We find that at present the human race is divided politically into one wise man, nine knaves, and ninety fools out of every hundred. That is, by an optimistic observer. The nine knaves assemble themselves under the banner of the most knavish among them, and become “politicians;” the wise man stands out because he knows himself to be hopelessly outnumbered, and devotes himself to poetry, mathematics or philosophy; while the ninety fools plod off behind the banners of the nine villains, according to fancy, into the labyrinths of chicanery, malice and warfare…. If it is democracy, then the nine knaves will become members of parliament; if fascism, they will become party leaders; if communism, commissars. Nothing will be different except the name. The fools will still be fools, the knaves still leaders, the results still exploitation. As for the wise man, his lot will be much the same under any ideology. Under democracy he will be encouraged to starve to death in a garret, under fascism he will be put in a concentration camp, under communism he will be liquidated. This is an optimistic but on the whole a scientific statement of the habits of Homo impoliticus.

T.H. White, The Book of Merlin A political earthquake of sorts struck France and Greece over this past weekend. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was unseated by the Socialist Party’s Francois Hollande, who campaigned on a policy of taxing the rich to address his country’s looming financial collapse. (Does that sound familiar to those of you following presidential campaign politics here at home?)

In Greece, voters rejected the “austerity” policies of its ruling coalition government, essentially trashing hopes for further bailouts by the European Central Bank. The gamble there is that economically better positioned states in Euroland, particularly Germany, will continue pumping billions of their euros into Greece and other southern tier states one step away from economic and social chaos. (Warning: Do not take that bet.)

Government already owns more than half the French economy, 56 percent of gross national product. This is a figure that doubtless has much of the political left in America salivating. But it would be most useful and perhaps educational if those who promote larger government involvement in our economy were to examine what this has done, in practical terms, to the French motto of liberte, egalite, fraternite, and Western democracy itself in its Greek birthplace. Perhaps nowhere else in modern times has the quest for economic and social equality so damaged personal liberty and brotherhood within the body politic.

There is a propensity, inherent in every welfare state, to foster growth — not economic growth, mind you, but growth in a dependent class, a class increasingly reliant on government largess or, to put it more bluntly, on government programs that promise to “spread the wealth around.” The pernicious nature of this is that government benefits once granted are in practical terms immortal. Take them away and you provoke riots in the streets. Worse, for politicians courageous enough to propose throttling back benefits, election defeat. Thus, benefits in general are continued and expanded in good times and in bad, regardless of their impact on the private economy that produces the wealth the liberal left so loves to spread around. (No, Alice, government does not create wealth. Workers and investors do. And what government ultimately succeeds in spreading around is not wealth, but poverty.)

In America we watch, with increasing dismay, a decline in the size of the American work force even as our population grows. Translation: fewer are providing for more. The explanation most frequently given for this is that many long-term unemployed simply have given up hope of ever finding a job.

Seldom is it acknowledged that “free” and untaxed benefits provided to the poor, the unemployed and the unemployable are reason enough, particularly for the lower skilled, to stop looking for work. And who can blame them? Taking a job would actually decrease, for many, the “take-home pay” they earn by not working.

Is there not something amiss here? What is this doing to the traditional American work ethic and the will to make one’s way in life on one’s own? No one wants to see wives and children thrown out on the streets, the elderly and the sick reduced to begging for a crust of bread. But who can take comfort observing able-bodied men and women hanging out on street corners with nothing to do? Or college graduates moving back home to live off their parents’ savings, if their parents happen to have any after putting their now grownup children through school?

Is there no work that needs doing in America today? No rebuilding of aging infrastructure? No mountain trails to clear by a reconstituted CCC? No trash to pick up? No abandoned homes to repair? Or is all this just sheer drudgery Americans have grown too proud to do? And what, in time, does all this lead to?

In The Book of Merlin, cited above, the wizard changes Arthur, the once and future king in Camelot, into several lower life forms: a goose, a hawk, an ant, etc. Most chillingly, an ant. Merlin’s purpose is the education of Arthur, preparing him to become a wise and understanding ruler.

The colony of ants to which Merlin sends Arthur is an example of the welfare state carried to a possibly inevitable extreme. (Think Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet Union, etc.) Over the entrance to each tunnel in the ant colony is a government notice that reads:

EVERYTHING NOT FORBIDDEN IS COMPULSARY BY NEW ORDER.

In this era of never ending wars, fruitless exercises in nation building in far off lands of which even our leaders seem to know but little, unbridled growth in the federal government, unstinted erosion of personal liberty — is not all this at least of some justifiable concern in the home of the brave and the land of the free?

R.L. Schreadley is a former Post and Courier executive editor.