Of the continual war transpiring in his novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, George Orwell wrote that “though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that a hierarchical society needs.”
The passage relates a literal war, the ceaseless struggle between the three superstates that cover the world in the novel, but political contests too are wars; they are the kind, noted by Orwell as underlying the more pronounced sort, wherein “[t]he war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects … to keep the structure of society intact.” Republicans and Democrats, the belligerents in our political war, are like Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia, competitors in a fight that neither could ever actually win.
And that’s just the point, to create a distraction, not to gain ground, but to perpetuate a corporate welfare-warfare state superintended by a particular class. Encapsulating such delusive, Washington hostility is Republican Party hot air in the shape of, as reported by the New York Times, a “promise to cut $100 billion from domestic spending this year.” Keeping in mind the last Republican president (and indeed the others before him), the notion that the GOP cares even an iota about curtailing the state’s size or scope of power is laughably absurd.
As economist Veronique de Rugy observed in a recent column in Reason magazine, Republicans have embraced government spending and government power in ways that even their counterparts across the aisle have balked at. Nonetheless, they somehow remain the beneficiaries of this curious and completely groundless assumption that they are the party of individual and economic freedom.
Democrats, of course, are no better — functionally indistinguishable in their promotion of the corporatist state — but the only kind of economic freedom that either furthers is that of well-connected Big Businesses rigging the economic system to keep us poor. The same New York Times article grants that, assuming the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed the kind of budget cuts the party is promising, they would still face the Senate and President Obama’s veto pen.
The whole process, then, is little more than a charade — an exceedingly costly, deleterious one that caps society’s potential wealth for the service of, in Orwell’s words, “the privileged minority.” Standing behind the new Republican congressional delegation, with its opportunistic, cynical milking of the Tea Party movement (whatever you think about it), is decidedly not the way to advance the cause of liberty and true free markets.
They couldn’t care less about free markets in the sense of a trader society where people could deal without state meddling, and — even if they could retrench government spending — it wouldn’t be in a way we should find ethically palatable. The state’s corporate welfare economy, the darling of the GOP establishment, creates the conditions of poverty by severely limiting the options for have-nots, then the party turns around and shames those people for being bled by this economy.
Perhaps it’s practical politically to denigrate social programs and belittle their participants, whose poverty certainly isn’t assuaged or unraveled in any real way due to the state’s policies; but it’s untenable for politicians or anyone else to pillory these programs as theft while abetting oligopoly in instituting subsidies and barriers to market entry for the richest people in the country.
Anarchists are often asked, “If the state is so very malevolent, if it’s really just an agency for promoting the interests of plutocratic elites, then why does it bother with social welfare at all?” Nineteen Eighty-Four holds a percipient answer to this question too, that the rulers “are obliged to prevent their followers from starving to death in numbers large enough to be inconvenient … .” It just wouldn’t do for the haut monde, by wholly devastating its working-class, to suffer the loss of its discounted labor supply, to lose its means of telling other people what to do.
That being the case, we’re left with the perdurable arguments of two sides that only vaguely remember what they’re arguing about. Meanwhile, the “hierarchical society” endures and with it the wholesale poverty of its economy.