( related reading: Hot! )
A few weeks back I heard Glenn Beck make a comment in regards to the legalization of drugs. He acknowledged in essence that a truly free society would have no such restrictions on so-called ‘controlled substances’ but added that we have such laws (against addictive substances) because Americans don’t really have the stomach to be “Stepping over the Bodies” of those who would inevitably destroy themselves with such substances were they readily available. I have been pondering those words in my head ever since and realizing that such an attitude is central to the debate on the proper role and function of government.
I just finished posting the following to my facebook page before realizing it was a twist on the old cliche about ‘teaching a man to fish’:
Fulfilling someone’s immediate needs does not necessarily equate to compassion. Helping enable someone to fulfill their own long term needs (that facilitated the immediacy) does.
The primary functions that we assign to government, especially those (limited powers) assigned by the country’s founders in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, are more directly related to limiting government to the enforcement of protecting fundamental rights. The role of government, as a result of the progressive era, has been steadily increased into ‘social welfare’ on the basis of it being the ‘compassionate thing to do’. It revolves not around the limitation of government power foreseen as necessary by the founders, but the ‘responsibility’ of government to it’s citizens (which the founders actually warned against).
I have stated in previous posts that the notion of ‘positive liberties’ (government’s responsibilities to it’s citizens) were not absent from the founding documents, they were just extremely limited; providing for the common defense, promote the general welfare, establish Justice and insure domestic tranquility. The former assigns to government the role of diplomacy and warfare (if necessary) with foreign powers, the latter concepts relate to the legislation, enforcement and adjudication of laws governing the interaction between the citizens and other citizens, citizens and incorporeal entities (e.g. businesses) or the citizens and government.
When you introduce additional governmental responsibilities as to the welfare of it’s citizens, and when you do so under the banner of it being the ‘compassionate’ thing to do, facilitating such responsibility by fulfilling immediate needs of the citizens does not (necessarily) equate to compassion. Thus the premise is flawed and the responsibility (of government) invalidated.
[On the other hand, if the nature of such programs is to better enable the citizens to fulfill their own needs by increasing their access to opportunities which allow them to ultimately provide for their own immediate needs, that would be much easier to equate with a compassionate act that more people might be willing to support.]
But of course this has not been the method put into practice. The existing social welfare programs have (rightfully in my opinion) been criticized as inspiring an ‘entitlement’ mentality and increasing dependency on the ‘state’. And it is not a stretch to say that anyone who is dependent on another is not independent and therefore is not truly ‘free’.
The dirty secret that all the alleged ‘compassionate’ talk by social progressives avoid is that freedom is irrevocably tied to two things; responsibility and accountability. To be truly free one must be responsible for themselves, and accountable for their own actions in fulfilling that responsibility. (accountability also means they maintain sole propriety and dominion over the results of their behavior, both good and bad)
Without going into a long treatise on the lack of or subsequent loss of those concepts in our society, (most of you can observe it for yourselves) I thought it more pertinent to reflect on what ‘returning’ to that way of thinking might actually mean. Back to the man with the fish…
If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life.
Well what if the man refuses to fish or does not desire to learn?
As heart wrenching as it may seem, if someone is unwilling to help themselves, all the acts of alleged compassion in the world will not improve his condition and will likely make that man dependent on the acts of others and therefore only encourage his refusal to act on his own behalf. Great for anyone desiring dominion over others, not great for a free society.
In essence, the concept of a free state requires not only that we allow people the right to their own “pursuit of happiness” but requires that we allow them to fail in that pursuit when necessary. This does not mean that we cannot exercise compassion in those times of failure to help the person get back on their feet to try again, but for the man who refuses to get on his feet no matter how much ‘true’ compassion, encouragement and support they are offered – well, sorry to say it but we all need to gain the stomach to ‘step over their body’.