A Big Liberal Blind Spot
Two sentences in a New York Times op-ed today summarize perfectly a big blind spot that afflicts liberals (i.e., progressives). The op-ed, entitled “Don’t Give Up on America” is written by a liberal novelist named Marilynne Robinson, who writes:
As a liberal, I am loyal to this country in ways that make me a pragmatist. If someone is hungry, feed him.
Now, mind you, assuming that Robinson is a standard liberal, she is not simply suggesting that people should, as a moral or ethical principle, help someone who is hungry. If that’s all that she was saying, that would be fine.
But that’s not what liberals mean when they say “feed the hungry.” What they are saying is that government should force people to feed the hungry.
The problem is that liberals see no difference between the concept of voluntary help for others and the concept of forcing people to help others. For them, it’s all one and the same thing.
That’s undoubtedly why Robinson refers to America as a “family.” For her, every American citizen is part of this national family. Thus, when the government forces people to help out others, for the liberal it’s no different from a parent who forces his child to share his toys with his siblings.
That of course is the mindset of those who run socialist countries. Under socialism, the state owns everything and everyone works for the state. It’s all just one great big socialist family, with the state serving as parent. The state decides how much everyone’s income — or allowance — will be. Wealth is equalized. Through the coercive apparatus of the state, everyone is made to share with everyone else.
That’s also how America’s welfare state, which is a variation on the socialist theme, operates. The government taxes the rich and middle class (and oftentimes the poor as well) and then doles out the money to those who are hungry, homeless, or destitute.
In this welfare-state process, we are all considered good and caring people because we are all citizens who live under a welfare-state system.
In fact, as Americans, we are considered an even more caring and compassionate national family than, say, the national families of Cuba and North Korea. That’s because we Americans get to elect the people who enact the welfare-state programs. Our elected officials, in turn, get to appoint the bureaucrats who collect the taxes that pay for the welfare-state programs and the bureaucrats who run the welfare-state programs.
How is the liberal mindset different from that of us libertarians? We libertarians say that individuals have the right to decide matters relating to charity for themselves. We say that that is what freedom is all about. If a person is forced to care for someone else, then that’s not care or compassion. That’s just slavery, serfdom, or political stealing.
Thus, we libertarians reject the liberal notion of a national “family” in which the government serves as a parent. Our ideal is a nation in which everyone is free to live his life any way he chooses so long as his conduct is peaceful and non-fraudulent, one in which the purpose of government is to protect, not destroy, individual freedom.
Is it possible that a free people might not help the hungry, the homeless, and the destitute if left free to make that decision on their own? Of course. But that’s what freedom is all about — the right to say either yes or no. If people are forced to help others, there is no way that people in that type of society can genuinely be considered free. There is simply no way to reconcile mandatory charity with genuine charity.
Would everyone turn his back on his neighbor in a genuinely free society? Not likely. After all, if you add up all the liberals who say they favor helping the “poor, needy, and disadvantaged,” that’s tens of millions of people right there. Moreover, in the first 125 years of American history in which there was no mandatory charity, there was more voluntary charity than mankind had ever seen before.
What we need to do in America is to recapture our faith in ourselves, in others, and in freedom. Once a critical mass of Americans do that, the welfare state way of life will be cast into the dustbin of history, where it rightly belongs.
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