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The Danegeld State

The Welfare State: Modern Danegeld

There was a time when the kings of England paid protection money, known as Danegeld, to Danish Vikings to stop them raiding the country. Arguably, the modern welfare state serves a similar function. Its purpose is to give just enough money to society’s underclass to prevent them from turning violent. The French and Russian Revolutions are famous examples of what happens when the underclass becomes so large, so agitated, that it can sweep aside everything that opposes its interests. Had Louis XVI and Nicholas II had the sense to introduce an elementary welfare state, they might have saved themselves and their regimes.

Normally, the welfare state is characterised as providing a safety net for those going through temporary difficulties, or as a grand gesture by a benevolent government towards the less fortunate in society. Yet it’s easy for benevolence to mutate into malevolence. Approximately five million households of Britain – some twenty percent of the total – are heavily in the embrace of the welfare state. Those who begin their lives in this dependency culture often end it in the same way. There are millions of British citizens who have rarely, if ever, been employed. Does it suit the government simply to pay out Danegeld to these people rather than offer them any serious chance of succeeding in life?

Surely the social contract between the government and the governed should, above all else, be about giving everyone an equal opportunity. There’s no such equality in this country. The children of the middle class have vastly better life chances than those of the underclass. Why is this tolerated? For the most simple of reasons – it suits the middle class. Ours is a government fit for purpose in relation to a powerful sectional interest within society – the middle class. The last thing the middle class want is to have to face a level playing field, where their ability to rig the market in their favour is removed. They proclaim the virtues of competition while secretly despising it. They believe in privilege, in using their money to buy advantage. They send their children to public schools to secure a better education than is available to others. In effect, they pay for their children to be placed above others in society. How can the state claim to be serving all of its citizens equally if it’s actively supporting the ability of some citizens to pay for better treatment, and buy better opportunities for themselves?

Isn’t it time to bring two iniquitous systems to an end; to stop allowing rich citizens to rig the market in their favour, and to stop maintaining a welfare state whose sole function is to keep an underclass permanently suppressed?

The work of the radical Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing points to the way forward. He discovered that he could ‘cure’ severely disturbed patients, but when his patients returned home, all of their old problems soon manifested themselves again. His startling conclusion was that it was their family environment that was making them ill. When they were removed from it, their condition improved; when they were returned to it, it deteriorated. The most sacred cow of all – the family – is a primary cause of dysfunction. In most cases the damage it does is outweighed by the benefits it confers, but in a minority of cases, the family home is a catastrophic environment in which to bring up children. The state has a responsibility to intervene, but it only does so in the most extreme cases. Its intervention should be on an altogether different scale.

The underclass is what is created when large numbers of families fail. Using the welfare state to support them isn’t the answer. Instead, the solution implied by Laing’s work should be implemented. This is nothing less than to remove children from the environment that’s destroying their life chances. The state ought to step in and take the place of dysfunctional families. The state should build huge campus boarding schools, to which all children brought up in deprived areas should be sent. They should still be allowed to see their families, of course, but on a much more restricted basis – at holiday time only. Their parents will be freed from the burden that has proved too much for them of bringing their children up well. The children will be saved from the unintentionally malign influence of their parents. The state, by providing far superior educational facilities, will render private schools obsolete. For the first time, the UK will have created a truly meritocratic society where everyone has a realistic chance of leading a prosperous life.

Conventional political parties trumpet the virtues of the family. They promote ‘family’ values, and insist that the family can cure all of society’s ills. Social problems are caused when the family is undermined, they say. Not once have they ever considered Laing’s hypothesis that the family may be the heart of dysfunction, the ultimate form of child abuse for millions of vulnerable kids. The state, far from pronouncing the family sacred, has an obligation to act against the family at the slightest sign of trouble.

No one should forget Philip Larkin’s bleak assessment of the family environment provided in This Be The Verse:

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

This is a perfect summation of Laing’s findings. Strangely, Laing himself had eight children despite his episodic alcoholism, clinical depression, and the severe abuse he suffered as a child. Given his background and opinions on the family, it's remarkable that he chose to have so many children. 

The Tories in particular like to portray the state as malevolent, and are always calling for a reduction in the size of the state and the extent to which it interferes in people’s lives. In the eighty percent of families that function reasonably well, the state should indeed steer well clear, but for the twenty percent of failed families, state intervention should be on an unprecedented scale, to the extent of effectively replacing the family. The Tories’ position is inherently stupid because it treats all families as the same, when in fact there’s no comparison between a nice middle class family and a chaotic underclass family. Any family-directed policy that doesn’t draw distinctions between different types of family can’t be taken seriously.

The family is a tiny unit with a narrow range of qualities and skills. The state is a vast enterprise that can call on the skills and qualities of millions. There’s only one sense in which the state isn’t invariably superior to the family, and that’s in its inability to provide deep-rooted love to children. This is a family’s most important function, and it should be encouraged and harnessed as much as possible. It’s for this reason that even underclass parents shouldn’t be cut off from their children.

The state must also fill the discipline vacuum that’s emanating from families. In sink estates, the children of the underclass have no discipline at all, to their severe detriment. Discipline is even breaking down in middle class families. Discipline is the bedrock of the state and all forms of serious endeavour, and it should be near the top of any sensible state’s list of priorities.

At the moment, the government largely ignores twenty percent of the population (the underclass) and focuses on the other eighty percent. It provides the welfare state as a life-support system for the underclass, but many of them are perilously close to the vegetative state, and others are on the verge of total lawlessness, Danegeld or not. If this twenty percent could be properly addressed by the government, the whole of society would be transformed for the better.

The state spends a fortune on the underclass for all the wrong reasons. Apart from benefits and tax credits, the state has to squander a fortune on police, the criminal-justice system, and social services – all of which would scarcely be required if there were no underclass. This money – the cost of failure – should be used instead to break up the underclass once and for all by weakening the harmful link between the parents and children of the underclass.

It’s time to stop paying Danegeld to the underclass, and instead welcome them into the mainstream.