As I write, Belgium has not had a central government for more than 500 days. While I must admit, as an occasional visitor to that country, that the difference between Belgium with and Belgium without a central government is not apparent on casual inspection, this interregnum may take the theory of limited government too far.
The reason that Belgium has lacked a government for so long is that the country is divided into two populations (actually three, but the third is too small to count) with incompatible politics: French-speaking Wallonia and Dutch-speaking Flanders. Belgium is officially bilingual, yet you see not a word of Dutch in Wallonia and not a word of French in Flanders. The division could not be starker if barbed wire separated the two provinces. Only in the capital, Brussels, does one find any concession to bilingualism.
Historical and economic factors deepen the division between the two regions. Wallonia, though it contained a minority of Belgium’s population, long dominated its culture and economy. Even the Flemish upper class spoke French at home, while Dutch was the language of the peasantry; until recently, Belgian schools forbade children from speaking Dutch in class. With the decline of Wallonia’s coal and steel industries and the economic rise of Flanders, however, the pattern of dominance changed. Flanders went from being the poor relation to being the rich one, albeit with something of an inferiority complex. In the process, it started to make large transfer payments to Wallonia, which suffered from comparatively high unemployment. Such payments rarely promote goodwill between groups. Resentment is common among both the donors, who harbor suspicions that the recipients are exploiting them, and the recipients, who indulge in mental contortions to explain their dependency away.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the largest political parties in Flanders are either nationalist or free-market; both philosophies lead to reducing or stopping the transfer payments. It is equally unsurprising that the largest political party in Wallonia is socialist and wants the payments to continue or increase. The Wallonian socialist party’s patronage powers in its territory are almost feudal in nature and extent; the last thing that the party of social change wants is actual change.
If not quite deterministic, Dalrymple's description is reductionist: the difference between free-marketeers and socialists boils down mostly to which side of transfer payments they find themselves. The principles follow the economics as nicely, on this example, as they ever did in Marx's theory.
I take us all to be a bunch of free-marketeers and nationalists; I assume that most of us are also not receiving any transfer payments from the government. Are we in the same boat as the people of Flanders -- thinking ourselves principled, but really driven by rice-bowl issues? Are our opponents in the same boat as the people of Wallonia, having concocted an idea of "fairness" and "justice" that is really limited to a desire to be paid out of someone else's wallet?
Both sides have elaborate arguments to the contrary. Dalrymple's suggestion is that these arguments are not rational, but rationalizations. What do you think?