The View From 1776
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Pursuing the Common Good
R. R. Reno explores the moral dimensions of capitalism.
History demonstrates conclusively that free-market capitalism increases everyone’s standard of living far more and far faster than any variety of liberal-progressive-socialism. The question Mr. Reno asks, however, is whether free-market capitalism must be indifferent to the broader aspects of the common good. Must it be, as liberal-progressive-socialists contend, driven by selfish greed?
My own view, frequently stated in this blog, is a supplement to Mr. Reno’s analysis. It is that a society of limited government, one with wide economic and political liberties for individuals, must be counterbalanced by a strong commitment to individual religious morality.
People forget, or more likely, never knew that, before 1933, there were tens of thousands of local self-help organizations in which people banded together to provide funds and sympathetic support for people in sickness and need. Those groups included immigrant societies and social organizations ranging, for example, from Masonic lodges to Eastern Star, Elks, Eagles, and Moose lodges. Most churches and synagogues provided a variety of social services, from hospitals to orphanages and schools. They were killed or emasculated by President Roosevelt’s Social Security, which forced everyone to pay to the Federal government the funds that used to go to local self-help groups.
Pre-1933 self-help services were one-on-one, highly personal. They stood in sharp and favorable contrast to the giant, impersonal bureaucracies created by Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, in which there is no flexibility for individual circumstances; if you fill out myriad forms and if you meet all the regulatory requirements, you get benefits, whether you deserve them or not.
The one was governed by Judeo-Christianity’s second great commandment: love your neighbor as yourself; do unto others as you would have them do unto you. The other, New Deal socialism, is strictly a matter of entitlements based upon membership in selected economic and social classes.
The one engenders a sense of personal responsibility for helping others. The other, welfare-state bureaucracy, leads people to demand more benefits in the misapprehension that they are entitled to them, whether they work or help others. The one combats self-centeredness. Welfare-state liberal-progressive-socialism engenders selfish greed on steroids.
The surest road to the common good is a Third Great Awakening of religious fervor that will make strivers in the capitalistic system acknowledge that whatever they have is a matter of God’s grace. Doing so will make everyone aware that his true happiness lies in thanking God for those blessings and in finding ways to pass those blessings from God to others in need and distress.
The Judeo-Christian ethos is not satisfied by paying high taxes to a socialistic government, or in showy gifts to charitable organizations, however much good they do. True satisfaction is to be found in listening to the voice of God in our consciences and cultivating our instincts for helping other individuals.