Collectivism and Charity, Part I

The last post started to question the basis expressed by collectivists for resolving problems like those we now face at our southern border.  This post broadens that discussion by looking at some of the claims made forming the basis for collectivism.  We’ll look at three areas:  (1) our purpose, and the some ideas that are derived from it, (2) incentives, and (3) economics.  These will not be exhaustive, but will examine some of the more fundamental arguments often put forth.  If the basic arguments are not supported, then none of the extensions relying on them are supported either.  A simple example from the Middle Ages and Renaissance will suffice to show that these three areas are all relevant – or should be in any meaningful discussion.

Collectivists of all stripes generally argue that more government is better.  This is a very old argument, and during the High Middle Ages and Renaissance it was advanced as a basis for government obtaining control of various private charitable institutions.  Previously most charitable organizations during the Middle Ages were small local structures, that had been formed by a combination of individuals, various laic organizations, and the church.  The placing of many of these organizations under the control of the local municipal government was done in the name of increased efficiency as fewer larger organizations should be able to better provide to those in need than many small organizations who were not adequately equipped to do the job (a form of elitism).  Another assertion made was that revenues would increase with the increase in government control.  It was supposed to be a win/win for both those providing and receiving charity.  Of course, neither of these occurred. 

Instead, the expenses of the charitable institutions taken over by the municipal governments usually saw their expenses increase significantly.  After all, if public funds were going to be expended we should know who is receiving the assistance and what their circumstances are, and if their circumstances did not deserve support then there should be laws put in place to prevent them from receiving aid.  The end result was that expenses for these institutions generally soared, revenues decreased as private contributors lost confidence in the ability of the government managed organizations to fulfill their mission – many of these institutions went bankrupt or teetered on the edge of bankruptcy – and with the increase in regulations and related requirements to obtain and continue to receive charity came increased fraud and abuse within the system.  The fraud and abuse arose because it was both made more difficult to receive charity which produced an incentive to cheat, and a decrease in the closeness of the relationship – now often in the hands of a bureaucrat who was often much further away – providing the opportunity for not getting caught.

So how does the above example relate to our purpose?  In several ways.  First is the basic premise of fairness.  The idea that we are all the same and therefore we should each receive an equal share; there should be an equality of outcomes.  Underlying this is the notion that freedom has its basis in security, the material possessions of this world, and not in the ability to make one’s own choices.  This is born out in the many concepts and terms created and used to attempt to build support for collectivism and include such phrases as freedom from want and fear, freedom from poverty, to the more modern ideas of social and economic justice.   Notice that these started with freedoms from something, instead of freedom of something, that later evolved from fairness and into a sense of justice.

Underlying this all is the question of justice.  What is it?  Is justice about virtue and morality – uprightness of character – or simply about compliance with rules which are declared to be just?  The meting out of justice is the primary purpose of government.  It is to be the next line of defense when individuals do not act in a right manner with their fellow man.  However, the notion underlying justice is about getting what one is due.  This notion has to do with what happens if you are in some way harmed by another; that it will be remedied, if it can, to make you whole again.  This is why justice is usually meted out by judges and juries, whereas the collectivist notion is different as it is handed out by laws, agencies, and bureaucrats.  The notion of justice being administered by judges to right wrongs goes back to the Old Testament as shown in one place by the following quote from 2 Chronicles 19, ‘Then he (King Jehoshaphat) charged them saying, “Thus you shall do in the fear of the Lord, faithfully and wholeheartedly.  Whenever any dispute comes to you from your brethren who live in their cities, between blood and blood, between law and commandment, statutes and ordinances, you shall warn them so that they may not be guilty before the Lord, and wrath may not come on you and your brethren. Thus you shall do and you will not be guilty.’  The implication is that if judges did not exercise good judgment, that they themselves would stand guilty.

The idea of justice expressed by collectivists is not based on what you’ve earned, but instead on what you’ve not earned or rather what someone (man) believes you deserve.  This appears to be a confusion between justice and charity, and perhaps even a corruption of this later term.  For if justice is about getting what you are due, charity is about being given what you are not due simply because of who you are – your nature as a human being.  Both these ideas are virtues.  Both justice and charity are about free choices.  Both create independence when exercised in a right manner, and both have their basis in love.  Finally, as shown below, both are primarily exercised by individuals.

Thomas Aquinas discussed the notion of this type of free choice by using the concept of the king’s grace as an example.  There were three parts to this idea.  ‘First it stands for the love of someone, as we might say that this soldier has the king’s grace and favour . . .  Secondly, it is used to refer to a gift given gratis . . . Thirdly, it is used to refer to the display of gratitude for the benefits given gratis . . .  The second of these three senses depends on the first; for out of the love with which someone regards another favourable, it comes about that he bestows something on him gratis.  The third sense rises from the second, since expressions of gratitude arises in response to benefits bestowed gratis.’

So both charity and justice are exercised out of moral uprightness.  There must be a love that is expressed in a way which wants nothing in return, and out of this gift there is a recognition and reciprocal response for what has been given. Virtue in both the giver and receiver of the gift, which I'll assert can in most ordinary circumstances only be accomplished by individuals.  Does this happen with the collectivist notions used to solve problems?  We’ll pick that up next time when we conclude this discussion by looking at incentives and economics.




Posted in: Charity


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About Dan Wolf

Dan WolfMy goal is that my writing will help you to get started on your own journey of discovery, or help you along the way on a journey you may have already begun. Our Founders considered education, religion, morality, and virtue to be the cornerstones for any successful society. Being successful requires understanding both the languages of reason and faith; reason alone is insufficient.