Fourteen years go I wrote a post on my blog call Collapse of Western Civilization. It was built around this quote from Margaret Thatcher when she was Prime Minister of the UK:
"I think we've been through a period where too many people have been given to understand that if they have a problem, it's the government's job to cope with it. 'I have a problem, I'll get a grant.' 'I'm homeless, the government must house me.' They're casting their problem on society. And you know, there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women, and there are families. And no government can do anything except through people, and people must look to themselves first. It's our duty to look after ourselves and then, also, to look after our neighbour." (From "Statecraft" by Margaret Thatcher. Although this quotation is from her book, I believe she also used it in public addresses.)
I've highlighted two of her comments. Hers is the attitude we've heard from conservative leadership (small "c," as it's not just her party in UK or the Republican party in the US) for a long time. It certainly wasn't new when I wrote about it then.
And now we're seeing the results in the midst of the pandemic. "Me and mine first; and no society to which to be responsible." She may have complained about some who wanted (and arguable needed) more support from government than she wanted government to give. However, there are times (and we are in such times now) when it simply can't be just about me and mine. My impact on my neighbor is so much less in my control than I think. My need can be so much greater than I can manage. It is these circumstances that show not only that society does exist, but that it must exist. To be civilized - to live in a civilization - establishes those responsibilities beyond me and mine. If we don't want to lose that, we have to challenge such an attitude as the late Lady Thatcher and her current adherents. For there is an alternative to civilization. As the philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, "No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short." (Leviathan, chapter 12)