A fashionable trend is emerging among some liberals to look down their noses at philanthropy, charity, and free giving of oneself in communion with fellow men. The basis for this criticism is that individual efforts to help our neighbors crowd out the welfare state.
Exhibit A: In the New Republic, Paul Berman applauds Ebenizier Scrooge’s humbug deference to government to minister to the poor.
Two portly gentlemen call on Scrooge & Marley, soliciting alms for the poor, and Scrooge refuses to donate, and his words and indignation ought not to be too quickly dismissed. “Are there no prisons?,” says Scrooge. Everyone remembers this rejoinder. More: “And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?” And he adds: “I help to support the establishments I have mentioned—they cost enough; and those who are badly off must go there.”
Dickens has presented Scrooge cruelly in this passage, and, by invoking prisons and workhouses, he has brought to mind the worst and ugliest of government agencies, in order to shine a warm light on his own preferred method for alleviating poverty, which is private charity. Prisons and workhouses are, even so, state-run social services, and everyone of a liberal sensibility ought to agree that a proper effort to cope with poverty is going to require government agencies more than door-to-door charitable campaigns.
We wouldn’t want Scrooge to trouble himself too much with the condition of his fellow men. Why, if enough men were transformed like Scrooge, the need for those government agencies would evaporate!
Never mind Scrooge’s discovering redemption in modeling Jesus in his attitude to the poor.
Berman goes on:
The entire Carol turns on a plaintive note, which is warbled by the sickly and crippled Cratchit boy, Tiny Tim, who, a Spirit tells us, hasn’t a ghost of a chance for survival so long as Scrooge remains tightfisted and cruel. This should remind us that, in regard to social problems and social service A Christmas Carol is, above all, a meditation on health care. Let us ask, then: should Tim’s health and ability to survive depend on Scrooge’s capricious impulses—his desire, one year, to keep his wealth to himself, or his Christmas recognition, the following year, that he ought to send a proper goose to his exploited clerk’s impoverished family and ought even to offer Mr. Cratchit a raise? But, no, Tim’s health care ought not to depend on the whims of Mr. Scrooge. The boy needs a reliable medical clinic or a public hospital—a large-scale government service, in short, like a prison or a workhouse, inscribed in law and supported by the whole of society, except devoted, in this instance, to pediatric medicine.
There is no material difference between Scrooge’s giving and a government service “supported by the whole of society.” The only difference is the means by which Tiny Tim’s care is procured. Scrooge’s giving is voluntary, from the heart, while the government service relies on impersonal taxation.
Proximity and familiarity with particular needs in the community guarantees citizens can provide better stewardship and care than the welfare state’s apparatchiks, who act as the disembodied hands of distant minds who know little to nothing of the people they presume to help. One man acting on his own has a better chance of solving a problem than a massive bureaucracy has of solving a million problems.
To really work, charity must be initiated on the human level. Giving is personally rewarding because it is done with one’s time, energy, and commitment. It is also rewarding to the person receiving because he is thankful for this gift, which is foremost an act of fellowship.
By contrast, charity at the state level embitters those who fund them and those who receive them. No one likes to be taken from, no matter the taker’s intentions. And no one likes to be patronized.
Worst of all, the expectation of future “gifts” from the bureaucratic machinery raises the likelihood that the needy’s problems will fester.
Scrooge saw a need in his neighborhood and provided the direct means of filling it. Is a medical clinic or public hospital more “reliable” than his initiative? Is it really?
Exhibit B: Amy Schiller covets the functions of civil society for big government:
Philanthropy is an under-recognized player in the trends that led to the [government] shutdown in the first place: erosion of legitimacy and trust in public institutions, just as mega philanthropy became an ascendant political force. Though philanthropy is generally associated with symphonies, elite colleges, and hospital wings, the trend in recent years has moved away from more ornamental causes to ones that interfere more aggressively with core public institutions.
The futile standoff over the Affordable Care Act is undergirded by a fantasy of a world in which the government’s power is vastly reduced and private citizens step into the breach with better, more innovative ideas for solving social challenges.
Innovation from citizens whose creativity and giving spirit the government feeds on. Imagine that!
If you ever wondered how a democratic socialist could make peace with the likes of Ayn Rand, you needn’t wonder any longer. They shun the common man’s concern for his community. Man as social animal doesn’t exist, but gets along in Randian isolation. The capitalist pursues capital, and the socialist redistributes it. There is nothing inbetween, a public square denuded of the spirit of the commons. On tax day, they come to blows, but for the rest of the year they leave each other alone.