Bomb-Building 101

REUTERS/Phil Noble

Stephen Baskerville Professor, Patrick Henry College
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The Manchester suicide bomber used used student loans and welfare benefits to finance his terror operations, and others may be doing likewise. This revelation speaks volumes about not only the cultural divide separating Islamists and the West, but also about the West’s own, if I may so phrase it, suicidal tendencies.

A program designed to further democratize universities and extend higher education to ever-larger proportions of the population is now facilitating the ongoing campaigns of young radicals (often of the same rebellious age as university students) to destroy Western civilization. We already knew that the student loan program brought unintended consequences, but perhaps it takes this to provide us with a true perspective on the mischief we are sowing.

Is it possible that our obsession with finding every possible means to decrease the effort and responsibility in our lives – and turn over as much of them as possible to the management of state officials – is creating the mechanisms for eradicating our civilization?

The student loan system (imported by Britain and others from the United States) was already creating myriad problems: That it places young graduates in sometimes hopeless debt is only the start of the problem. It has hugely inflated the costs of higher education, as universities use the easy credit (other people’s credit and other people’s debts) to finance their opulent building programs. Arguably too, the very mass democratization we used it to achieve has dumbed down the curriculum, so that what students at one time learned in high school must now be paid for in college. All this debt has almost certainly helped alter the social structure, as debt drives graduates to postpone families and children, sometimes indefinitely.

Whether the hyper-democratization of universities also contributes to their political radicalization – to the point where learning has now been largely displaced by ideology – is yet to be proven. But the fact that we find university-age radicals bypassing the classrooms altogether and using the universities simply as administrative conduits to channel taxpayers’ money into nihilistically destructive political campaigns – this seems to take the logic of today’s universities (and today’s welfare state) to its macabre conclusion

And what we see with student loans is only the latest example of what we find as the fruits of the welfare state generally. We tried to change the rules and pay government functionaries to administer our families and private lives the way they administered the railroads and the water works. The results were quite comfy for a while. Husbands were relieved of the responsibilities of providing, wives of the responsibility of minding the children, and everyone enjoyed a prolonged adolescence that allowed us to live like – well, like perpetual students. But now the consequences are catching up with us, often in unexpected ways. Welfare breeds single-parent homes, which in turn breed most of our social pathologies: from violent crime and substance abuse to further unwed childbearing that carries the problems into the next generation. More to the point here, Western welfare states are a magnet for the most dysfunctional forms of immigration, and welfare communities have become the breeding grounds of terrorism. The terrorists are almost invariably the sons of single mothers, and now we see how the smorgasbord of state benefits we have provided for the young allows them not only the leisure but also the financing for their terror campaigns.

And as the welfare state incubates terror, it bankrupts the democracies. The West’s “financial crisis” is almost entirely a crisis of welfare. And not only welfare payments (which though huge, are relatively minor). Far more expensive are the government programs to combat the social problems that welfare engenders. Crime, truancy, substance abuse – these inflate the budgets for law enforcement, health, education, in fact almost all domestic spending. So for the functionaries, the welfare state is the gift that keeps on giving, creating problems that rationalize their existence and their expanding budgets.

The fact is that neither the left nor most of the right really has a solution to terrorism, because neither is willing to think far enough outside the box to consider that the problem is not their strength but our weakness. (And creating a police state in a futile effort to defeat them is not a sign of strength but an admission of that weakness.) A relatively small number of determined adolescents is able to strike literally terror into the greatest civilization in human history, because we no longer accept the rules our forefathers bequeathed to us and proved to be the key to stability, prosperity, and freedom.

Stephen Baskerville is Professor of Government at Patrick Henry College. His book, The New Politics of Sex, will be published by Angelico.