Tuesday, February 26, 2008

1984 with Sugar

Stories about the future often have a clearly ominous tone. It's hard to consider 1984, Brave New World, The Omega Man, Logan's Run, and Soylent Green as attractive worlds.

But what if benevolence can also be a problem? Alexis de Tocqueville warned of a society in which the government was too caring:

For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of that happiness; it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?

You can extend that warning to parenthood and the workplace. There is a point at which caring becomes debilitating whether it is for a citizen, a child or an employee. It may rob them of the strength that is acquired by personal achievement and accountability.

That can be a difficult point to discern because we do care.


Jim Stroup said...

F.A. Hayek spoke of this a century later, warning of the well-intentioned tyranny of progressives, who wear down the resistance of their "charges" slowly and inexorably.

It's not necessarily evil in intent, but tends to that in outcome. But outcome happens later, so during the jostling for position it has a rhetorical advantage over capitalism and democracy, which are motivated by self-interest, but tend to produce better outcomes.

Michael Wade said...


Thanks for the thoghtful comment. As I recall, Churchill cited Hayek in warning of the welfare state.