Re: Compassion upon Culture or Consigned to it


Kyle, your proposed series of posts will be a valuable service.  But let’s make sure we aren’t arguing against straw men.  Your friend notwithstanding, the divide between left and right has not been that the left engages in “compassion” by coercively redistributing goods, while the right cuts the poor loose to fend for themselves.  We all agree the poor need help; the question is whether the government is the appropriate instrument for the project.

Our conversation will be more productive, I think, if we use our terminology carefully.  I used the phrase “forced ‘compassion,’” with compassion in quotes, to illustrate that it is an oxymoron.  There is no such thing as forced compassion.  Once force enters the picture, compassion disappears.  They are like light and dark – they cannot be at the same place at the same time.  So we can call a governmental program that takes from one person to give to another many things, but the list does not include “compassion.”

Similarly, there is no such thing as “free compassion.”  There is always a price.  If my friend and I encounter a man in need as we stroll down the boulevard, and he picks my pocket to give him $10, has he been compassionate?  Of course not.  My friend gave nothing that belonged to him.  Compassion occurs when the desire to help and the assistance coincide in the same person.  Compassion is free only in the sense that it is free of government coercion.  There will still be provision, because the essence of compassion is giving of one’s own self.

So the real question is whether we should (a) exercise compassion, or (b) just take from those who have created to give to those who have not.  If it is the former, then government cannot be involved and we need to rediscover what the church is all about.  Apparently, we could learn from our Mormon friends on this score.  If it is the latter, however, we can declare the job done.  Our welfare state is about as advanced as you can get without actually sliding into socialism.

1 Thought.

  1. Kyle is right to think that we should avoid identifying the effective strategies as either belonging to the left or the right.

    Dan is right to reply that this doesn’t mean we should identify them as not of the right (and I would add, of the left either).

    People who identify themselves as being on both the left and the right support these efforts (I know this because I work in this field professionally and I know those people) and there’s no point getting distracted by fighting over who has dibs to claim these policies as “theirs” or trying to convince people who identify themselves as progressives that they’re “really” conservatives.

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