The Welfare State and Moral Autonomy

I look at the 'debate' over Philpott, a man previously convicted of attempted murder, and sigh. Philpott's crimes were egregious, but not outwith the span of human behaviour before our present welfare dispensation, or in other systems. The sad, mad horror story of Amelia Dyer, the baby farmer, springs to mind. Dyer lived in a society which did prize large families, but only if they could be paid for, and which shamed those who brought forth life with no money in their pockets. She offered, as many did, a baby-farm response; for a one off payment, she would house and take care of the children whom society separated from their parent. In reality, she killed them. Wasn't she simply someone who acted with the tools of the system at hand to elaborate a sin born of greed and madness, just as Philpott--who manipulated exactly the opposite sort of social structure--was?

The tale of how an obvious waster was, well, a murderous waster, has no conclusive point to it other than that. Whimsically, it raises the question of whether a special female defence of stabbing such people whilst in an abusive relationship is on a utilitarian basis good for society. Such a defence could possibly be extended to concerned brothers and fathers on the Roman basis. But then, that would be to assume that the rubble of family which our political class occasionally emerges to bomb might still have some role in society independent of state intervention; and the observation is anyway built on assumption and whimsy.

Ultimately, the Philpott issue is that rare example in which one is forced towards cynicism and hypocrisy by just about every perspective. This has not stopped tabloid editors, who wish to curry favour after the Leveson report; it has not stopped the usual crowd of concerned eugenicists and abortionists; it has not stopped the moralisers; and it hasn't stopped those who want to falsify a debate about moral autonomy and the welfare system.

There is a debate to be had, but it is not this one. There are times when I cannot find the words; were Easter and its message really so quickly forgotten?


Anonymous said…
Interesting! Though the reality of the existence of the effects of original sin should not preclude, or excuse us from, the imperative to go/come to the aid of the needy.After all that is on what we shall be judged. See Mt 26.
Martin Meenagh said…
That's precisely why I am neither a libertarian nor a worshipper of human rights. We are happiest in a good society and a good society is built on duties of courtesy and rational compassion for our fellow human beings. I'd add that it's built on witness to the Truth of Christ, but I'd prefer to make an argument which appeals as widely as possible.
Martin Meenagh said…
Thank you for your comment, by the way.

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