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The Blind Spot of Conservatism

About a third of the way through The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life [1], Rod Dreher paints a moving portrait of a community tending to one of its own:

The news hit the West Feliciana community like a cyclone. As the day wore on a hundred or more friends mobbed the hospital. Some offered to move in with the Lemings to care for the children while Ruthie fought [her cancer]. John Bickham told Paw that he would sell everything he had to pay for Ruthie’s medical bills if it came to that. At the middle school the teachers did their best to get through the day, but kept breaking down. All over town people prepared food and took it by the Leming house, which, this being Starhill, sat unlocked.

“We were surrounded by so much love,” Mam recalls. “It was the most horrible day of our lives, but we could feel the love of all these good people. There was nothing we could have wanted or needed that wasn’t done before we asked. And they were there. Do you know what that means? People were there.”

The inspiring collective response of this small Louisiana town seems to me a paradigmatic real-life example of the kind of civil society that Yuval Levin (as well as TAC’s Samuel Goldman [2]) champions here [3] as a Burkean rebuke to harsh conservative rhetoric about the “culture of dependency”:

We are all dependent on others. The question is whether we are dependent on people we know, and they on us—in ways that foster family and community, build habits of restraint and dignity, and instill in us responsibility and a sense of obligation—or we are dependent on distant, neutral, universal systems of benefits that help provide for our material wants without connecting us to any local and immediate nexus of care and obligation. It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul. Such technocratic provision enables precisely the illusion of independence from the people around us and from the requirements of any moral code they might uphold. It is corrosive not because it instills a true sense of dependence but because it inspires a false sense of independence and so frees us from the sorts of moral habits of mutual obligation that alone can make us free.

I don’t want to speak for Rod here. Nor do I want to superimpose on The Little Way, a deeply personal meditation on social and family bonds, a polemical or partisan quality that it in fact mercifully avoids. But I don’t think I’m misreading Rod at all in saying that technocracy is not what enabled his particular illusion of independence. That illusion stemmed from the desires of his own heart: a desire to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural America and discover the wider world; to pursue a life of the mind; to experience, as the British playwright David Hare put it [4] in his screenplay for The Hours, the “violent jolt” of life in the metropolis.

Our culture stokes this desire, and in no small way our economy depends on it. When politicians tirelessly invoke the “American Dream [5],” when we celebrate social mobility and “churn [6],” we are encouraging millions of young Rod Drehers to leave their Starhills and become “boomers,” as the poet Wendell Berry (via Wallace Stegner) describes [7] those whose ambition compels them to leave home.

To make the point in the context of our ongoing clash over immigration, do we not at least unwittingly celebrate the dilution of communities when we hold up as heroes those who leave behind their friends and extended families to pursue employment in America? To borrow the simple phraseology of Rod’s mother, a young man who leaves a village in Latin America or South Asia is no longer there.

This is not to dispute Levin’s point about a large and active state “pulverizing” civil society; the phenomenon is real and, as I’ve written before [8], a purportedly morally neutral state will always and inevitably tip its hand about what it believes to be positive goods.

My point is that big government is not the lone, or lately even the chief, pulverizer of civil society.

A global economy in which the fiscal affairs of distant countries can tangibly affect the lives of people in towns like Starhill; wealth and income gains redounding to the benefit of a concentrated few; the emergence of a postindustrial cognitive elite that skims the cream of small towns and corrals them into the high-earning enclaves along the coasts—these and many other factors contribute to  the weakening of community bonds.

I don’t mean to oversimplify what is a complicated picture. “Boomers” are capable of behaving like “stickers” in their adopted communities. Recently in my own neighborhood in Northern Virginia, populated as it is mostly by people who did not grow up here, a network of families displayed on a smaller scale the kind of selflessness that Rod depicts in The Little Way. A group of moms who’d known each other for just a handful of years prepared and delivered meals and sat for the children of a woman stricken with a highly aggressive form of breast cancer.

And if you ask, say, big government-loving Bruce Springsteen what he thinks about the role of civil society, he would no doubt reel off the names of dozens  of locally based voluntary associations [9] and charities that serve struggling citizens. When he sings “We Take Care of Our Own [10],” I very much doubt he has only the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in mind.

Lastly, I want to push back some at this notion of illusory independence (and perhaps contradict myself in the process). If you ask someone who’s been unemployed for any length of time whether he’s aware of their dependence on others, he might tell you he’s all too aware of it—and deeply humiliated [11] by it.

Conservatives have a blind spot.

And we need to fix it.

Follow @scottgalupo [12]

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#1 Comment By Michelle On April 29, 2013 @ 7:27 am

You’ve summed up in one succinct post what’s wrong with so much of what passes for conservatism these days. Slamming big government without turning an equally critical eye to the forces of global capitalism (with its community-destroying power) leaves mainstream conservativism devoid of any real understanding of the forces affecting people in communities across the country. Too much Ayn Rand, too little reality.

#2 Comment By James from Durham, England On April 29, 2013 @ 8:28 am

It is very true that those who most like to talk about how we are dependent on each other have very rarely experienced being dependent. Those whose independence has been severely compromised find it crucifying. I think here of someone who lost her sight not so long ago.

#3 Comment By Evan McLaren On April 29, 2013 @ 9:13 am

Highly apropos.

It is an odd paradox and difficulty that so much grassroots energy is coming from super-libertarian, anarchocapitalist movements.

#4 Comment By tz On April 29, 2013 @ 9:32 am

You have immigration exactly backwards. We celebrate when someone who loves liberty (and the responsibility that goes with it) JOINs and becomes part of our community. Not unlike Christians are welcomed by baptism into the church.

The crony capitalism is also big government – the decision to let China abuse their environment and workers – NAFTA is what if not government managed trade to close down the small-town factory? And to let Wal-mart destroy the generational mom and pop. So the only opportunity is cashier or move to the coast.

We have replaced any notion of justice and fairness with how much more can I get even by cheating, and how much less can I spend even by cheating. From dealing with other real people to dealing with websites or disembodied voices at call centers in Bangalore.

But when the cheating starts, the honest don’t survive. And it eventually will crash, and then the cost won’t merely be our souls.

#5 Comment By Jack Ross On April 29, 2013 @ 10:12 am

I adore the Little Way sensibility of Dreher, Berry, and Kauffman as much as anyone, and I say that as someone who lives in a big city (Brooklyn, which at times has the illusion of smallness, but that’s another story). I also detest the culture it opposes as much as anyone.

But I simply wanted to put out there what my old Southern History professor (a liberal but very far from a usual suspect caricature) very bluntly said – the most common activity in all human history is to move.

#6 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 29, 2013 @ 11:13 am

Did those Berry folks always live in Kentucky? I think not. I guess one of them must have been “boomer,” no? What a jerk. Should’ve stayed in England, where he belonged.

And Berry himself, where he did make his fame and fortune? Was it in Kentucky? Um, no. He went out and conquered the world, before returning to inherited land in Kentucky to take up the pose of gentleman/hobby farmer.

Please. Give it a rest. Can y’all just let Rod cover this? All by himself, he is more than sufficient, when it comes to the “You Can Home Again–and Should!” movement.

As for Springsteen, when he sings “We Take Care of Our Own,” he means private charity AND government programs. We do the best we can as individuals, but we don’t throw up our hands when that falls short. We don’t think it a sin if folks have to pay taxes to help in the care giving.

#7 Comment By Leslie On April 29, 2013 @ 11:52 am

We need both. There does need to be a safety net, especially since people can rack up millions of dollars in medical bills (see author David Farland’s son). While I don’t think situations like that should even happen, there is only so much money a community can raise. However, he has people fundraising and trying to do things for him.

The idea of community is a great one, but I also have to question how much a community in a really impoverished neighborhood can help support others. If you are working two jobs at a McDonald’s and your mom gets sick and needs care, can your community provide the same help that you’d get in other communities? Just wanted to point that out. That said, I really enjoyed the article.

#8 Comment By VikingLS On April 29, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

Wendell Berry did not conquer the world and then retire as a gentleman farmer. He was a not particularly successful professor of English. (Yes I know he taught at NYU. I teach at Rutgers. It’s not a big deal.) If he hadn’t started writing about farming and community none of you would ever have heard of him.

#9 Comment By MWorrell On April 29, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

Most of the conservatives I know are also church going Christians. So when they rail against “dependency” (and they definitely do, and so do I), they are speaking specifically about detached government assistance that provides resources without much concern for the effectiveness or even the damage done by the continual availability of those resources.

Almost two weeks ago we got two feet of water in our basement, and people from our church worked for 3 days helping us clean it up. My wife spent yesterday afternoon making meals for a friend recovering from surgery. We live in Chicago, and few of us are from here. A good church makes for deliberate community.

But the second half of the equation is just as important. We challenge one another, and while the support (whether time, talent or treasure) flows easily at the beginning, we expect people to do what they can to improve, heal or course correct. We can say, “The best help I can give you today is a healthy push in the right direction.”

Helping someone (financially or otherwise) can be highly unethical if it is not for their ultimate good. That’s the distinction conservatives make, and if anyone is somehow confused about that, they must be a moral dimwit.

#10 Comment By David Naas On April 29, 2013 @ 12:06 pm

One must begin somewhere.
Radical solutions don’t work very well (essence of conservatism, don’t y’know).
You ain’t gonna keep ’em down on the farm, after they seen Paree.
Let down your bucket where you are.
The Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux and Ruthie Leming could maybe work in the wasteland of urban jungles, but, someone would have to start doing it.
Any volunteers?

#11 Comment By cdugga On April 29, 2013 @ 12:13 pm

The recent political debate over the out of context words, you did not make that, illustrates re-enforcement of the conservative blind spot to the point where many are willing to accept out right lies to support their unhealthy preconceptions of independence vs undeserving victimhood. Yeah, address that. It is easy. Start out at the trueth and work out from there. Use stories if it helps.

#12 Comment By Chuck Hicks On April 29, 2013 @ 12:41 pm

Wait. Global capitalism and big government are two different things?

#13 Comment By Ken T On April 29, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

The fundamental error is the reversal of cause and effect. Far too many conservatives blame the government safety net for the loss of community interdependence. The reality of course is exactly the opposite. The safety net arose precisely because far too many communities were failing to adequately provide for their members. Social Security was not invented to destroy families, it was invented because too many elderly people were starving in inadequate housing. The same with Medicare and Medicaid — they were not a government plot to take over the healthcare system, they were instituted because too many people did not have access to healthcare. Unemployment insurance does not exist so that people do not have to work, it exists because too many people cannot find work. And so on. In every case, the government program was created in response to an existing problem. Any attempt to reform the program without acknowledging the underlying problem is doomed to failure. And the belief that eliminating the program will magically make the underlying problem disappear is just nonsense.

#14 Comment By EngineerScotty On April 29, 2013 @ 2:25 pm

On a desert island, or other isolated community, the people therein are entirely dependent upon one another, and have no choice in the matter. Tight social cohesion, of some form (usually informal), is generally necessary, to ensure mutual cooperation.

In a big city, everything is often specialized and professionalized. In such an environment, services are more likely to be things that are bought and sold–and even when they are provided on a community basis (as opposed to on an open market), the mechanism for doing so is typically taxation of the people in order to hire persons whose job it is to fight fires or tend to the sick or whatever. This is actually an efficient method of providing services, but the only social norm that becomes necessary to keep the system working, is payment of taxes–social coupling becomes much lower. This has its good points and its bad–on the good side, “odd ducks” are less likely to be persecuted or ostracized, on the bad side, many people in cities don’t know or care about their neighbors. They do have communities, of course–networks of friends and associates–but these networks are voluntary in nature, non-transitive, and not constrained or imposed by physical proximity.

Some people object to taxpayer-funded social services out of pure greed–they got theirs, and they don’t want (as an old Chinese saying goes) their water to be spilt on someone else’s field. Others object because they see other communities benefiting. Not to pick on Rod and his neighbors, but I suspect many of the good folks of St. Francisville and Starhill, who eagerly, freely, and selflessly help each other out in times of need, would object strongly to the notion of their tax dollars flowing south on Highway 61, into the slums of Baton Rouge, to assist the countless needy there–nor would they likely make the trip themselves to volunteer there. And I’m sure the feeling is mutual; those living in the ghettos of Louisiana’s capital don’t care all that much for the poor folk up north in the sticks. This is not necessarily the result of any sort of animus or prejudice–many small towns and poor communities have enough trouble taking care of their own, and have little left over to worry about the problems down the road.

#15 Comment By Shane Taylor On April 29, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

Although you mentioned Bruce Springsteen, the American songwriter that often comes to my mind in these discussions is James McMurtry. Specifically, this song:

[13]

#16 Comment By Damon On April 29, 2013 @ 2:54 pm

@MWorrell:

There are several troubling angles to your reasoning behind conservative attitudes vis-a-vis “help” and “dependence”.

Firstly, you assume that because some kind of aid program comes from the government, it is automatically devoid of any kind of follow-through; aid is distributed without strings attached. This is almost never the case. In fact, I can’t think of a single government aid program that doesn’t require something of its recipients. Even disaster relief is often in the form of guaranteed low-interest loans instead of cash infusions.

Related to that, you clearly believe that government programs are nothing but red-tape recipes followed blindly by unthinking slaves. Assuredly, this does happen; we’ve all experienced government bureaucracy. But to point the finger at the government without also pointing the finger at the corporations who wield a much stronger influence over our daily lives is to be willfully ignorant and unreasonably biased. Health insurance companies and private employers are just two obvious examples where red tape is generally far more damaging … and virtually all of us are more “dependent” upon our employer and our health insurance than we would like to admit.

And finally (just to keep this from getting any longer), I am severely troubled by your closing assertion:

“Helping someone (financially or otherwise) can be highly unethical if it is not for their ultimate good. That’s the distinction conservatives make, and if anyone is somehow confused about that, they must be a moral dimwit.”

You assert for yourself a moral and ethical superiority that you are unwilling to allow other people “beneath” you to possess. You don’t trust “the government’s” moral or ethical sense, but why should I trust yours? How can you be trusted to know what is or is not in some other person’s “ultimate good”? What gives you the right to judge that?

If you are truly Christian, then you would do well to remember to “judge not, lest ye be judged”. Don’t assume you know what is wrong with somebody else’s life, and that you know how to fix it. Life is not so clear-cut. There is a reason Jesus instructed his disciples with parables rather than lectures.

#17 Comment By jaylib On April 29, 2013 @ 3:15 pm

We also see this when natural disasters hit, such as the recent flooding in several areas, including my own. It’s terrible because people have lost their property (and sometimes, even limb and life). But it’s also heartening — even exciting — when we are forced to come out of our homes, look around, and help our neighbors.

“It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul”:

Dependence without mutual obligation could be called slavery. Even the 1 percent, insofar as their wealth derives from dependence on the labor of many others, are in this sense, slaves.

“That illusion stemmed from the desires of his own heart: a desire to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural America and discover the wider world; to pursue a life of the mind; to experience, as the British playwright David Hare put it [6] in his screenplay for The Hours, the “violent jolt” of life in the metropolis.”

Okay, “violent jolts” are one thing, but life of the mind is another. As an intellectual and creative in a large metro area, I refuse to believe there can’t be a life of the mind in smaller places.
While you do need a certain concentration of population, I’m certain you don’t have to cram together 8 million (as in NYC) or 3 million (Chicago) or even 600,000 (Nashville) to have a thriving intellectual and cultural scene. To some extent, I believe, the location of present-day “intellectual centers” is a function of which cities have the biggest megaphones to hype themselves.

“when we celebrate social mobility and “churn [8],” we are encouraging millions of young Rod Drehers to leave their Starhills and become “boomers,” …

I loathe that whole mentality. You shouldn’t have to go anywhere to “make it,” whatever “it” is.

I do think, however, you take the conservative use of “independence” in the wrong sense. Political independence is not the same as social independence (which indeed, does not really exist — except among the lost, and, perhaps, those raised by wolves). Political independence means that the individual is free to participate in society voluntarily – not assigned his place and commanded by government. In that sense political independence is a prerequisite to real civil society.

#18 Comment By jaylib On April 29, 2013 @ 3:17 pm

We also see this when natural disasters hit, such as the recent flooding in several areas, including my own. It’s terrible because people have lost their property (and sometimes, even limb and life). But it’s also heartening — even exciting — when we are forced to come out of our homes, look around, and help our neighbors.

“It is not dependence per se, which is a universal fact of human life, but dependence without mutual obligation, that corrupts the soul”:

Dependence without mutual obligation could be called slavery. Even the 1 percent, insofar as their wealth derives from dependence on the labor of many others, are in this sense, slaves.

“That illusion stemmed from the desires of his own heart: a desire to escape the stifling atmosphere of rural America and discover the wider world; to pursue a life of the mind; to experience, as the British playwright David Hare put it [6] in his screenplay for The Hours, the “violent jolt” of life in the metropolis.”

Okay, “violent jolts” are one thing, but life of the mind is another. As an intellectual and creative in a large metro area, I refuse to believe there can’t be a life of the mind in smaller places.
While you do need a certain concentration of population, I’m certain you don’t have to cram together 8 million (as in NYC) or 3 million (Chicago) or even 600,000 (Nashville) to have a thriving intellectual and cultural scene. To some extent, I believe, the location of present-day “intellectual centers” is a function of which cities have the biggest megaphones to hype themselves.

“when we celebrate social mobility and “churn [8],” we are encouraging millions of young Rod Drehers to leave their Starhills and become “boomers,” …

I loathe that whole mentality. You shouldn’t have to go anywhere to “make it,” whatever “it” is.

I do think, however, you take the conservative use of “independence” in the wrong sense. Political independence is not the same as social independence (which indeed, does not really exist — except among the lost, and, perhaps, those raised by wolves). Political independence means that the individual is free to participate in society voluntarily – not assigned his place and commanded by government. In that sense political independence is a prerequisite to real civil society.

#19 Comment By Dan On April 29, 2013 @ 3:22 pm

This supposed “blind spot”–i.e., the alleged need of technocratically-administered entitlements–to encourage widespread migration and upward-mobility seems to fly in the face of empirical research ( [14]).

I would consider international migration to be even more costly (e.g., abandoning one’s community) than intranational migration; nonetheless, the former do not seem to need the welfare state to incentivize or support them.

#20 Comment By EngineerScotty On April 29, 2013 @ 4:17 pm

You assert for yourself a moral and ethical superiority that you are unwilling to allow other people “beneath” you to possess. You don’t trust “the government’s” moral or ethical sense, but why should I trust yours? How can you be trusted to know what is or is not in some other person’s “ultimate good”? What gives you the right to judge that?

I suspect that many feel that the provision of charity to others, gives them the right to judge the recipients and/or subject them to the givers’ ethical and moral sense–he who pays the piper, calls the tune. And that a chief objection to government assistance is this “right” is circumvented; money is taken from some (in the form of taxes) and provided to others (in the form of assistance) without the source of the funds being able to place conditions on the recipient, including withholding of charity from those the giver considers unworthy. Christ’s teaching notwithstanding, of course.

#21 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 29, 2013 @ 5:06 pm

VikingLS:

“Wendell Berry did not conquer the world and then retire as a gentleman farmer. He was a not particularly successful professor of English. (Yes I know he taught at NYU. I teach at Rutgers. It’s not a big deal.) If he hadn’t started writing about farming and community none of you would ever have heard of him.”

Not quite. From Wiki:

“In 1958, he attended Stanford University’s creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow, studying under Stegner in a seminar that included Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Ernest Gaines, Tillie Olsen, and Ken Kesey. Berry’s first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published in April 1960. A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship took Berry and his family to Italy and France in 1961, where he came to know Wallace Fowlie, critic and translator of French literature. From 1962 to 1964, he taught English at New York University’s University College…”

He was also a published poet before returning to Kentucky, in 1965.

So, a young man leaves Kentucky for California, studies at the most distinguished school on the West Coast, in a prestigious fellowship program. Meets lots of famous authors. Writes a novel of his own, which is published by a well know company (Houghton Mifflin). Wins a big time Fellowship and travels to and lives in Europe, where he meets more famous literati. Then becomes an English Professor in NYC, and writes two books of poetry, both of which are published, one by another major publisher (Harcourt, Brace) and THEN returns to Kentucky, to land he inherits from his family. He goes on to be an English professor in Kentucky and writes many more books.

So, it seems fair to me to say that Berry left his home town, lived the life of a “boomer” for a fairly extended period of time, made his bones in academia and the big cities, AND THEN returned home. And you will notice that I did NOT say he “retired” (as you misquoted me) to his gentleman farm. What I said was he “took up the pose” of gentleman/hobby farmer. And, indeed, Berry is famous for his books, not because he is a farmer.

And I’ll stand by that. Berry is a successful writer and academic. But he achieved a good measure of fame and fortune in the wider world, before coming home, notwithstanding the fact that he then built on that literary success. And I see nothing wrong with that. On the other hand, his dismissal of all who likewise leave their small home towns to seek fame and fortune as “boomers,” smacks, in my view, of hypocrisy.

#22 Comment By Adam On April 29, 2013 @ 5:31 pm

The Lottery Society, which is linked to the home page today, is an interesting take and has some relevance to this “blind spot”, but a take I am sure is anathema to a lot of conservatives. I’m interested to hear thoughts in regards to the premise presented by that writer, which is how to attack a problem of distribution of wealth that surely contributes to the entitlement argument and the idea of self reliance and governments role in providing security. Is economic security, in the form of a level playing field, a government role? If the argument is big government in the pocket of big business, what are the conservative ideas to address? Simply cutting taxes doesn’t seem to be the answer since the current tax code seems to have driven income to the Capital side of the ledger since the 80’s while entitlements continue to grow. It seems to me one way to shrink entitlements is to ensure the working class gets their fair share in the national wealth in the form of productivity gains but they don’t seem to get passed out due to the goodness of the hearts of our corporations…

#23 Comment By EliteCommInc. On April 29, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

Having lived in a small communities, Hays, Kansas, Charleston, Il. I have to admit a certain differences in how each small community exists with itself.

I have also worked and lived in the city. In Kansas City Kansas, I was just as likely to be asked for a cup of sugar or invited to watch some program on TV by an upstairs neighbor as I was in any of those communities.

I think the difference is in the network of people and the environment that is fostered. I guess it would be a great project to set up shop in an urban setting and actually pay attention to the interactions.

Since Miss Coulter nor Uma Thurman have graced my doorstep and since I am single, sadly, I get to (laughing) visit dating sites. The ones I visit are: Jdate (Jewish), Catholic Match, Ourtime, and Christiancafe. And I can say this, the women in rural communities seem just as lonely and isolated as the women in the city.

#24 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 29, 2013 @ 5:40 pm

In addition, VikingLS, most of what you write misses the point. Berry left his home town SEEKING success. Whether he achieved that goal before returning home, or the extent to which he achieved it, is not really the point. The point is that he had no problem with he himself leaving not only his home town, but his home county, his home State, his home region, and, eventually, his home country, continent and hemisphere, in his efforts to succeed, nor with living in the biggest city in the country, in further efforts along those lines. All of that was, apparently, OK. But if others act similarly, with similar goals, they are “boomers,” and merit only contempt.

#25 Comment By Clint On April 29, 2013 @ 6:51 pm

America’s Generosity Divide

“Red states are more generous than blue states. The eight states where residents gave the highest share of income to charity went for John McCain in 2008. The seven-lowest ranking states supported Barack Obama. ”

[15]

#26 Comment By anthony james On April 29, 2013 @ 6:52 pm

I couldn’t disagree more with the tone of this article. Conservatism has missed nothing regarding the notion of charity, family, and community. Rather, it is the notion of modern liberals that “independence” is a matter of fanaticism and extremism. No one is so daft as to think that every person is utterly independent from the next person – that’s liberal propaganda against conservatism. What conservatives do believe in is the value of community over and above government unless there’s a major social crisis; but even then, individuals should be allowed to work out their problems to the degree they can. Liberal ideology simply gets in the way of this, even to the point of prohibiting people from behaving as neighbors. And be reminded, at the turn of the 20th Century, the poor-houses, the soup kitchens, the half-way centers like the YMCA were run mostly by Christians, but liberals couldn’t “have that” so they began “socializing” welfare through government intervention, greatly weakening the influence and progress of these Christian organizations. What we have now by way of welfare is largely a liberal construct. Those who think conservatives are against taxation for certain social needs and assistance are just full of bull. And so is this article!

#27 Comment By Christopher On April 29, 2013 @ 9:58 pm

You don’t trust “the government’s” moral or ethical sense, but why should I trust yours? How can you be trusted to know what is or is not in some other person’s “ultimate good”? What gives you the right to judge that?

This is a serious problem that I really think shouldn’t be ignored or underestimated. Communities can, and often have, used this dependency to gain leverage over unpopular members. Maybe you don’t get that generous support if you’re the wrong religion, or maybe you don’t get it if you leave your abusive but popular husband.

Actually, thinking about it more, my big problem is that I think “mutual dependence” is MUCH harder to build than people like Yuval Levin think it is.

If you’re offering to care for the children of a cancer victim, that’s not a mutual dependency; it’s a one-sided dependency. If you back out and the children don’t get care, that hurts them far more than it hurts you. This gives you power over them. You can easily wield that power in a wicked way.

Of course the government also has power over its citizens in a lopsided way, but just throwing things back to “the community” isn’t really a great solution.

Actually, I kind of think people choose their politics based on which dangerously lopsided power relationship they want to ignore: Libertarians pretend that there’s no difference between employers and employees, liberals that there’s no difference between citizens and government, and conservatives that there’s no differences between members of the same community.

#28 Comment By jamie On April 29, 2013 @ 10:12 pm

I suspect that many feel that the provision of charity to others, gives them the right to judge the recipients and/or subject them to the givers’ ethical and moral sense–he who pays the piper, calls the tune.

For no small reason the Israel-Palestine conflict persists is because if you are indigent in the Occupied Territories, the party “who pays the piper” is Hizbollah.
If we were talking about individual good deeds this would make a bit of sense, but the giver’s “moral sense” plays second fiddle to his desire to get his car washed for $5, or his rather firm belief that he should be filling out his beholden’s absentee ballot, or his realization that the poor employees with no alternative are unlikely to complain to OSHA. Similarly the Bill Gates’s of the world use poverty as a way to “persuade” people to participate in their social experiments, and the David Miscavige’s and tongue-speaking TV charlatans will always find willing followers among the desperate.
The Great Society was founded upon the belief that wealth and cultural authority had failed the poor, and were more likely to turn them to their own factional, anti-American purpose, than to actually help them realize their “ultimate good,” as MWorell put it. The suggestion that the Great Society was intentionally designed to harm the poor is a disgusting and unsubstantiated libel. It is the Left that has take all of the risks and all of the blame for social issue of poverty over the last 50 years, while conservatives have gazed at their navels and proposed ideological nostrums that do little more than pretend there is no problem.
The Strapping Young Buck is simply the cost of doing business if you want to have a democracy ruled by conscience, and not by empty bellies. (Granted, democracy has never been a high priority to conservatives, but I digress.)

#29 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 30, 2013 @ 12:51 am

Clint:

From your link:

“Religion has a big influence on giving patterns. Regions of the country that are deeply religious are more generous than those that are not. Two of the top nine states—Utah and Idaho—have high numbers of Mormon residents, who have a tradition of tithing at least 10 percent of their income to the church. The remaining states in the top nine are all in the Bible Belt.

“When religious giving isn’t counted, the geography of giving is very different. Some states in the Northeast jump into the top 10 when secular gifts alone are counted. New York would vault from No. 18 to No. 2, and Pennsylvania would climb from No. 40 to No. 4.”

Religious “giving” is essentially consumption. Folks give to their church so that their church has a nice building, organ, etc. Of course, other kinds of giving are not all that different, like rich opera lovers giving to the opera. Indeed, very little of what is called “charity” actually goes toward meeting the needs of the least well off in society. I have heard as little as ten per cent, or less. Folks give to “Save the Lighthouse” or “Save the Bay” or their church or opera or museum or whatever. But that hardly meets the needs of the hungry, homeless, folks with unmet medical needs, and so forth.

anthony james:

The government “took over” charity because private giving, while not inconsiderable, simply could not keep up with then need. This was especially true during the Great Depression.

#30 Comment By Clint On April 30, 2013 @ 4:44 am

@ philadelphialawyer:

In 2010, Catholic Charities USA reported expenditures of between $4.2 billion and $4.4 billion, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which publishes an annual list of the 400 biggest charities in the United States, ranked by the amount of donations they receive. This enabled it to rank near the top of the 400 list, behind two major social-services charities — the United Way and the Salvation Army.

#31 Comment By philadelphialawyer On April 30, 2013 @ 10:47 am

Clint:

The point being?

All three of them spend lots of money on administration, and plenty of money on things other than the neediest. And CC hardly represents all the money given to the RC Church.

And, most telling, from Wiki:

“Catholic Charities received a total of nearly $2.9 billion from the US government in 2010. In comparison, its annual revenue was $4.67 billion. Only about $140 million came from donations from diocesan churches, the remainder coming from in-kind contributions, investments, program fees, and community donations.”

So more than half the money floating the boat of your chosen model “private” charity is Federal tax money, coming from the “Faith Based Initiative.”

Also, of the private donations, you have provided no breakdown of Blue State/Red State giving, which was your initial riposte. For all we know, Blue State folks give more to CC than Red State folks.

#32 Comment By Mightypeon On April 30, 2013 @ 4:06 pm

@Philadelphialawyer:

Hezbollah is not a large factor in the occupied territories, in Gaza you have Hamas and the provisional defence comitties (usually composed of everyone who doesnt like Israel but is no islamist, a demographic that applies to nearly every Gazan not in Hamas, they are often more trigger happy than Hamas), in Palestine proper, you have Hamas, Fatah, the Palestinian authorities and a couple of more minor factions.

Hezbollah only matters in Lebanon and Syria, and the difference between Hezbollah and Hamas is somewhat comparable to the difference between the Vietcong and the Khmer Rouge, both in terms of combat capacity and (Hezbollah may well be the Arab army with the highest combat capacitiy per brigade level unit, Hamas cant fight its way out of a wet paper bag).

However, community organisation and building is a fairly big thing for insurgencies, and of course also something Hezbollah does better than Hamas.

#33 Comment By Clint On April 30, 2013 @ 5:37 pm

@ philadelphialawyer :

Nearly 90 cents of every dollar donated to Catholic Charities agencies goes directly to programs and services.

Together with the local, diocesan-associated Catholic Charities, it is the second largest social service provider in the United States, surpassed only by the federal government.

#34 Comment By Dave Miller On April 30, 2013 @ 8:27 pm

I don’t know what conservatism means, if it doesn’t mean:

1. small-town values
2. upholding the best traditions of American and western civilization (e.g., Bill of Rights, Aretha Franklin, the practice of following a chain of reasoning wherever it might lead, like Galileo, etc.)
3. free-market, as opposed to crony, capitalism and as opposed to other economic systems

If you start from these premises, you reach policy conclusions that many conservatives find abhorrent, like rigorous enforcement of antitrust laws. But that is only because most modern day conservatives have been duped by their masters into believing that corporatism = conservatism.

#35 Comment By David On April 30, 2013 @ 9:39 pm

What does “small-town values” mean? It implies a moral value that is not to be found in non-small-towns, or is it that there is a greater percentage of moral people in small towns?

Just how big can a small town be and have genuine, American “small-town values”?

Of course, such values could not possibly exist outside the United States of America, could they?

#36 Comment By Chris 1 On May 1, 2013 @ 12:37 pm

People in West Feliciana informally did precisely what some conservatives oppose being formalized in far more complex social systems.

Many seem to think that systems as complex as New York, Los Angeles or Chicago can be better run if they were as informally organized as West, Texas. One might as logically insist on governing tollways and freeways with the rules of a country road in Montana…livestock crossings and all.

We conservatives used to excel at matching governance with the complexity of the system being governed, but we’ve had 40 years now of being told that governance itself is a problem, and of fetishizing “small” while we demand increasingly big, and of fetishizing “individual” while we demand increasingly interconnectivity with each other.

There is a huge disconnect between the story we tell ourselves about ourselves and the reality of our lives. The sooner we start telling ourselves the truth about ourselves the better.

#37 Comment By MWorrell On May 1, 2013 @ 1:07 pm

@Damon

“Firstly, you assume that because some kind of aid program comes from the government, it is automatically devoid of any kind of follow-through; aid is distributed without strings attached.”

I absolutely do not. I said that conservatives specifically oppose government aid that fits that description. I happen to think that too much government aid fits that description, but that’s another matter.

“This is almost never the case. In fact, I can’t think of a single government aid program that doesn’t require something of its recipients.”

Requiring “something” is not always enough. I don’t know what to point to other than a relatively permanent underclass being subsidized and perpetuated by an indifferent welfare complex and a failed public education system. I personally know a few people who have benefited from welfare and consequently gotten their act together. That’s awesome. But are they the exception or the rule? Anyone here care to buy a house in one of those communities?

“How can you be trusted to know what is or is not in some other person’s “ultimate good”? What gives you the right to judge that? …If you are truly Christian, then you would do well to remember to ‘judge not, lest ye be judged’.”

You don’t have to trust me unless you need something from me. But when I am the agent of the assistance, it’s my responsibility to size up the situation and maintain, increase, or suspend my help based on how it is impacting the situation. When the government is providing assistance, that is their responsibility as well. I am indeed a Christian, and the Bible teaches repeatedly that those within the church are to be held accountable (“if any man will not work, neither let him eat”). The roles of widows in the New Testament who were cared for by the church were to be productive. I am my brother’s keeper. Not judging means that I am never to consider someone unworthy of help, but that does not mean I am to remain blind and indifferent to the consequences of the type of help I give. People should be RESTORED, not just fed and clothed. That is patently Christian.

Those outside the church are to be given practical assistance AND life-changing truth in the form of a clear call to repent. To give someone a meal and not the Gospel is an affront to the full-orbed counsel of Christ.

I don’t want/need/expect the government to provide the Christian facet. I do expect them to take responsibility for the fruit of their assistance and how it impacts the people and communities they seek to help. Try walking into downtown Chicago from the west or south side, and much becomes clear.

#38 Comment By Paul Emmons On May 1, 2013 @ 1:26 pm

David asks:

>What does “small-town values” mean… a moral value that is not to be found in non-small-towns, or is it that there is a greater percentage of moral people in small towns?

While agreeing in the main with Dave Miller’s post, I share your reservations about his point no. 1. I’ve lived in small towns and in a large metropolitan area, and like cities better.

I was only four when my big cousin told me about a city called Chicago thirty miles from one end to the other. “You mean, like traffic lights all the way from here to Grandma’s?” That part didn’t sound very attractive, but it was intriguing anyway. Where is Chicago? Down south, he said. So I’d peer south day after day hoping that if I just stared hard enough, I’d see it. But all I could see on the horizon was pine trees. Would I ever see Chicago? Did Chicago really exist?

And that was before I knew I was gay. We’ve had excellent reasons in the past for turning our backs on small towns, making cities our homes, and devoting our talents to embellishing and celebrating them. Maybe the future will be different, but we’ll still have to see about that, won’t we? If the advocates of small towns would like us to convince us of their desirability, how about making them more inviting?

Salutations to my fellow Christians, and news flash: Saint Augustine wrote a book called The City of God, not The Small Town of God.

According to Jane Jacobs, writing in the 1960s, life in Greenwich Village had or once had (she was lamenting its passing) many of the same characteristics that perhaps
Mr. Miller et al. assume are found mainly in small towns. Of course we can joke that if a place has “Village” in its name, then small-town characteristics are to be expected. Nevertheless, we’re talking about Manhattan. She was essentially writing about architecture and city planning, i.e., the follies of standard practice mid-century. Because she challenged conventional wisdom, she was quickely dismissed by the most respected authorities as a romantic amateur. But then her star began to rise. In practice, however, her ideas haven’t yet been widely enough adopted that Richard Florida didn’t need to reiterate them for our generation, e.g. in The Rise of the Creative Class . Too many power brokers still don’t get it, and continue to build gigantic, faceless structures uprooting everything organic and humane. They do this with so much insensitivity that it is hard to imagine that it is unintentional. Cities don’t need to be like this.

Which brings us to Mr. Miller’s closing sentence:
“most modern day conservatives have been duped by their masters into believing that corporatism = conservatism.” A hearty amen to that.

#39 Comment By Andrew Lohr On May 2, 2013 @ 2:38 pm

Personal generosity–Jesus giving His life–is real; welfare-state “generosity” at the expense of others is bogus, along with stupid and destructive, “sometimes deliberately stifling” to competition (from Tyler Cowan, ed., The Theory of Market Failure), and often enough enriching to favored parties. Crony Capitalism–corporate welfare–down with it. “Too big to fail”: how many mon and pops died to save General Motors? When Obama gives half his own millions to help people who can’t afford medical treatment, or to repay caregivers for uncompensated care given, then maybe I’ll begin to think he cares and isn’t just trying to buy votes, albeit with, maybe, good intentions. If he gives all and then comes asking for help rather than lecturing, he’ll be still more persuasive. Back the Institute for Justice agenda. Jesus is libertarian, including personally generous.

#40 Comment By Emilio On May 2, 2013 @ 10:15 pm

The mainstay of American liberalism’s defense of social spending is to do SOMETHING to alleviate the negative effects of various types of (what amounts to) enslavement. See MLK’s progression from race-centered social justice to a class-centered economic one. Overpowering social forces are as old as the pyramids, and touting ONLY or even MAINLY the moral codes we live by as individuals embedded in small communities is utopian. The centuries long semi-or-outright-enslavement of people under various highly stratified social systems explains the majority of opportunity and income disparity much better than any argument about moral hazard. The legacies of these ancient forces cannot be overcome without matching their scope. Small communities aren’t up to the task. Their very smallness is what provides more concentrated satisfaction (within a more limited spectrum), not the nature of their values. Values are values, they are universals. You can live with small town values in cities simply by curtailing the vast array of your appetites they are capable of feeding, and focusing on deepening a few, such as close-knit community ties. Cities merely one manifestation of concentrated power, and the phenomenon of concentrated power isn’t going anywhere. It must be tamed by efforts equal to the task. That effort is called “big government.” It’s a big world, and it’s been big for quite some time. We have built big things “together.” In Amish country the neighbors will come together to raise a barn. But if you think the neighbors will come together to raise a pyramid, or a sky-scraper, you’re on another planet. It’s called Utopia.

#41 Comment By Sean Scallon On May 2, 2013 @ 10:48 pm

Patrick Deenan once relayeda quote he said R. Emmett Tyrell once told him that conservatism had to be an ideology because if it ever became an ethos again it would lose again ad again.

We’ll we’ve tried the ideology part since 1960 and socialism, liberalism or The Left, progressiveism, whatever you want to call it still marched onward still in spite of electoral defeats until it started winning its own victories.

What really is the blind spot is continued insistence of the ideology of “independence” of dependency many conservatives have on government. They may not like it or shames them but it doesn’t matter. It’s there all the same. Yet those on the Right continue to use rhetoric which is basically a lie to way many real people and their real voters live their lives. The disconect between this reality and the rhetoric is truly was is disconcering to many people but adherence to the ideology continues because no one has thought up words sutiable for the ethos yet or least not ones politicans and pundits care to use.

#42 Comment By Nathan On May 3, 2013 @ 11:42 am

Do we really have to do this again?

“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 constiuents.”

Now if there are any of you here who can find the article that Madison, who attended literally every session of the convention, who is properly called the father of said Constitution, if any of you can find the article that he couldn’t, feel free to quote it. It’s not there.

And conservatives and liberals like go down the path of “good intentions”. Well yes, the Constitution doesn’t let us do this or that, but since our intentions are so very “noble” I mean that “safety net” many of you cite, whatever could be wrong with that, well can’t we just ignore the document just this once? Until liberals come along and say, well in light of Newtown, the Second Amendment “the right of the PEOPLE to keep and bear arms” well Madison really didn’t mean that did he? And so many years have passed, and certainly that doesn’t apply to semi-auto weapons does it? And look at those evil people attacking us. Madison would certainly agree to an exemption from the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Amendments if he knew what we faced today wouldn’t he? Read John Conroy’s book “Unspeakable Acts” about Area 2 in Chicago about how this line of reasoning goes where police there tortured confessions out of people putting some on death row.

Folks no, the document says what it says, and we’re all bound by it even when it doesn’t suit our particular purpose. Even when we JUST HAVE TO DO SOMETHING SO INCREDIBLY NOBLE that it won’t let us. Then find another way and honestly there’s always another way.

I tell my wife that every so often we ought go down to Montpelier and visit Madison’s grave to see how disturbed it is from him rolling over in it when he hears liberals and conservatives alike talking about trashing the Constitution in the name of “good intentions”.

#43 Comment By Chick Dante On May 3, 2013 @ 2:08 pm

We can trade anecdotes and ideology about the “size of government” all day long. We can choose up sides in what I think is a false choice: Big Government vs Freedom, derived in part from the cold war (where “Big Government” equals Big Brother) and in part from the Paranoid Style of Richard Hofstadter. There are probably other ingredients.

But, if we were really honest about it, the false dichotomy exists largely as a device to repeal any and all forms of law or regulation that would impede our rush to oligarchy as evidenced in large part by the statistics of income and wealth disparity.

Even Adam Smith understood that a government of the people needed to be effective enough to hold back the corruption of markets where prices could be set appropriately only if corruption could be avoided. Today, the wealthy few can buy the government and eliminate it as an effective source of good. When 400 families rule us without pretense of democracy, how free will we be then?

#44 Comment By Fran Macadam On May 3, 2013 @ 8:54 pm

“Red states are more generous than blue states.”

This is the argument that the rich are far more generous than the poor. That follows logically simply from the great discrepancy of means, but ignores that the rich are far more likely to itemize and tax-deduct their giving. Additionally, giving includes to self-serving foundations and political advocacy tax exempt groups, which although technically charitable, really are more about the giver’s own personal goals than helping anyone else.

I know; I have worked as an executive for charities. Even United Way giving is a form of advertising and self-promotion for the giver, for whom it is more important to be seen giving.

#45 Comment By Dave Miller On May 4, 2013 @ 1:56 am

Thankyou, Chuck.

And may I expand on that: let’s decide what needs to be done in this country, then decide which tasks are best done by government (we may have to experiment a little: private prisons in PA => judges bribed, teens incarcerated for profit, been there, done that, check). This will answer the question of how big government has to be. For those that prefer small government without thinking sequentially, may I offer you Mexico or Pakistan. The latter destination has the added benefits of no income tax.

#46 Comment By Viking On May 4, 2013 @ 1:56 pm

@Fran Macadam:

You seem to be assuming that red states are wealthier, on average, than blue states. I believe the opposite is true. Or are you saying that the wealth is more concentrated in the red states than in blue? That might be true, but I have my doubts.

I agree with the rest of your piece, but see little relevance to it. Charitable giving is charitable giving even with tax benefits. And I don’t believe itemizing allows anyone to truly benefit financially from philanthropy, as opposed to losing somewhat less. When we had a 91% top rate, it might have been different.

Viking

#47 Comment By jaylib On May 4, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

Chick Dante says:
…false choice: Big Government vs Freedom, derived in part from the cold war (where “Big Government” equals Big Brother) and in part from the Paranoid Style of Richard Hofstadter.

Ah, one of America’s great quack psychiatrists. No one was better at mass-diagnosing entire demographics. Luckily we have mass forced drugging to cure the paranoid (aka conservative, usually Christian) segment.

#48 Comment By Mia On May 5, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

I know there are caring conservatives out there, because I work with them daily. Alas, they are not the ones running for public office. And they should be.

#49 Comment By indyconservative On May 6, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

Mia, I agree with you to some degree, but would give it a different spin. Increasingly, I see conservative politics as being dominated by an elite(liberals too, but they have non-elite constituencies that they just can’t ignore). And like elites everywhere, that means that they are somewhat detached from the rest of us and don’t understand what is important to the rest of us. So even when they do care, it doesn’t resonate with many of us that live more pedestrian lives. And one other thing about elites – they don’t need the trappings of a civil society like the rest of us, because they have a great deal of resources at their command. So in the end its not that they don’t care (many conservative elected officials do, in my opinion), so much as they just don’t understand and in some case are incapable of understanding what it takes to maintain a lot of the conservative values about a civil society that matter to us in the heartland. And an idealogy that seems more suited to another age before globalization seems to only increase the blindness of many conservative politicians who really ought to know better.