Uncomfortable Thoughts: What if they're both right?
If I had to summarize the broad outlines of the more thoughtful views of Left and Right concerning the modern bureaucratic welfare state, I'd say that...
The Leftist holds that the modern nation state and capitalist economy has dissolved extended family ties and social support networks to the point that the state must take on the responsibilities once held by family/clan for the care of the indigent, unemployed and unemployable, the insane, crippled and those temporarily disabled or disadvantages such as single parents etc, or else masses of the dispossessed will either destroy society in their chaotic rage or become mass movement fodder for a potential dictator. Or both.
The Rightist holds that when the state assumes the role of surrogate parent it reduces the citizen to a state of childlike dependence, lacking in ambition, responsibility and morality. Or one could put it even simpler; the welfare state makes people stupid, lazy, short-sighted and self-indulgent.
I tend to agree with the latter* - but it has occured to me that there is nothing mutually exclusive about the two positions.
What if they're both right?
A good deal of The Federalist is an extended argument against Montesquie's position that a republic can only function on a small scale. Now we have a still more-or-less republican form of government with a population that recently topped 300 million, so the argument would seem to have been settled.
But what if he was only wrong by an order of magnitude or so?
What if our nation has gotten so big that it can only be administered through a huge intrusive bureaucracy? What if it can't be administered as a free country at all for much longer?
Further speculation; what if it's not a matter of total population, but population density?
In 1910 there were exactly two automobiles in the state of Kansas. (They crashed.**)
When the number of vehicles on the road is so small, you don't really need a lot of traffic rules.
Likewise, if you live on a farm, you don't need as many rules about discharging firearms as you do if you live downtown.
Perhaps you've seen the maps of the Red and Blue states? And in even greater detail, the Red and Blue counties? The only factor that seems to stick out is - population density. Blue, high; Red, lower.
Scholars I've talked to about it want to find another explanation, because it just seems to pat. But maybe it really is just that. More people in a smaller area means more rules are needed.
But of course, there's a limit to how many rules, regulations and entitlements you can have and still have a productive economy with even minimally self-reliant citizens.
What if we're just running into the natural limits of the human race to organize itself in large numbers?
I told you this was going to be called Uncomfortable Thoughts.
Well, we'll figure out whether this is correct or not later. In the meantime I'm moving to a state the size of some of the bigger European countries, with a population of one of the only middling-sized cities, where the legislature convenes once every two years...
*Based on my experience of Saudi Arabia, where virtually the entire native population is on some kind of welfare, and one of the skeletons in my closet which I'm about to reveal. For two brief months I was a welfare bureaucrat. It was the only job I've ever had that routinely disturbed my sleep.
**I only know that much about the incident and it makes a nice story - but what I really suspect was that the only two auto owners in Kansas at that time were probably doing something consensual but stupid with them.