In a 1987 essay in The Review of Politics, Glenn Tinder draws on Pascal, and Tocqueville, to describe what he calls the “diversional welfare state.” By that he means that the welfare state distracts us from what is truly important - God: “the welfare state of today may be characterized as an effort to build a self-enclosed world, governed entirely by sovereign human beings and set apart from transcendence . . . . It is a realm excluding symbols of eternity and dominated by human administrative and technological expertise; all problems are soluble by human intelligence and all eventualities covered by one form or another of insurance . . . . The ends to be pursued are those on which everyone, divested of all religious preconceptions, would presumably agree - material security and physical comfort, with recreation and entertainment according to personal tastes. Suffering is not only regarded as anomalous; as a failure of human control, it is humiliating.”
The irony of what he characterizes as a “radical secularism” is double: The diversional welfare state has taken hold in traditionally Christian nations; and, more pointedly, it has been inspired by Christian values:
“the ideal of caring for all people equally, and of using modern organizational and industrial powers to this end, is an expression of Christian agape. The ideal may have other possible grounds. But that is not as clear as many suppose and it is certain that the Christian evaluation of the individual has been of primary importance in the rise of the welfare state. Perhaps no other paradox of present-day America is as momentous as that evident in the external religiosity and deep inner secularity of the people’s life and culture.”
Though the welfare state aims to be “agape empowered with advanced organizational techniques and effectuated through the deployment of industrial wealth,” the actual effect is to dilute or even dissolve agape: “Those serving the needy are for the most part members of public or private bureaucracies; hence many of them have little im- mediate contact with the people they serve and are apt to be preoc- cupied with their own careers. Those who are served become vested with legal rights which they claim through court suits and try to enlarge by organizing and lobbying.”
Tinder thinks that the diversional welfare state is inherently self-defeating. On the one hand, agape gets translated into equality. But no society can be completely egalitarian. When equality becomes the standard for justice, it “exposes every privilege and injustice.” Egaligarianism, encouraged by the welfare state, also “threatensthe closed world of the diversional welfare state. It entails moral requirements, and gives rise to paradisiacal visions, which cast a pitiless light on the dialectical perversions of the present-day welfare state.”
Tinder thinks the diversional welfare state is simply a social and political expression of sin: “It is sin- and not an odd variant of sin but its very essence—when human beings attempt to create and inhabit a world set entirely apart from God. This becomes sharply evident when love evaporates and human beings are treated as mere physical beings whose physical needs must be satisfied.” He quotes Paul from Romans 7: “The very commandment which promised life, proved to be death to me,” and asks, “Can we not say this of the welfare state?”
Glenn Tinder, “Christianity and the Welfare State,” Review of Politics 49:4 (1987) 549-69.