Wednesday, July 9, 2008

What It Sounds Like Not to Give a Damn

My thanks to Andrew Sullivan for bringing the utter shallowness of both Libertarianism and Christianity to sharp relief in the course of a single post:

...the cooptation of Christianity for various forms of socialism and redistributionism - Obama's tendency - is worrying to me. Because it isn't about encouraging charity; it is about the enforcement of "charity" by the strong hand of the state. And in so far as it forcibly takes people's property from them, it also diminishes their capacity for real charity.
Libertarians can't repeat this slapdash bit of ethical cant frequently enough -- surely it is their ideological crystal meth.

This differs from its refreshingly direct equivalent -- "I don't give a shit what happens to the downtrodden" -- only in its marshaling of evasive casuistries and verbal chaff. It's the bubblegum-scented puck tossed in the overused, reeking urinal.

But don't take my word for it. Observe Sullivan himself, just a sentence or two later, walking it back:
... In the world as it is, there should be some mandatory public provision for the poor, the sick and the indigent. But it should be a safety-net to avoid specific social evils, not a system of redistribution to construct some notion of "social justice" ...
There should be some mandatory public provision for the poor, the sick, and the indigent, Sullivan says, suddenly unconcerned about the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad prospect of depriving taxpayers of the capacity to do good of their own accord under the crippling scheme of "mandatory public provision."

Presumably Sullivan has in mind some really sharp idea of what he means by such wiggle-words as "specific social evils," "safety-net," "system of redistribution," and so on, but these just beg the question under discussion: one person's safety-net is another's extravagance, the provision of which is bound to sap the recipients' work ethic; one person's shiftless pauper is another's worthy beneficiary.

Sullivan ends where he began, chaining his Libertarian fancies to the alleged purity of Christian ethics:
In the end, the social Gospel can make Christianity less, rather than more, likely. The state cannot experience faith; and it cannot express charity. Only individuals can. One by one.
And there it is: money extracted by taxation and given to the needy doesn't count as giving from our innermost hearts. Mandatory giving is not giving at all. (It's still just a pallid imitation of True Giving if we collectively vote it into place, I gather.)

Quite so. Likewise, laws against child rape deprive would-be child rapists the opportunity to demonstrate the pure, unaided control of their impulses. The crazy quilt of traffic signals, designated streets, and brightly-painted lines deprives all drivers of the opportunity to coalesce into an elegant, self-organizing, voluntary system of vehicular traffic.

Q.E.D., and very compellingly so insofar as you don't actually give a damn about child rape or orderly traffic. Or the needy.

No comments: