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Church as state

Mark Steyn argues that big government has become a form of religious belief, says Ed West

By on Thursday, 8 December 2011

The London riots: the sign of a broken society?

The London riots: the sign of a broken society?

The Canadian-born, British-educated, American-based Mark Steyn is the biggest of the big beasts of the Anglosphere conservative commentariat. He is one of the wittiest, most original and erudite of writers of this era, even if one of the more pessimistic. As one of the reviews of his last book put it, he’s the only person who can make the impending apocalypse laugh-out-loud funny. That publication, America Alone, looked at the demographic implosion facing most of the western world; the sequel is about a more pressing, but not unrelated issue: debt.

The 111th United States Congress (2009-2011), the author points out, ran up more debt than the first 100 congresses (1789-1989) combined. Within a decade, America will be paying more in interest payments than on its military, which itself is more than the combined militaries of pretty much everyone else.

America is certainly not alone in this. Greece might be the first into the abyss but many European countries are falling into a debt black hole, a situation that David Starkey recently described as being as big a danger to Europe as 20th-century Fascism.

But just as a credit card statement says something about an individual, the West’s debt pile reflects a deeper moral malaise, both in the state and its people. Government spending is, Steyn argues, a “moral crisis”, not a spending one. And at the heart of it is an existential crisis, one not unconnected to Europe’s abandonment of faith, of a people who only desire to live for today.

Citing the economist John Maynard Keynes’s comment that “in the long run we are all dead”, Steyn points out: “Keynes’s flippancy disguises his radicalism. For most of human history functioning societies honour the long run; it’s why millions of people have children, build houses, plant gardens, start businesses, make wills, put up beautiful churches in ordinary villages, fight and if necessary die for king and country. It’s why extraordinary men create great works of art – or did in the Europe of old.

A nation, a society, a community is a compact between past, present, and future, in which the citizens, in Tom Wolfe’s words, ‘conceive of themselves, however unconsciously, as part of a great biological stream’.”

Europeans have stopped thinking of themselves in such terms, and the stream has become a stagnant swamp. Shorn of a belief in the hereafter, or a higher truth, their cultural efforts have slumped as quickly as their birthrates. Why bother making great art or having children when in the long term we’re all dead?

In an enfeebled civilisation cut off from its own cultural heritage, the state and its apparatchiks have taken on the function of religion. In this secular world “Big Government becomes a kind of religion: the church as state”, and that religion co-opts “many of the best and brightest but politically passive”.

This statism is as intolerant as any theocracy, demanding a narrow set of values of those within its communion, even where those values are shamelessly ignoring the reality of life as it is truly lived.

Britain is, for once, way ahead of America, as Steyn, an Anglophile who has become deeply disillusioned by Britain, points out. He describes a failed, broken and violent society where people in the most expensive real estate on earth dare not wander outside their own homes (with excellent timing, the book came out just as London was rocked by three nights of looting that resembled a zombie film).

Steyn quotes Frederich Hayek’s description of the Britons of 1944, characterised by “independence and self-reliance, individual initiative and local responsibility, the successful reliance on voluntary activity, non-interference with one’s neighbour… and a healthy suspicion of power and authority”.

Today 40 per cent of Britons receive state handouts, tradition is reviled, and the standard response to any inconvenience is that the Government “do something”.

Reflecting on the welfare state, Steyn says: “Cooperation between the state and the individual has resulted in a huge expansion of the former and the ceaseless withering of the latter.”

This statism has made European society infinitely weaker, unhappier, more sterile and broke, and yet Barack Obama is busy importing this same failed ideology into America. It is, as Steyn comments, like coming down the gangplank on to Ellis Island and finding there’s this new thing called “serfdom” that is all the rage in America.

  • Ewen Cuthiell

    I am ordinarily a Steyn fan, and certainly no booster of Keynes – though in fairness the economic framework that bears his name owes more to his followers than Keynes himself – but Mr. Steyn is obviously misreading Keynes’ famous aphorism. A fuller excerpt:

    “The long run is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is past the ocean is flat again.” (my emphasis)

    In saying this Keynes was responding to the emphasis of the Classicals on long run equilibria and their optimality. Earlier theory did not seriously attempt to describe the mechanisms of short-term economic fluctuations, which as Keynes correctly noted were responsible for a great deal of hardship. Whether his proposed stabilization techniques were any improvement is, uh, more controversial.

    What this passage does not even touch upon is the question of foresight and its desirability or lack thereof. It would be puzzling indeed to discover Keynes, or indeed any economist, advocating for the abandonment of foresight for myopia; leaving aside the widespread intuition that mastery of short-term desires and their subordination to long-term goals is an essential part of character development, economists are not generally in the business of advocating preferences.

  • Lee Der Heerskinderen Lovelock

    A very good article that touches over old concepts quite a few times. Liberal Fascism, Statolatry, Deification of the state all come to mind. Very good once again and keep the discourse on the ‘elevation of the state’ alive !

  • Guest

    Finally an article which says what I’ve thought for some time.  I’m glad to read that I’m not the only person losing faith in Britain.

  • Anonymous

    Mark Mark Steyn is a cynic, and has a dim view of humanity. 

    Remember this is the man who wrote numerous articles disparaging the NHS and trying to convince Americans that it is okay to live in a country in which 50 million of your population (including children, and the ill and the infirm) do not have healthcare.

    If Mark Steyn believes it is acceptable that people must sell their homes in order to pay healthcare bills (sometimes EVEN when they have bought insurance) and live rough, or indefinitely in friends and families houses - 

    - then he certainly is NO CHRISTIAN I would recognize!

  • Semper Fidelis

    I’m from Ireland, but we are following hard on your heels & possibly passing you out in terms of the dumbing down/cheapening of values. Yobbishness & vulgarity always existed but in the past were regarded as taboo, now they are promoted by the media & treated as virtues.

  • Anonymous

    Presumably he means “state as Church” – whivcjh is the complete opposite of what he is described as discussing. There is at least one “Church as state” already – the Vatican City State. A Church as State is no better than a State as Church: they are equal and opposite perversions.

  • Fr Thomas Poovathinkal







    Fr Thomas Poovathinkal

  • Bbshort

    He’s feeling his humanity, and others.  Government is a sham period. they are there to look good, and give the public a reason to pay taxes for their weekly spending habits. But really they don’t know what they are doing.  A nice wall dressing.  What shall I wear today? Maybe a black tie and grey striped suit, brown aligator shoes and a white dress shirt, maybe some mousse in my hair. Honey should I shave today?  When governments no longer lead nations they are leading themselves. What does this mean leading themselves? Well, they know the people are upset, so they write laws to piss off the public.  Because they don’t know how to lead people in a good and just way. Their own greed and their own wants. They don’t care for the public. When you the public go to work in your work places, you just go there to work and earn a pay check. the applies for government.  They go to work to earn a paycheck, but, they are their stealing the publics money by spending taxed money for their own, big houses, multiple houses, a mistress, maybe a few mistresses, come call girls, they live they want to off your taxed money.  then they play act as government officials, an acting job. No different in terms of the actors who make lots of money and complain when they don’t get the money they feel they deserve, and complain about many other childish things. Actors are childish in my opinion.  Government is a seasoned childish adult.

  • Anonymous

    There is no worship of a divine church. Dude you are confused.

  • Celestial_seraphiman

    I’m sorry, but if there is no government, don’t we get Somalia?  Also, I’m afraid that the Catholic Church is accused of promoting theocratic big government as well as serfdom–that is one of many allegations that hang over her mission.  Finally, how do you explain liberals’ stated goals of building a better future through social reforms?

  • Miriam R

    The wars in which countless men were made to fight for ‘king and country’ or the like, has a great deal to do with it.The churches supported those who tried to kill us or told us to kill others which is why people left them. Then the poverty and virtual economic enslavement which invariably followed, whether those people fought for or against fascism. Those who prospered from these events have also spun *massive* lies to cover their tracks which has made ordinary people cynical and depressed. Europe was slaughtered in the last century of the last millennium and it’s people like Steyn who gloated over it. Everyone else just gave up.