A reader writes, “It’s not cheap being Rome,” pointing out the cost of the US military-industrial complex and the overseas empire. The US didn’t have much of a federal welfare state back then as well. The growth of welfare states and warfare states tends to correlate. It is one of the main reasons why I am not a social democrat.
The European social welfare systems were developed after Europe had largely been decimated by the two world wars. None of those countries were military powers. Instead, they were under the US umbrella as US military protectorates. In other words, European social democracies aren’t military powers only in the sense of being the equivalent of the individual US states, only without statehood but still under the NATO umbrella. I realize that’s an imprecise analogy but it still works as far as the essentials. The US largely foots the military bill for those countries, and they use capitalism to generate wealth, which is taxed in order to fund their social welfare systems.
In the USA, the periods of the expansion of the welfare state took place as the US started to develop an empire of its own. First, with the Spanish-American, Philippine, and First World Wars of the Progressive Era, then World War Two and the Korean War during the New Deal/Fair Deal era, and then the Great Society during Vietnam. During the War on Terrorism, we got Medicare Part D, Obamacare, No Child Left Behind, etc. Again, a direct correlation.
My take on this is somewhat unconventional. I agree with many of the socialist criticisms of the industrial revolution, classical capitalism, and classical liberalism. But I would regard socialism as a quasi-conservative framework that was heavily influenced by the Counter-Enlightenment, Romantic, and German Idealist thinkers. Socialism was a reaction against the radicalism of classical liberalism by what were essentially conservative thinkers. The Marxists and other revolutionary socialists that came out of traditions associated with the French Revolution were the most radical wing of socialism but even these had a quasi-conservative dimension. For example, there are sections of the Communist Manifesto where Marx and Engels essentially embrace the conservative critique of classical liberalism. Also, there were all kinds of socialists-feudal, bourgeois, utopian, and revolutionary, as the CM also recognizes. I generally agree with George Watson’s analysis of historic socialism when it comes to all of this.
I would go in the other direction and say the problem with classical liberalism is that it was not radical enough. For instance, I think Domenico Losurdo’s “counter-history” of liberalism is on the mark. I see anarchism as the logical extension of classical liberalism but as a natural counterpart and opposition to both socialism and conservative, with fascism being a hybrid of socialism and conservatism. Where I depart from most modern anarchists is that I totally reject mass democracy, the welfare state, and regulatory government. Mass democracy is one of history’s greatest swindles. Even in its most optimal form, mass democracy is going to be an oligopoly of specialists that form an oligarchy of their own. I view the welfare state as a means of pacifying opposition to the ruling class and inculcating loyalty to the state as a type of sugar daddy. And regulatory government and the public administration state are what opened the door to the kind of soft totalitarianism we have today. I totally reject the “anarcho-social democracy” of folks like Noam Chomsky and Kevin Carson.
I have similar criticisms of the “free market conservatives” and “right-libertarians.” For instance, if you really oppose state interference in the economy, then you have to oppose intellectual property laws, banking and legal tender laws, corporate personhood and other corporate laws, and subsidies to transportation (“Who will build the roads? Who cares!”). There are also important questions about things like contract law, land use rights, inheritance laws, and other things that can’t be entirely adjudicated on the basis of the “non-aggression principle” without at least some degree of subjectivity. But rather than begging the state for more regulatory favors and welfare benefits, I would prefer that radicals attack government policies and laws that have the impact of centralizing control over wealth and resources, and insist that workers and the self-employed receive their full income and create their own retirement, healthcare, and unemployment services, build anarcho-syndicalist unions, cooperatives, partnerships, mutual banks, mutual aid societies, intentional communities, communes, collectives, land trusts, clubs, tenants unions, students unions, neighborhood associations, barter and trade networks, appropriate technology systems, and other non-state/non-capitalist institutions and organizations as an alternative to both capitalist corporations or the government. Unfortunately, the full range of political opinion, from far left to far right, tends to be an intellectual desert when it comes to all of this.