It’s not unusual to find conservative contemporaries who complain in one breath that culture has been going downhill since the French Revolution or even longer, and then the next moment complain about Schröder's Hartz IV welfare reforms and demand higher social benefits, without being aware of the contradiction or even comedy of this attitude.
Conservative criticism of neoliberalism is simply ridiculous, since all models of society that generally serve conservatives as historical models were constituted in a far less welfare-state manner than the models of Ludwig Erhard or Milton Friedman. It is not possible to chastise ‘neoliberalism’ without at the same time discrediting one's own shining role models.
Typical golden ages for conservatives were the Adenauer republic, the empire of the Kaiser, the old Prussia and the high Middle Ages under the Staufer emperors. These were all times when the public sector share of GDP was much lower than it is today. In the Adenauer period it was about 25 percent, in the empire of the Kaiser about ten percent, in old Prussia about five percent and in the Holy Roman Empire there was no state at all, in today's sense of the word.
This is, by the way, the reason why these societies were conservative. If there is no comprehensive social protection through state pension systems, then family, church and community are the only ways to protect oneself against crises and existential risks. If the state redistributes 50 percent of the gross domestic product, one cannot expect family and community to have the same status as before.
The extent of the current welfare state is a result of the 1960s and -70s. It’s the result of the social-democratic policies of Lyndon B. Johnson, Willy Brandt and Olof Palme, closely linked to the hedonist revolution and the aspirations of the New Left, which produced not only the welfare state but also the ’68 generation.
The ‘neoliberal’ reforms of the Thatcher and Reagan era, and in part also the Schröder era did not reverse this expansion, but merely slowed it down. Conservatives who complain about ‘neoliberalism’ are basically saying: the best of all times was the ‘red decade’ – long live Willy Brandt. Everything before and after that was ‘socially unjust’.
Anyone who considers state social security to be the most important criterion for the quality of a society must love Germany. Since the beginning of historical testimonies 10,000 years ago, when has there ever been a society in which people have been so extensively socially protected and cared for as in the Federal Republic of Germany today? If this is to be the result of conservative cultural criticism, with which one can now fill entire shelves, then that is a very ironic twist.
If the Left criticises neoliberalism and demands more social benefits, then this is at least understandable from their perspective. For they do not compare the current situation with historical reality, but with their left-wing utopia, and what the market economy has to offer in comparison to that of course comes off badly. The market economy is the most efficient system for producing goods and services, but it can’t perform miracles, create a new kind of human being or deliver us from the imperfections of our earthly existence.
Conservatives, unlike leftists, should know that the outcome of economic systems cannot be judged by utopian fantasies, but by what the limited and imperfect nature of human beings allows. In the real world there are neither benevolent omniscient dictators, nor is there a land of milk and honey, nor a functioning economy based on altruism. If conservatives criticize neoliberalism, then the old Napoleon adage applies: from the sublime to the ridiculous, it’s really only one step.
Translated from eigentümlich frei, where the original article was published on August 27th 2019.