Forced Redistribution ≠ Charitable Giving

February 13, 2012

Catholic and Hillsdale history professor Paul Rahe offers a very interesting discussion of how the American Progressive movement co-opted the American Catholic Church.  Excerpt:

In the process, the leaders of the American Catholic Church fell prey to a conceit that had long before ensnared a great many mainstream Protestants in the United States — the notion that public provision is somehow akin to charity — and so they fostered state paternalism and undermined what they professed to teach: that charity is an individual responsibility and that it is appropriate that the laity join together under the leadership of the Church to alleviate the suffering of the poor. In its place, they helped establish the Machiavellian principle that underpins modern liberalism — the notion that it is our Christian duty to confiscate other people’s money and redistribute it.

Hat tip to Rush Limbaugh.

22 Responses to “Forced Redistribution ≠ Charitable Giving”

  1. Tevyeh Says:

    I’m not as hostile as some conservatives to the notion that *some* welfare programs *can* constitute legitimate public goods. Nor am I particularly sympathetic to “fairness” arguments against—or, for that matter, for—redistribution. As I see it, the world and everything in it belongs to God. The institution of property is a legal fiction—an extremely useful fiction given the sad realities of a fallen world, but not necessarily the foundation for an overriding “moral” argument. I am much more likely to attack welfare policy on utilitarian grounds.

    That said, I am sick to death of liberals—sometimes themselves Atheists—invoking Jesus when making the case for forced redistribution. Their shallow, often unexamined invocation of “WWJD” to justify the aggressive use of government force is both absurd and offensive.

    • I agree with most of what you just said—perhaps even about property as a “legal fiction”. I certainly agree that it all really (or “ultimately”, or “most truly”) belongs to God. But I assume you would agree with me that ordinary theft or robbery (e.g. a guy takes my wallet at gunpoint) is nevertheless immoral; it’s not “really” my property, but it’s even less his, and it really is morally wrong for him to take it from me. So, to the extent that anyone intentionally votes to use the government’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force to take my property to give it to another, I think that’s also theft, and also immoral.

      • Tevyeh Says:

        While “robbery” involves a threat to a person’s physical safety, I’ll tentatively argue that “theft” or “larceny” can be understood to be “malum prohibitum.” (I know Anglo-American Common Law says otherwise; I’m speculating “on the fly” here.) If we understand “propery” to be a manmade institution, then violations of property (theft, etc.) derive their “wrongness” from the threat to orderly society that they pose. This threat—like that of driving on the wrong side of an interstate—can be great. However, if we assume the institution of property to be a manmade legal fiction, then the moral analysis can dramatically change as the laws governing property change.

        None of this is meant to suggest that heavy-handed modification of the enormously beneficial Anglo-American institution of property is (or has been) a good idea.

        Another point: as I recall, the Mosaic Law—which prescribed the death penalty for offenses that perhaps a majority of 21st century Americans routinely commit—was pretty lenient with thieves. (See Exodus 22:1-4)

        For a few more divinely inspired “departures” from the Anglo-American concept of “property,” See Deuteronomy 23: 24-25 and 24: 19-21. I’m not saying that these rules are as appropriate to 21st Century America as they were for ancient Israel, but I cite them to illustrate the malleability of “property” as a concept.

      • It’s an interesting argument, but I guess I would appeal to the Ten Commandments, and the fact that they prohibit theft—and the assumption that the Ten Commandments concern the moral law (i.e., malum in se, right?), not the ceremonial law (which by contrast would be, I suppose, malum prohibitum). In other words, even if property can be described as a “legal fiction”, I would argue that it’s not a man-made one.

      • Tevyeh Says:

        Good point about the 7th Commandment. “Thou shalt not steal” implies (assuming that the English translation appropriately conveys the original concept) that some form of “property” was divinely instituted, or at least ratified. The Bible passages I cited also seem to presuppose some kind of “property.” However, we’ve got God saying “Thou shalt not steal,” but then saying that you can freely eat from any farmer’s field as long as you don’t use a tool or bring a basket. (By the way, Jesus’ disciples exercise this privilege in Matthew 12:1. Notice that the Pharisees get worked up about the perceived Sabbath violation, but not about “stealing.”) These verses suggest to me that even if we assume property to be a divine institution, it’s a highly nuanced one, and a moral analysis based on it can be tricky.

        “The currents and eddies of right and wrong, which you find such plain sailing, I can’t navigate. I’m no voyager.”

        Unlike Sir Thomas More, I’m not a “forester” of the law either. I am, however, reasonably competent at economic analysis.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Let’s clarify what you actually perceive as immoral – social safety nets funded by our tax dollars (among other things). You consider taxing us for such purposes immoral because you oppose the policy. However, you have no problem with taxing to support the military, or to pay government salaries. I guess that means if I oppose having a military, you are a thief as well, at least from my point of view.

      • That would be a great counter-argument if what you’ve stated had actually been my argument, but it wasn’t at all. “You consider taxing us for such purposes immoral because you oppose the policy” (emphasis added). No, you’re adding that. What I said is that taking others’ property through force or threat of force, whether to give it to oneself or to give it to others, is stealing and thus immoral. Do you disagree?

        Paying the salaries of employees, including military personnel, is not the same. I agree that there has to be government, and that it must be funded, probably through taxation. But funding the government generally is not the same as forced redistribution.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        But are you not taking my property through the threat of force for the purpose of funding the government? What difference does it make if the taxes go toward foreign or domestic functions, it’s all stealing under your definition of the word. You consider taxing for the purpose of spending on domestic safety nets stealing, yet you do not consider it stealing to tax for the purpose of financing wars. There’s a logical inconsistency there.

        As to whether I agree with the proposition that subjecting people who do not pay their taxes to criminal penalties is immoral, I would have to say no. As you said, the government must be financed, and a compulsory tax scheme is really the only feasible way of doing that. It’s a necessary evil, so to speak, in order for us to have a functioning government. And it’s not as if there are no remedies for taxes that a majority of citizens oppose. Again, this is the democratic process.

      • Not for the first time, I can’t tell whether you’ve grasped my point. Yes, we’re talking about the democratic process. I’m saying that theft does not become moral just because it is practiced by the majority against the minority—it’s like using the democratic process as a sort of morality laundering.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        But why is your theft for the purpose of financing wars moral? That’s what you can’t explain.

      • If you want to argue that participation in war is per se immoral, you’re welcome to do so, but that would be a new topic.

        If not, we’re talking about theft. The distinction I’m making is not between foreign and domestic “functions”, or between war and other spending, but between government spending in a straightforward sense and your “social safety nets”, which are not so much spending as they are forced redistribution. In them, the government purchases neither goods nor labor; it takes money from some and gives it to others. I’m saying that’s stealing.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        So you’re saying that confiscating my money for the purpose of buying missiles for war (i.e. goods) is moral, but that confiscating my money to pay for a person’s meals (i.e. food stamps) is immoral? That’s one of the goofiest arguments in this history of goofy arguments.

      • Again, I said is that taking others’ property through force or threat of force, whether to give it to oneself or to give it to others, is stealing and thus immoral. Do you disagree?

      • Snoodickle Says:

        No, I don’t. What if a person robs you, and you take your money back by force? Is that immoral?

  2. Snoodickle Says:

    Didn’t God create taxes?

  3. Dr. Dre Says:

    Yeah, I hate those bastards, too, Chillingworth. The right of free association has been lost. When you can name-call and scare people by calling them “racist” the game appears to be over.

    • Snoodickle Says:

      Question: If the superrich want to be taxed, who are you to say they can’t be? If I’m not mistaken, neither you, I, nor anyone else that posts on this blog is anywhere near the top income tax bracket.

      • Again, I can’t tell whether you’ve grasped the original point. (I confess that I sometimes wonder, does liberalism render liberals incapable of thinking of people as individuals, rather than as members of various abstract groups?)

        If a particular “superrich” individual would like to send more of his money to the government, he is already free to do so—to send quite as much of it as he would like. If instead you mean that some superrich individuals should be able to pass higher taxes on both themselves and other, non-consenting superrich individuals—or even on other, middle-class individuals—then of course I don’t think they have any special moral authority to do so by virtue of their wealth; my argument against such is the same as my argument against anyone else’s doing the same: Again, it is wrong “to confiscate other people’s money and redistribute it.”

        I have one other thought in response to your argument, but I had been thinking about writing a blog entry on it anyway; so you can read my response there.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        Again, you’re missing the point. Why are you allowed to confiscate my money for the purpose of financing wars and funding your desired objectives, but the superrich are not allowed to confiscate other superrich people’s money through the same process? Your logic is just plain silly.

  4. […] If they’re rich, and they support higher taxes, they’re treated as having some kind of special authority to determine policy for the rest of us (including the rest of voters in their own income bracket), even moral virtue (e.g., by Paul Krugman and Snoodickle, and Snoodickle again). […]

  5. […] “Forced Redistribution ≠ Charitable Giving” […]

  6. […] “Forced Redistribution ≠ Charitable Giving” […]

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