The Destruction of Society in the Name of “Society”

Society cannot exist where the state interferes with and usurps societal functions.

What is society? In an earlier post, I quoted Roger Scruton’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Modern Culture:

…Ferdinand Tönnies … formulated a distinction between two kinds of society — Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft — the first based in affection, kinship and historic attachment, the second in division of labour, self-interest and free association by contract and exchange. Traditional societies, he argued, are of the first kind, and construe obligations and loyalties in terms of a non-negotiable destiny. Modern societies are of the second kind, and therefore regard all institutions and practices as provisional, to be revised in the light of our changing requirements. The transition from Gemeinschaft to Gesellschaft is part of what happened at the Enlightenment, and one explanation for the vast cultural changes, as people learned to view their obligations in contractual terms, and so envisage a way to escape them.

Max Weber wrote, in the same connection, of a transition from traditional to “legal-rational” forms of authority, the first sanctioned by immemorial usage, the second by impartial law. To these two distinctions can be added yet another, du to Ser Henry Maine, who described the transition from traditional to modern societies as a shift from status to contract — i.e., a shift from inherited social position, to a position conferred by, and earned through, consent. (p. 24)

Note the important qualifiers that attach to modern, contractarian societies:  free association by contract and exchange; impartial law. What we have in the United States — and in most Western nations — is not society, not even Gesellschaft. That is because

Religion, community, and common culture have been displaced by the regulatory-welfare state, anthropogenic global warming, feminism, “choice,” and myriad other totems, beliefs, “movements,” and “leaders,” both religious and secular.

Freedom of association and impartial law, to the extent that they once existed in the United States, have been in decline for more than a century. Yes, yes, I know about the better lot of blacks and women, but those have been achieved to a large extent by forced association and partial law, which — in the long run — do more harm than good because they break the bonds of mutual trust and respect upon which civil society depends for self-enforcing, mutually beneficial behavior. Even a contractarian society cannot function effectively without bonds of trust and respect, lacking as it does the bonds of religion, community, and common culture.

Despite the almost complete destruction of society by the state, there are those who believe that society survives because it is embodied in the state. For such believers, society is not a network of personal associations built upon religion, community, and common culture. Rather, it is an abstraction of their imagining, and it consists of classes of individuals toward whom something is “owed”: the aged, the infirm, persons of color, Latinos, women, homosexuals, and — above all — the “poor,” who are always with us because poverty (in the mind of the “socially conscious”) is a relative thing.

It is this very urge to burden everyone with responsibility for everyone else that led to the growth of the state and the virtual destruction of society. The urge manifests itself, time and again, when the political classes (in and out of government) — claiming to act on behalf of “society’s victims” — invoke “social justice” as they make the case for the expansion of the state. The ultimate irony is that the expansion of the state commits injustice, undermines society, and creates more victims for whom the political classes can shed more crocodile tears.

Related posts:
Civil Society and Homosexual “Marriage”
Rights, Liberty, the Golden Rule, and the Legitimate State
Society and the State
Undermining the Free Society
“Intellectuals and Society”: A Review
The Golden Rule and the State
Social Justice
More Social Justice
Evolution and the Golden Rule
We, the Children of the Enlightenment