Uncommon Knowledge with William Voegeli

Last week we posted Peter Robinson’s interview with William Voegeli. Given our format, the interview rotated off the site after a few days. We’ll have another installment of Uncommon Knowledge next week. In the meantime, here is the interview with Voegeli, once more once, after a brief introduction.
Why are welfare state liberals like our president and his congressional allies perpetually seeking to appropriate the income and manage the lives of productive citizens? Why can’t they tell us when they will have taken all that it is right to take, so we can relax, secure in the enjoyment of our property?
In a series of essays written for the Claremont Review of Books, CRB contributing editor William Voegeli has explored the course and meaning of welfare state liberalism. Voegeli seems to understand welfare state liberalism like Whitaker Chambers understood Communism, from the inside. Jonah Goldberg has written of him: “Bill Voegeli has become my new James Q. Wilson — the egghead I always read even if I don’t think I’m interested at first.”
Thus the publication of Voegeli’s book on the subject — Never Enough: America’s Limitless Welfare State — is something of an event. It was easily one of the most important books published last year, and it will remain timely for the foreseeable future.
Liberals and conservatives, Voegeli observes, have been arguing about the welfare state for 80 years, each side going so far as to define itself in terms of its stance on big government. In this context he has noted: “If the expansion of the welfare state is the reason liberals get up and go to work in the morning, its contraction is the reason conservatives do.”
Voegli’s explorations pose difficult questions for liberals and conservatives. He has observed, for example, that federal spending on “human resources” programs since 1940 have increased under every president since FDR. Real, per capita federal spending on such programs was 15 times greater in 2007 than in 1940. Even the presidency of Ronald Reagan, who called for cuts to federal spending more than any other recent president, saw a slight increase.
The welfare state has massively increased in scope and size since 1940, and it is undergoing another vast expansion under Obama. Despite this massive growth, the left keeps calling for more. Since the beginning of the Progressive era, no liberal politician has suggested the ultimate or sufficient size of government. Instead, liberals demand more growth, refusing to consider the limits to growth of the welfare state.
The estimable Fred Siegel reviewed Voegeli’s book in “Insatiable liberalism.” Siegel found that Never Enough is “the best book written on liberalism in recent decades,” and “an essential read for understanding how we came to this pass.”
What is to be done? Voegeli follows Lincoln’s adage: “If we could first know where we are, and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do, and how to do it.” Voegeli recently sat down with Peter Robinson to talk about the book. Through our arrangement with the Hoover Institution, we are pleased to present the interview in its entirety. Please check it out.


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