My friend Bob Bevard recently posted an interesting question on his Facebook wall – Should you be forced to help your neighbor? Is that ethically OK?
Because I am a conservative/libertarian, I didn’t need long to conclude the answer is “no.” If my neighbor’s barn burns down or his crop gets hailed out, I should not be forced to help him get back on his feet. Although Americans have a long tradition of helping neighbors, especially in times of disaster like these, this help has always been voluntary, never coerced. Surely, Americans wouldn’t stand for being told to help someone.
Later in his Facebook post, however, Bevard pointed out that American government accomplishes the same sort of intrusiveness and imperiousness through taxation. And he referred his friends to a column titled Concealing Evil by pundit Walter E. Williams, who attempts to expose this scheme:
- “Evil acts are given an aura of moral legitimacy by noble-sounding socialistic expressions, such as spreading the wealth, income redistribution, caring for the less fortunate, and the will of the majority.”
- “This is why socialism is evil. It employs evil means, confiscation and intimidation, to accomplish what are often seen as noble goals — namely, helping one’s fellow man. Helping one’s fellow man in need by reaching into one’s own pockets to do so is laudable and praiseworthy. Helping one’s fellow man through coercion and reaching into another’s pockets is evil and worthy of condemnation. Tragically, most teachings, from the church on down, support government use of one person to serve the purposes of another; the advocates cringe from calling it such and prefer to call it charity or duty.”
- “Some might argue that we are a democracy, in which the majority rules. But does a majority consensus make moral acts that would otherwise be deemed immoral?”
- “The bottom line is that we’ve betrayed much of the moral vision of our Founding Fathers. In 1794, when Congress appropriated $15,000 for relief of French refugees who had fled from insurrection in San Domingo to Baltimore and Philadelphia, James Madison rose on the floor of the House of Representatives to object, saying, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.” Tragically, today’s Americans — Democrat or Republican, liberal or conservative — would hold such a position in contempt and run a politician like Madison out of town on a rail.”
Clearly, Williams is correct in concluding that both political parties have accepted government’s role in dispensing charity. Bush-41 tried to reverse the trend by pushing his Thousand Points of Light concept, but all indications are that government largesse will continue because people are so much more generous when spending other people’s money. To which Williams would say, that doesn’t make it right.