Last night’s post about the demographics of the Austrian election prompted a lot of comments about the role of women in creating the current existential crisis in the West through their support of open borders and mass immigration.
One of the commenters brought up a video by Stefan Molyneux, “in which he claimed that within 10-15 years of women receiving the vote in all Western nations, a welfare state apparatus was implemented in those nations, at least to a certain extent, and in all cases.”
Mr. Molyneux’s assertion is not false, but it elides the complex development of modern state socialism that long preceded the granting of the franchise to women. As I said in my reply:
He’s not entirely correct. The first welfare state was actually created in Imperial Germany by Chancellor Otto von Bismarck in the 1870s and 1880s, when the franchise was entirely male.
Giving the vote to women accelerated the process, but it was already well underway when men were in charge. Think of Dickens — his concern for taking care of the wretched, normally a prerogative of females, was widespread among educated men in the mid-19th century.
Yes, it’s true that women tend to vote for immigrant-friendly and socialist policies more than men do. And yes, it’s true that this tendency has been in operation since women first got the vote. And yes, it’s true that the female vote turbo-charged the development of the modern bureaucratic welfare state, beginning at the end of the First World War. And yes, it’s true that the men who pushed socialism as a political program have exploited the female vote for their own ends ever since women were first granted the suffrage.
But let’s look at the history of Socialist and Progressive movements.
In the early 19th century the wave of social change sparked by the Great Awakening took several forms. A move to end slavery, spearheaded by William Wilberforce, took shape, abolishing the slave trade wherever the British Navy could enforce the ban, and spreading eventually to the USA to become the Abolition movement. The crusade for Temperance, also originating in the Christian awakening, evoked fervor on both sides of the Atlantic — think of Carrie Nation, taking her axe to the evil saloons.
But atheism was also widespread, and the Progressive impulse among atheists (and some Christians) took the form of Socialist ideology. From Rousseau to Marx, Engels, Proudhon, and all the rest, socialism evolved from a concern for the welfare of the impoverished urban proletariat into a full-fledged revolutionary movement. One by one the governments of the West implemented various aspects of state socialism to forestall those revolutions. After the Bolsheviks took power in Russia in 1917, the need for state socialist programs became all the more urgent for the Western democracies.
By then women had the vote, and Socialist ideologues such as the Fabians — George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, Ramsay MacDonald, Emmeline Pankhurst, Bertrand Russell, et al. — were able to draw on the new female electorate to push for the foundation of the modern welfare state in the 1920s and 1930s. But socialism had been established in the West long before that: the modern form took shape first in the German Empire under Chancellor Otto von Bismarck.
As I wrote in “Junker Socialism” almost eleven years ago:
The virus of socialism has infected Western thought for at least a century and a half. The ideas of Marx and Engels, of the anarchists, communists, and social revolutionaries, have floated though our cultural air for so long that we hardly even notice them. But the left-wing revolutionaries were not the ones who ushered in the welfare state; that job was left to a reactionary Prussian aristocrat who believed in the divine right of kings.
Prince Otto von Bismarck was the greatest political genius of modern times. As Minister-President and Foreign Minister of Prussia in the 1860s, he successfully steered Prussia through two major wars, enlarging its power and humbling its Austrian and French rivals. When he engineered the unification of Germany and created the German Empire in 1871, he became its first Chancellor under Kaiser Wilhelm I. Facing a collection of fractious and hitherto independent principalities, he managed to consolidate and strengthen the new empire. By the time he was forced into retirement by Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1890, he had wielded political power for thirty years and experienced unparalleled success, transforming Germany from a semi-feudal federation of states into one of the world’s pre-eminent cultural, political, and military powers.
One of the reasons for Bismarck’s success was a shrewd understanding of the socialist movement. As an aristocratic Junker landowner, his natural tendency was to suppress the socialist nuisance — which he did, banning socialist organizations and arresting their leaders all through the 1870s — but he realized the appeal of the socialist ideas, and co-opted them with his own programs.
The Revolutions of 1848 had concentrated the minds of the European elites. Liberalism as a revolutionary force gradually gave way to socialism, and the Paris Commune in 1871 was a wake-up call for the hereditary aristocracy and governing classes all across the continent.
In the 1880s Bismarck responded by instituting mandatory health insurance for workers, followed by accident insurance, old-age pensions, and disability insurance. His early version of the welfare state was modest by today’s standards, taking at most 6% of a worker’s wages. But it was enough to sap the power of the socialist impulse in Germany until after the Great War.
In the early 20th century the other European powers looked to Germany as a model, and gradually adopted variations of the same ideas. As Communism emerged as the dominant rival ideology to democratic capitalism, the West was compelled by political necessity to expand the welfare state. Communism is dead and gone, but the ideas of socialism remain, and the welfare state continues to expand.
The modern welfare state was a reactionary creation, adopted by Western governments to forestall revolutionary socialism. True socialism, in its Communist manifestations, was politically and economically unsustainable, and has taken its well-earned place on history’s ash heap. But the welfare state, as a parasite of prosperous capitalist economies, has proven more robust.
To see the welfare state as a creation of women’s suffrage beginning in the 1920s is to miss the larger picture. Men created the ideological systems known as Socialism, Communism, and Progressivism. Men built the first bureaucratic structures that administered the early welfare state. And men advocated for giving women the vote.
Among the men who pushed for female suffrage there were undoubtedly ambitious Socialists who wanted to tap all that estrogen-driven empathy in a cynical move to put themselves in power. Men cynically exploited the female vote, and they are still cynically exploiting it today. When exploited, the votes of women tend to put Socialists in power and help keep them there. So Socialists — most of them men — design their strategies and propaganda with an eye on female voters.
It’s not only factually wrong to blame women for the welfare state, it’s counterproductive. It won’t get us (men, I mean) anywhere to point fingers at the fair sex and thus further inflame the Gender Wars.
Men and women got themselves into this mess together. And — given that it’s no longer possible to take the franchise away from women — the only way to get ourselves out of it is for men and women to work together.