Saturday, January 19, 2008

The Führer's welfare state

I watched the German film Sophie Scholl last night. I recommend it highly. It is a 'plain' film; nothing flashy or clever, but with a story like that, the main task must be to tell it and to allow the character to be revealed. This it does.

Just one brief observation on the side. Both Sophie Scholl and her brother, Hans, were university students. This was important for both the Gestapo investigator, Robert Mohr, and the judge, Roland Freisler, who condemned them to death. for them, not only were they traitors to the cause of German supremacy, but they were privileged ingrates. The Führer's social policies, the German welfare state, had made it possible for them to have this education. The state had paid; they owed it their loyalty.

It is not an argument used in this welfare state, at least not in this form. There are versions of it in discussions about the NHS. Since the state is paying for your health care, does it not have the right to forbid or strongly discourage certain behaviour that may result in illness and therefore cost to the state? It is difficult to argue with it. The state pays; you have in some sense surrendered your power, or right, to make certain decisions since they necessarily involve the state in their consequences.

I am not seeking to draw any conclusion here. I merely note the connection because it makes me think.

11 comments:

Riri said...

Nothing to think about there, whoever's paying the bill has the right to require that they only pay for health risks that are genuinly outside the ill person's control. Diseases that are caused by or made worse by smoking do not fall under this category. If people insist on smoking, they must realise that the State is not obliged to pay for them when they get sick.

Obviously, the same argument cannot be applied to chocolates and other fattening but oh so delicious and addicitive foods!

NoolaBeulah said...

But where do you draw the line? And how much of my loyalty is 'contractual' (as with the NHS) and how much rooted in other factors, such as culture, or in common values?

Julian Baggini recently wrote an article in Prospect in which he claimed that most people here fall into the 'communitarian' category; ie. they believe you should only benefit insofar as you contribute. This is in direct contrast to what has been the approach of the state, which has applied the principle of need. So, for example, an immigrant, especially a refugee, has a greater need than a local, and therefore should get preference for housing.

I had a long conversation with a Lebanese bloke in London one night. He told me that many of his fellow Lebanese saw the UK as merely a cow to be milked - they should get what they can. A few had the usual ideological or religious justifications for this, but it came down to demanding rights and accepting no responsibilities. This is merely anecdotal, but it is also the perception among many of the 'natives', and it is resented.

Obviously, there is a big difference between what the Nazis were saying to Sophie Scholl and what I am describing now. In the first, the state was embodied in one person and one party, which distributed largesse and unquestioning obedience. The second is to do with a policy legitimised by popular sovreignty and the repeated support of that policy in elections. However, whether the question is posed by the Gestapo or by the NHS, the answer must be based on some idea of the limits of state, or collective, power over the individual.

I'm not sure how these issues play out for chocolate-eaters in Algeria.

wodge said...

The NHS is the most obvious example of the corruption and decay at the heart of the EVIL welfare state.

Before we had it, people all used to be really really healthy and live to a hundred and twenty. Now, they're just getting ill on purpose so they can sponge of the state.

Why only last week a Nigerian student got terminal cancer so she screw the decent hard working people of this country out of their hard earned taxes.

NoolaBeulah said...

Wodge, that was not my point at all. Please see my reply to Riri.

Riri said...

There is no line to draw, you can't have your cake and eat it. You either want to keep a welfare state at the cost of restricting some liberties or you do away with it and pay for everything. When you start thinking about compromises that look more and more like doing what you like while the welfare state coughs up the money to pay for your fun, you will spend your entire life thinking. Won't work. Especially when economy is based on freer and freer markets and an infinity of ever more tempting products.

wodge said...

I see so you didn't write this then:

'I had a long conversation with a Lebanese bloke in London one night. He told me that many of his fellow Lebanese saw the UK as merely a cow to be milked - they should get what they can. A few had the usual ideological or religious justifications for this, but it came down to demanding rights and accepting no responsibilities. This is merely anecdotal, but it is also the perception among many of the 'natives', and it is resented.'

NoolaBeulah said...

I report what someone has said to me, and then link it to something someone else has said. There is no opinion expressed. There are claims made about how the reported behaviour is viewed generally, claims based on such hotbeds of racist hatred as Prospect and the BBC. In the comment I referred you to, a distinction is very clearly made between the two systems. Yet you, Wodge, are able to see the hysterical rhetoric of 'evil'.

All I can say is that it is not in the thing observed, but in the eyes of the observer.

NoolaBeulah said...

Riri, what if we shift it to the field of security? Here the state really does have a monopoly; it alone has the means to deal with both the issues of inter-state relations as well as the threats of terrorism, whether from within or without.

It passes laws to enable it to deal more effectively with a threat unlike any it has had to deal with before. Now, I do not believe that Tony Blair or Gordon Brown are trying to create a police state. I don't think that it is a conspiracy to keep, or put, hidden players into de facto power. They work though legitimate means, and thankfully, the legitimate opposition has been enough to limit the powers that the state is accruing.

But is that enough? I ask again, where is the line that they cannot cross. Remember that Hitler was (more of less) elected and that the Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act were passed by the people's representatives in the Reichstag. If the people, or their representatives, approve a law, what can you appeal to beyond that law?

wodge said...

"All I can say is that it is not in the thing observed, but in the eyes of the observer."

Indeed. Pot, kettle, black.

Firstly, I doubt I'd have look very far on this blog to match the sentiments in my earlier comment. Let's face it you constantly drone on and on the supposed evils of the welfare state and multiculturism.

Secondly, so seem to have missed a rather obvious point in your post.

Namely, exactly what loyalty should the citizens of a state show it when that state begins rounding up other citizens of that state and starts murdering them en masse. And perhaps more relevantly, when that state starts unprovoked wars of aggression against others countries and starts murdering innocent men, women and children by the thousand.

Riri said...

But NoolaBeulah isn't that the potential dark side of liberal democracy? When you accept the necessity of drawing lines, then you have implicitly accepted to restrict liberal democracy, what you'll effectively end up with is shift away from liberal democracy no matter how you look at it.

I think that you have no choice but to trust that the view of the majority is the best course of action, even though it is very skewed as it treats every single opinion as having the same weight as another which may be better informed.

I really think the only line to draw is between panic and cool-headedness. When laws start sounding like the product of shear panic, then they have certainly crossed "the line".

Riri said...

And about your last question "what can you appeal to beyond that law" the answer is nothing, by the very own definition of a secular state. Unless you somehow formulate a new hypothetical Law that you can appeal to when you are not sure if some hypothetical line has been crossed. Which would be rather pointless.