The View From 1776

Should Big Brother be the Source of Charity?

Liberal-socialists’ atheistic materialism leads them to believe that good can come only from the collectivized National State.  They reject the benevolence of spiritual religion, because they believe that only material things are good.

Senator Bill Bradley captured the essential difference between individualism, based on the Judeo-Christian ethic, and the collectivism of liberal-socialism.  Announcing his decision not to stand for reelection, Senator Bradley said that liberals prefer the government bureaucrat whom they know to the individual whom they can’t control.

A good example of this is Matthew Miller’s syndicated column My credit card receipt and Bush’s pinched vision, which was released for publication on January 19, 2005.  In my local newspaper it was more appropriately headlined, “Charity shouldn’t replace government.”  That headline is a neat summary of liberal-socialist doctrine that appears under the rubric of social justice.

The heart of Mr. Miller’s secular religion is expressed by the following quotation from his column:

“That’s asking private initiative [private charity donations] to fill too big a hole in what ought to be our collective response via government to outsized suffering and need. Only if government acts on our behalf can Americans’ compassion be harnessed in ways that are fair and not totally arbitrary.”

What Mr. Miller, and liberal-socialists in general, advocate is “socializing” the economic resources of political society for the purpose of redistributing income and property in order to attain social justice. He goes on, in his article, to say, “After all, the very week I got this credit card receipt, the United Nations and Jeffrey Sachs [see Tocqueville’s Clear Perception for a link to the Sachs article] had a big report out on how a few more pennies of national income from the wealthy countries could eradicate enormous disease, poverty and misery in the developing world….. This viewpoint isn’t anti-charity. It’s anti- the view that charity can ever fully substitute for collective purposes accomplished through government.”

In the same vein, Michael Walzer, one of the grand panjandrums of liberal-socialist theory today, asserts that there can be no freedom and no justice in a society without egalitarian economic conditions.  Individuals should all be compensated only in accord with their needs, but should work to the maximum of their abilities for the collective good of society.  When the political state tolerates private ownership of property, he says, unequal distribution of wealth follows, and the power of wealth precludes individual freedom.

Professor Walzer is in well-regarded socialist company.  In a 1927 speech, Adolph Hitler said, ?We are socialists, we are enemies of today’s capitalistic economic system for the exploitation of the economically weak, with its unfair salaries, with its unseemly evaluation of a human being according to wealth and property instead of responsibility and performance, and we are all determined to destroy this system under all conditions.?  Nazi, by the way, is simply the short name for Hitler?s National Socialist German Workers Party.  The party slogan ? The Common Good Outranks Private Profit ? makes clear that Nazism was merely Hitler’s German brand of socialism.

Take another look at the second sentence in the quotation above from Mr. Miller’s article: “Only if government acts on our behalf can Americans’ compassion be harnessed in ways that are fair and not totally arbitrary.”.  What he is asserting, literally, is that individuals are incapable of making decisions that are not unfair and arbitrary.  This is a root doctrine of socialism. 

Note, however, that this contradicts Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thesis that people are inherently good, but were corrupted by the advent of private property, which is the basis for liberals’ contention that criminals are the victims of societies in which the wealthy have “stolen” more than their share of society’s goods and services.  Liberal-socialists must believe simultaneously that individuals are inherently benevolent and good, but worthless outside the sheltering, collectivizing arms of Big Brother.

Auguste Comte, along with Henri de Saint-Simon, pulled the doctrines of the French Revolutionary philosophers together into a consistent body of dogma that emerged as modern socialism.  He and Saint-Simon coined the term Positivism to describe their “scientific” philosophical approach, and Comte coined the word sociology to describe the “science” of political and economic society.

In “A General View of Positivism,” one of six volumes on Positivism published between 1830 and 1842, Comte wrote: “....... we have to consider the exceeding imperfection of our nature. Self-love is deeply implanted in it, and when left to itself is far stronger than Social Sympathy. The social instincts would never gain the mastery were they not sustained and called into constant exercise by the economy of the external world, an influence which at the same time checks the power of the selfish instincts…... Now the benevolent affections, which themselves act in harmony with the laws of social development incline us to submit to all other laws, as soon as the intellect has discovered their existence. The possibility of moral unity depends, therefore, even in the case of the individual, but still more in that of society, upon the necessity of recognising our subjection to an external power. By this means our self-regarding instincts are rendered susceptible of discipline.”

When Comte speaks of “an external power,” he means, not God, but the intellectual councils of the political state.  Mr. Miller is simply restating Comte’s belief that individuals, left to their own devices, cannot be relied upon to follow the proper course of action from the standpoint of the political state.  Government must be empowered to set and to enforce standards of personal conduct.

We see this doctrine as well in more recent bodies of socialist theory such as Benito Mussolini’s nationalistic version of socialism, which he called Fascism.  The term Fascism was meant to conjure the image of the fasces (as in the fascia, a tough tissue sheath around a bundle of muscle strands), a symbol of collective strength, i.e., the collectivized socialist state.  You should bear in mind that today the term Fascist is wrongly used to denounce a disagreeable idea or person.  When liberals, ignorant of the true meaning and origin of the term, denounce a conservative as a fascist, they are actually giving him a compliment in the lexicon of socialism.

Mussolini himself put it this way in “The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism” (1933): ?Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State. ?The Fascist State has drawn into itself even the economic activities of the nation, and, through the corporative social and educational institutions created by it, its influence reaches every aspect of the national life and includes, framed in their respective organizations, all the political, economic and spiritual forces of the nation.?

What must be recognized in the foregoing examples is that Mr. Miller’s dictum that charity shouldn’t replace government is a prescription for tyranny.  A government that deliberately subdues individual charitable impulses and arrogates such decisions to itself will both condition its citizens to servility, and make itself their unrestrained master.

A final point should be made with regard to Mr. Miller’s preference for government to replace private charity.  The point is that his preference is the opposite of the Judeo-Christian moral principles that were the foundation of American society.

Unfortunately Mr. Miller’s assertion arouses no strong reaction among today’s generations in the United States, because they have never lived under any form of government other than the socialistic, collectivized welfare state instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt in 1933.  By now all recollection of charity, as practiced in the first 313 years of our colonial and national life, have been deliberately expunged from history texts.  Students are taught that, without the welfare state, the poor, widows, orphans, and the disabled would be tossed into the streets to starve in the cold.

The facts, in brief, are that prior to 1933 there were tens of thousands of local charitable and self-help organizations, some in every community of the United States.  They were churches, synagogues, immigrant societies, craft-based guilds, and fraternal and sisterly organizations such as Eastern Star Lodges, the Elks, and Woodmen of the World.  Such organizations existed for men and women, and for different races and nationalities.

For substantiating details, take a look at David T. Beito’s “From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967.”

These churches, synagogues, and societies provided emergency aid for deserving members in exchange for weekly contributions of a few pennies, within the financial reach of almost any husband or wife.  In addition, they provided what today would be called support groups, where members were counseled on everything from moral conduct to household economy.

Those organizations were still functioning effectively in 1935, when President Roosevelt decided to implement Social Security.  Taxes to support this Federal welfare-state program were made mandatory, in order to siphon off the household savings that for more than 300 years had been going to local charitable groups, effectively putting them out of business. 

Even today after paying huge Social Security taxes, as officials have noted in connection with relief for the tsunami victims, Americans make private charitable contributions in amounts roughly equal to official aid from the United States government.

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