Monday, January 8, 2018

Left-Wing Muscle Part 2: “Public Service” Organizations

     It’s pathetically easy to discern the incentives and motivations that cause government agencies to fill up with left-wingers. They see themselves as smarter and more moral than the rest of us, and therefore our rightful rulers. Besides, they worship government.

     What’s a little harder to unearth is how private sector organizations nominally dedicated to some form of “public service” are inevitably saturated with leftists. Yet these, too, conform to Robert Conquest’s Second Law. Indeed, they conform to such an extent that over time the supposed mission of the organization is discarded entirely, replaced by the twin objectives of gaining political power or influence, and perpetuating the organization’s billets for its workers.

     The “public service” organization (PSO) usually arises around some seemingly noble ideal. It might be a specimen of moral uplift, or some form of material charity, or – in the most ironic case – a drive for improvement in government. In our time, all these directions are easily co-opted by governments...and governments make painful haste to do so.

     In its earliest stage, the PSO is largely if not entirely guided by that noble ideal. Its workers are serious about it, and put a great deal of time and effort into it. Perhaps the Omnipotent State hasn’t yet noticed it, or perhaps the political elite regards it as too small to bother with. Either way, at its origin it’s small, entirely private, and sincerely oriented toward its overt goals.

     In the usual case the first agency to take note of it isn’t a government but a media representative. Such persons and their employers are always on the lookout for topics to report on, and their inherent bent is toward the emotions. Any seemingly noble or charitable effort is good enough for a couple of column-inches in a regional paper or a three minute segment during a local newscast.

     Such reportage gets the active, engaged attention of others who regard themselves as noble. Some fraction of those will either be government employees, or will be indirectly connected with some arm of the State.

     Such persons see involvement with government as desirable. Governments can provide resources. They can also whip the hoi polloi into line. What’s not to like?

     The organization is still private, in the sense that it’s not under the overt aegis of a government. Its workers don’t draw government paychecks; no legislative body sets its agenda or its operating conditions. It might succeed in remaining private, at least in appearance. But when it first brushes against the State, its deterioration has begun. It might be impossible to reverse it.

     There are many examples of the downhill progression of a PSO into a covert arm of the State. My favorite, because it’s the most dramatic one I know, is the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union.

     The WCTU grew out of the meliorist movements of the early Nineteenth Century. In the first century of the Republic, men’s heavy habitual consumption of spirits was a large contributor to social pathologies of various kinds. The physicians of the time might not have known about cirrhosis, but they could easily recognize that drinking whole pints or quarts of distillates each day had a bad effect on the human body, to say nothing of the coarsening effects on public conduct. Well before the formal organization of the WCTU there were many local and regional temperance societies that labored to discourage the excessive indulgence in “strong drink.” Some were explicitly religious. Others, such as the Friendly Societies and the Freemasons, had broader agendas.

     Those various temperance-promoting groups did a lot of good work. Women were often their backbone, for wives and sisters had an obvious, strong interest in preserving the sobriety of the men in their lives. Well before the WCTU was organized, their efforts had caused a sharp decrease in the consumption of intoxicants. The problems of rampant drunkenness and liquor-induced illness had been greatly reduced before the WCTU was formed. (Here’s some enlightening reading on the subject.)

     I found the following chart here:

     ...but the really illuminating thing is the trend in consumption per capita:

Decade Liquor Consumption Per Capita, Gallons
1790s 27.7
1800s 34.9
1810s 59.4
1820s 58.8
1830s 37.5
1840s 22.4
1850s 24.5
1860s 19.5
1870s 16.0

     Liquor consumption per decade per capita fell from its high of 59.4 gallons to only 16.0 gallons: a reduction of 73%. Plainly, the early local and regional efforts directed at reducing liquor consumption had scored huge successes well before the WCTU.

     The WCTU was explicitly political. Its charter advocated “the entire prohibition of the manufacture and sale of intoxicating liquors as a beverage.” Forty-four years later it succeeded in getting the Eighteenth (Prohibition) Amendment ratified. Ironically, the consumption of liquors promptly started to increase. The WCTU’s directors had steadily broadened its agenda, and continued to do so:

     The WCTU also agitated against tobacco. The American WCTU formed a "Department for the Overthrow of the Tobacco Habit" as early as 1885 and frequently published anti-tobacco articles in the 1880s. Agitation against tobacco continued through to the 1950s.

     As a consequence of its stated purposes, the WCTU was also very interested in a number of social reform issues, including labor, prostitution, public health, sanitation, and international peace. As the movement grew in numbers and strength, members of the WCTU also focused on suffrage. The WCTU was instrumental in organizing woman's suffrage leaders and in helping more women become involved in American politics. Local chapters, known as “unions”, were largely autonomous, though linked to state and national headquarters. Willard pushed for the "Home Protection" ballot, arguing that women, being the morally superior sex, needed the vote in order to act as "citizen-mothers" and protect their homes and cure society's ills. At a time when suffragists were viewed as radicals and alienated most American women, the WCTU offered a more traditionally feminine and "appropriate" organization for women to join.

     If you’ve ever wondered about the strange combination of “authorities” under the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, there’s your explanation.

     Left-wingers are innately busybodies, determined to run others’ lives. They believe themselves entitled to do so by virtue of their “superior” wisdom and morality. That they’re often found to violate in private the norms they espouse in public should come as no surprise, for persons who claim higher wisdom are prone to regard themselves as “above the rules.” The psychological commonality with bureaucrats and moralizers of all stripes requires no further explication.

     What’s most striking, and most germane, about PSOs is how the flag of superior morality they wave nearly always goes unquestioned. Seldom is the question “at what price?” posed to them even by those most ardent to resist them:

     There is no half-baked ecclesiastic, bawling in his galvanized-iron temple on a suburban lot, who doesn’t know precisely how it ought to be dealt with. There is no fantoddish old suffragette, sworn to get her revenge on man, who hasn’t a sovereign remedy for it. There is not a shyster of a district attorney, ambitious for higher office, who doesn’t offer to dispose of it in a few weeks, given only enough help from the city editors. And yet, by the same token, there is not a man who has honestly studied it and pondered it, bringing sound information to the business, and understanding of its inner difficulties and a clean and analytical mind, who doesn’t believe and hasn’t stated publicly that it is intrinsically and eternally insoluble. For example, Havelock Ellis. His remedy is simply a denial of all remedies. He admits that the disease is bad, but he shows that the medicine is infinitely worse, and so he proposes going back to the plain disease, and advocates bearing it with philosophy, as we bear colds in the head, marriage, the noises of the city, bad cooking and the certainty of death. Man is inherently vile—but he is never so vile as when he is trying to disguise and deny his vileness. No prostitute was ever so costly to a community as a prowling and obscene vice crusader, or as the dubious legislator or prosecuting officer who jumps at such swine pipe. – H. L. Mencken

     I leave it to my Gentle Readers to draw the moral.

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