The result [of the increase of privatization over the last generation] is an eviscerated society. From the point of view of the person at the bottom â€” seeking unemployment pay, medical attention, social benefits or other officially mandated services â€” it is no longer to the state, the administration or the government that he or she instinctively turns. The service or benefit in question is now often ‘delivered’ by a private intermediary As a consequence, the thick mesh of social interactions and public goods has been reduced to a minimum, with nothing except authority and obedience binding the citizen to the state.
This reduction of ‘society’ to a thin membrane of interactions between private individuals is presented today as the ambition of libertarians and free marketeers. But we should never forget that it was first and above all the dream of Jacobins, Bolsheviks and Nazis: if there is nothing that binds us together as a community or society, then we are utterly dependent upon the state. Governments that are too weak or discredited to act through their citizens are more likely to seek their ends by other means: by exhorting, cajoling, threatening and ultimately coercing people to obey them. The loss of social purpose articulated through public services actually increases the unrestrained powers of the over-mighty state.
There is nothing mysterious about this process: it was well described by Edmund Burke in his critique of the French Revolution. any society, he wrote in Reflections on the Revolution in France, which destroys the fabric of its state, must soon be “disconnected into the dust and powder of individuality”. By eviscerating public services and reducing them to a network of farmed-out private providers, we have begun to dismantle the fabric of the state. As for the dust and powder of individuality: it resembles nothing so much as Hobbes’s war of all against all, in which life for many people has once again become solitary, poor and more than a little nasty.