In BB's last blog there were some observations about the dangers of civil strife surrounding the new US President's inauguration and ultimate direction of policy. What could have been an ugly transition turned out to be something of a damp squib in terms of opposition and hostility. That must be counted as a bonus.
Here in Britain, whilst no major electoral change is happening just yet, there is the potential for civil dissatisfaction erupting on a number of fronts - social restrictions, vaccinations, priority lists, flood defences, universal credit, building cladding, overseas aid, defence, etc, etc. There is always a plethora of issues that seem to get folk uppity. The underlying question that is never really addressed is, "How much state intervention in your lives is good for you ?" and, conversely, "How little state intervention in your lives is too little ?" The essential issue seems to be that when things are a bit rocky and people start to feel the pinch, in their pockets principally, they moan that the government should do this or that or at least throw some money at the problem. That raises the spectre of increased taxation - for no government has an abundant money tree to provide funds for everything - yet how many of us would actually vote for higher personal taxation as a gesture of individual commitment to resolving big issues ? Very few one would suspect - the acceptance of personal responsibility and obligation to be a participative member of the community is a far distant concept under these circumstances. On the flip side of the argument, when life seems to be cruising reasonably trouble free, the refrain of pushing the state to withdraw from interventions in peoples lives is readily heard, "Get rid of all these restrictive impositions that stop us living as we would wish !" And, as an extra demand, lower our taxes even further.
There's no winning, is there ? On one level, folk demand more government interventions; on another level they demand the retreat of governmental interference. The middle ground is obscure and foggy for any administration that attempts to determine the accurate mood of the land - a mood so beset with rancour and simmering hostility in various parts of the country. Some of that must surely be a cultural influence, that shifting platform beneath our feet that tantalisingly hints at what our rights and freedoms and demands may be, a process that is getting more socially liberal with every passing year and, therefore, promising ever greater freedoms of action, choice, selective government help to suit, and so on. We are at a societal stage where many feel as though they have issues that affect them (and possibly a few others as well) for which government hand-outs and strategic actions are necessary and obvious. The BBC are particularly good at finding people to interview who think that whatever their complaint, the government should be there to dish out taxpayers money to rectify it. What a wonderful Utopia that would be, eh ? Yet our society has reached that level of expectation now. We have debased the notion of personal responsibility - all responsibility now is laid at the doorstep of governance - and we have equally debased any collective partnership with government to quickly establish areas of need and the best ways of tackling them - again, our cultural level is now so imbued with self interest that the very idea of a self-regulating society has long since disappeared. There are exceptions, of course, and may socially advantageous projects do attract engagement - regrettably, however, these are not the norm.
Government will never fulfill the role of being all things to all people - even the super state nations like the US display the fault lines in its society that we also have. The arguments are long and convoluted, but does it not come down to a very simple statement of evidence - that Western democracies are infinitely fragile and that social changes in the paradigm are progressively moving us all toward a less stable and less democratic life environment ? The real problem there is that most Western societies don't recognise that direction of travel...