n Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe - Die liberale welsynstaat - demokrasie of meritokrasie? s

Volume 50, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0041-4751


Pogings om die liberale welsynstaat te hervorm skyn futiel te wees. Wat nodig is, is 'n afskeid van die terapeutiese model en 'n rehabilitasie van die gemeenskap-gesentreerde benadering. Kliënte van die dienste-industrie moet weer aktiewe burgers word. Die terapeutiese ideologie met sy onderliggende etiek van medelye plaas te veel klem op die beweerde tekortkominge van kliënte. Daarby misken dit die moontlikheid dat hierdie sogenaamde kliënte 'n betekenisvolle bydrae kan lewer tot die samelewing. Inteendeel, dit institusionaliseer ongelykheid terwyl dit voorgee dat iedereen op sy of haar manier "spesiaal" is. Verder het dit gelei tot die ontwrigting van die gemeenskapslewe en die opkoms van 'n "slagoffer-kultus" wat gekenmerk word deur 'n politiek van haatdraendheid en . Onder sulke omstandighede kan 'n demokrasie nie oorleef nie. 'n Ware demokrasie moet hom verset teen die idee van dubbele standaarde, want dit is 'n stellige resep vir tweedeklas burgerskap. Daar moet voortdurend gepoog word om die algemene peil van burgers se vermoëns en vaardighede te verhoog, eerder as om steeds meer en meer vermoëns te institusionaliseer en toe te wys aan professionele deskundiges wat hulleself aanmatig om die lewens van andere te "begelei" en te "bestuur". In hierdie verband kan ons veel gaan leer van die tradisie van die populisme met sy kenmerkende waardering vir waardes soos selfstandigheid en onafhanklikheid, sy respek vir vlytigheid en hardwerkendheid, sy egalitêre afkeer van verskanste posisies van bevoorregting, sy aandrang op eenvoudige, verstaanbare taalgebruik en om mense verantwoordelik te hou vir hulle dade. 'n Etiek van respek - as alternatief vir die etiek van medelye wat onderliggend is aan die welsynstaat - behoort voort te bou op hierdie en ander elemente van die populistiese tradisie.

The advent of the modern welfare state witnessed the rise of a powerful new elite - the "New Class" (Alvin Gouldner), i.e. the class of professional experts and managers. Their investment in education and information, as opposed to property, distinguishes them from the rich bourgeoisie and the old proprietary class. The rise of this new elite has basically led to a new form of meritocracy, which constitutes a real danger to democracy. This new elite's overriding interest is to secure their own position of power and influence and to escape from the common lot - the very definition of meritocratic success. The meritocratic tendency of the current welfare state can be traced back to the triumph of the approach to society, which forms the cornerstone of the new class ideology. This ideology views the well-being of individuals as growing from an environment composed of professionals and their services. It envisions a world where there is a professional to meet every need and where the fee to secure each professional service is a right. This vision is epigrammatically expressed by those who see the ultimate liberty as "the right to treatment". The definition of social problems in therapeutic or medical terms creates the condition for a process where individuals become second rate citizens, permanently excluded from mainstream society and degraded to the inferior position of being "clients" or dependants. No matter how many resources and "services" these people are "entitled" to receive - in the last instance nothing can compensate for this humiliation which they are made to suffer.
The therapeutic ideology naturally has a political function. It serves to legitimatise the power that new class professionals and managers exercise. In the words of Christopher Lasch : "The power to label people deficient and declare them in need is the basic tool of control and oppression in modern industrialized societies. The agents with comprehensive labelling power in these societies are the helping professionals. Their badge bestows the caring authority to declare fellow citizens 'clients' - a class of deficient people in need."
Efforts to reform the liberal welfare state would appear to be futile. What is needed is a departure from the therapeutic model and the rehabilitation of a community centred approach. Clients of the service industry should become active citizens again. The therapeutic ideology, along with its underlying ethics of compassion, places too much emphasis on the alleged deficits of clients. It thereby overlooks the possibility that these so-called clients can make a meaningful contribution to society. The professionalisation of compassion has not resulted in a kinder, gentler society. Instead it institutionalises inequality, under the pretence that everybody is "special" in his / her own way. Furthermore, it has led to the disruption of community life and the rise of a "cult of the victim" along with its politics of hate and resentment. Under such circumstances democracy cannot survive. A true democracy should always resist the idea of double standards, which is a sure recipe for second rate citizenship. There should be a constant effort to raise the general level of all citizens' competences and abilities, instead of being content to institutionalise competence in the caring class, which arrogates to itself the job of looking out for everybody else. In this regard we can learn much from the tradition of populism with its appreciation for values such as self-reliance and independence, its respect for honesty and hard work, its egalitarian opposition to entrenched privilege, its insistence on plain speech and on holding people accountable for their actions. An ethics of respect - as an alternative to the ethics of compassion which underlies the welfare state - should build from these and other elements of the populist tradition.

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