dependent on government, know how often it fails. Self-reliant and experienced people know in what way government is a blockage to the human artery of choice.

    I think I would place the weight against “popular” or “trusted”. As people grow in experience, they become familiar with the failures of government, and I think this is true regardless of whether they are dependent or self-reliant.

    In my opinion, experienced people do not so much have faith in government as they have the habit of government. It is the residue of faith, and it is the business of good liberals everywhere to illustrate the impediments of an ageing creed.

    A few years ago I read an essay by Saul Bellow, written around the time the Soviet Union collapsed, in which he described communism as a form of “oriental despotism.” It strikes me that massive government control, replete with its clumsy bureaucracies, is just an old-fashioned way of running things.

    It might be useful to think of libertarianism (or whatever we want to call it) as a growing and forward-looking awareness that as the human race acquires more real knowledge, it becomes more independent and in less need of ancient forms of control. As some of us, at least, become more aware of the possibilities of self-reliance, clumsy old forms of governance change into obstacles to human development.

    In other words, perhaps we appear backwards looking, when really, liberty has sometimes broken through the rainclouds in our history, but the weather has more often remained cloudy. Keeping hold of liberty and not letting it slip back into despotism has been the Western fight all along. But if we have never fully achieved it, then it is something still to be achieved.

    So I suggest we might be more forward-looking, always learning from the past (ignorance is valueless), but looking to what we might still be, if only we can find new ways to think of knowledge for the purpose of stripping down government and gaining more independence for the free-ranging human spirit.

    It starts with outlook.

  • anticentralist

    Perry, chill out, man! Just ask Thad what he’s on, and if he’ll share some with you.
    Q. What do you call a good politician?…..
    A. Don’t worry- nobody else knows, either!
    The people who love governments are the comedians, worldwide! They don’t even need to make jokes- they just need to report the facts!
    Perhaps Thad was addressing comedians?

  • Superautonomist!

    In case anyone cares, I used to use my name, Nick Gray, then I called myself ‘Anticentralist’, but I’ve come up with a better description, from which you can deduce what I call my philosophy. Feel free to bandy the term about.

  • James Waterton

    I agree with Perry. There was a period in the late 19th and early to mid 20th century where lots and lots of smart people the world over fervently believed that the state would plan and coordinate the economy (and society in general) to produce at optimal efficiency, and this would supercede the role of the “messy, chaotic, unmanaged” free market. And not just the socialists – I’m talking captains of industry, the super wealthy, conservatives etc. We don’t see anything like that kind of faith in government today.

    Incidentally, Brink Lindsey discusses the period mentioned above at length in his excellent book, Against The Dead Hand: The Uncertain Struggle for Global Capitalism(Link). I’m sure most here have read it. Highly recommended if you have not.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    No. I am sure government was far more trusted in the period 1945-60, when socialism still had the warm glow of righteousness and the disastrous effects of high spending and the rest were not fully evident. Today? Not so much. People are more resigned to Big Government, but I sense little real enthusiasm. Take the loss of those 25 m Britons’ tax details, for instance; take the Baby P child murder, viruses in hospitals, the cockup over Northern Rock..

    The problem is that the public don’t trust the private sector much either. In fact, cynicism is the theme of the age.

  • If Labour set the bar low enough for incompetence, low poll ratings and underachievement, they can always make themselves look good.


  • If Labour set the bar low enough for incompetence, low poll ratings and underachievement, they can always make themselves look good.


  • It’s obvious most people are simply too stupid and ignorant ever to get a clue. If the rise and fall of the Nazis and Soviet Communism wasn’t enough for a wake up call, what the hell possibly could be?

    Do any people here ever try actually talking to people outside their close circle of friends? Read anything other than blogs by like-minded people? Nobody here seems to have enough basic empathy to be able to get how magical the reality of ordinary life is for most people. (Try asking people to explain to you how their mobile phone works. It’s hilarious. And then you may begin to understand why most people believe in telepathy and precognition.)

    What I don’t understand is why/how people who belief in the necessity for government are able to have such faith in the magical abilities – and more worrying the supposed good intentions – of other people they perceive as smarter than them. That’s what doesn’t make sense to me.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Do any people here ever try actually talking to people outside their close circle of friends?

    Yes, regularly.

  • Frederick Davies

    I think it would be more accurate to say that the alternatives to Government have never been more unpopular or distrusted. Have you actually seen the popularity ratings for Congress in the USA!?

  • Paul from Florida

    Doesn’t matter anymore. We’re running everything, can break you, or make you.


    The Boss

  • Brad

    I think we’ve reached a point where people take Big Government as a given that they can’t do anything about, and con themeselves into thinking that there’s a lesser of evils that they can vote for where they believe that they can extract more out than they pay in. So it’s not even a matter of making government popular or trusting it, it’s a reality that can’t be changed only mitigated.

    Also it’s become less about marching to some wonderful new age for Mankind but making sure one is the first to the slop trough. and muscling others to the side. Or perhaps another way, is it less about progress for everyone than it is about making sure one stands highest by cutting the legs off of everyone else. The State is now much more brutish in its intent and behavior – the doddering do-gooders who meant well, but were too simple, have been replaced by fist-mailers out to settle scores.

    So I don’t think government is trusted by many at all. And its “popularity” is in the form of bootlicks who hope to stay out view and get by so long as the school bully actively picks on someone else.

  • SM

    It is not love and faith in government as such, I don’t think. It is, rather, a carefully-nurtured mistrust of everything else. It is a mistrust and contempt for every authority and every way of relating and understanding which precedes or acts independently of the state. Examples include faith, family, nation, etc. So who is undermining that trust? Why, the state, of course, through all its various institutions, and those who adhere to modern liberal notions of the public good.

    When all things and ways of seeing the world which exist beyond the purview of state power are destroyed, self-government becomes impossible. This is why the elites so adore mass, uncontrolled immigration, why they detest non-PC religious confessions, and why they actively work to subvert the will of the people in every matter which touches on the basics of human life, such as marriage.

    The end result is one in which people have contradictory feelings, leading to a kind of despair and bewilderment. Everybody believes that things are getting worse, but no one is quite able to articulate how. Everybody feels as though he is being oppressed in some way, that the things that make for a sane and dignified way of life are being actively destroyed all about him, but he has nowhere to turn–no unofficial, non-bureaucratic institution that feels anything like “home.” Even government–at least, the historical government of his people–is relentlessly attacked and disparaged. But there is no other recognized authority which is permitted, in polite society, to hold his primary loyalty, and certainly no other authority left standing with the power to address the his individual aspirations and needs. The state cannot meet the most primary needs of human person, and as GK Chesterton said, man’s most pragmatic need is to be something more than a pragmatist. State functionaries cannot give you a reason to live, and they cannot make your limitless choices meaningful, or place them in any overarching moral context that could serve as any guide to a dignified life.

    So people do not trust the government and they believe it to be hostile to their interests. But they also have been shorn of any other transcendent authority or overarching loyalty that can make sense of their supposedly liberated wills. End result: People turn to government because there simply is nothing else, but they are not happy with the situation because government is basically not competent to satisfy their desires–and in a society which holds the equal satisfaction of individual desires to be the only organizing principles, this arrangement cannot but generate despair.

  • Condor

    “…only evil men desire a master” Ben Franklin

  • The problem (in the States) is that the party of less government (R) really just wants to be the one in charge of the big government.
    They do nothing to reduce it or restrain it (or they do not do enough) and the compromises of the neo-cons make the republican party look like wall-flowers at the junior high dance: A swaggering Dem walks up and says, “Hey, baby, wanna dance and can I put my hands down your pants, too” and the Rep wall-flower swoons and says, “Oh gosh, yes….THANKS!”
    The ‘vision of the anointed’ is that the most important issue in governance is for the right people to be in power, not that there needs to be less power, or smaller government. And the republicans are just as much subject to this vision, as articulated by Thomas Sowell, as the dems.
    We are about to see what actual class warfare will look like in the US….a war which has been waged for decades by the press and the left against those who work hard and achieve.

  • No, government is neither popular nor trusted; the highlight of that came in the wake of the Second World War. Say 1945-1959. Back then, it was generally believed that a planned economy was not merely possible, but would be far superior to anything the “dated” capitalist system could produce. The lie to this came in the 1960s and 1970s, with the farce of the failure of the Department of Economic Affairs, the National Plan and the Bretton Woods Agreement on fixed exchange rates (runs on sterling) amongst others. The final nail of the IMF loans and Winter of Discontent came at the end of the 1970s.

    Problem is, less government is even less trusted; the prosperity that followed the Thatcher/Reagan reforms is forgotten in the wake of the mess the spendthrift Brown has made of our economy.

    “More Government” is not at its most trusted, it’s just more trusted than the alleged “less government” of the past few years. The populace currently thinks that both statism and liberty suck, but that statism sucks slightly less. That’s the reality we have to face.

  • guy herbert

    Do any people here ever try actually talking to people outside their close circle of friends?

    Too busy doing that to post often.

  • J

    People do not conisder themselves very powerful. That is because people live in a far bigger world than they used to. When life revolved around an extended family, the local factory / business, the church and pub, people had a good chance of making a difference. Even if they could not make a difference, they at least saw the people who did, sitting in the front pews in church, and driving their Bentley through the factory gates. A promotion at work was a real improvement not just in your life, but in your world. That made a difference. They put their name down for 10/6 to put up a statue in the town park, and a year later it was there. They asked the grocer for McKenzie’s Patented Picture Hooks, and next week the grocer had got a box of them in.

    Now, people live in a huge, dispersed environment. Their family is less important, and in any case has emmigrated to New Zealand, or remained at home in Kenya. They work for huge companies, run by people they will never meet. The problems they read about, from terrorism to gang culture are problems they are unable to solve in any concrete way or timeframe. The supermarket’s data mining software has already predicted the demand for McKenzie’s picture hooks, and if it hasn’t Fred asking the branch manager to stock them isn’t going to make any difference.

    In this environment, people consider individual liberty less valuable. They do not consider their individual actions to have much significant impact on the world they live in. Only governments or huge corporations can make things happens, and change the huge problems in the world. Huge corporations are seen (rightly) as being just as filled with bureaucracy, incompetence and stupidity as the corridors of Whitehall. In this case, it is worth sacrificing individual liberty in return for the government doing something to help you.

    People don’t like the government, but they see the alternative as rule by corporation, which they consider (not unreasonably) as worse. ‘Voting with your wallet’ has even less impact on a multinational company that voting with your pen does on the European Commission.

    Freedom just isn’t that useful any more.

  • tdh

    I agree that experience matters. Students are political idiots, which is why they turned out in droves for Obama. Schooling has virtually ceased to imply education, and decades ago began to imply a lack of it, which is why I’m seeing more people doing home schooling (more via cooperatives) than I did decades ago. It’s also, I suppose, why MA Governor “Cadillac” Deval Patrick, perfection incarnate in that he is a paragon of the Peter Principle, believes that he is smart and that his cynical opponents are not. (IMHO, DP is a relative moron; he acts as if his IQ were way down near 100, even if it might have been measured higher in ways disconnected from reality.)

    So, in concrete areas where market choice remains, people clearly do not trust government. But voters, too, have gotten dumbed down, and this is pervasive. There’s a social-conservative (vacuous term, but it currently implies, among other things, government-enforced non-aggressive morality), economic-socialist radio talk-show host who keeps railing against other socialists as such, believing himself not only to be non-socialist, but also to have original ideas which in fact are both old and destructive; he’s still an intelligent man, in some other respects, but he’s pretty clueless outside his areas of expertise.

    Voters who say they distrust government ofttimes not only advocate for bigger government or for retaining big government, or are easily bamboozled into doing so, but also believe that their particular politicians, no matter how foul, are saviors in some respect or other. These people are perfectly comfortable with the client state that is continuing to dumb them down, impoverish, and, ultimately, destroy them.

    So, I guess the best way to characterize the current state of affairs is that voters know enough to superficially distrust government or to prefer something else, not recognizing the nature of that preference, but do not know anywhere near enough to distrust government deeply.

    Here’s what I think of the modern voter. Many years ago, on the banks of the Green River in UT, some companions were chasing a lizard, while a campfire was dying down. The lizard sought shelter under a log in the fire. Pssssssssst! The voter is that lizard; they know enough to avoid danger, but not what danger is.

  • Plamus

    I cannot assert one way or the other, but I dare share an observation that, at least in the US, regular people of clearly non-libertarian bias are becoming acutely aware of the taxes they pay, and unhappy about it… They still seem to vote for Obama, but seem to be very willing to jettison any love for him should he (I’d say when he) hikes their taxes. The problem seems to be that we reached the point where the majority of voters do not pay any taxes, but get to vote on how tax revenues are spent. Does anyone remember the Texan in the hospital in “Catch 22”?

  • Another problem is that it is EASY to be cynical, but it is damned hard to be informed.
    Most of the electorate in the US is cynical, and very few are informed. They mistake their distrust and cynicism for political sophistication.

  • tdh

    It is true that it is easier to be cynical about government than to be informed, and that this cynicism often floats in an air of pretense, but it is also true that the less cynical, the less likely to be informed, and the more certain to be broadly and obliviously mal- or uninformed, utterly mistaking trust for righteousness. For example, the average trusting citizen in Hitler’s National Socialist Germany believed that those people being arrested down the street were just troublemakers; such citizens were too slothful to bother to find out.

    Ask an average voter the following question. If you increase income taxes, nowadays, so that the more dollars people earn, the more those extra dollars are taxed, will lower-income people pay a greater or a smaller share of taxes? A cynic would be more likely to correctly answer “a greater” — perhaps for the wrong reasons, but they are more likely to be at least partially aware of the deeper causation, whether they can connect the dots or not.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Freedom just isn’t that useful any more.

    A remark that can only be made by someone who has never lost a lot of it and experienced what real repression can be like.

  • Anthony

    Thank-you, Johnathan, for your remark at 5:11 PM.

  • watcher in the dark

    It’s probably true that for many people the idea of government is good. They may feel, with varying degrees of passion, that we simply have the wrong government currently – and a change will bring about the best of all possible governments.

    Few people are against the notion of government as they fear anarchy will reduce their lives to a desperate scramble for survival in a wasteland. So government is seen as the reason we have law and order, food on the shelves at the supermarket, and a host of other nice things.

    All we need, they say, is the right government to take control.