But compassionate conservatism has come under criticism for a variety of reasons. For some, it is fundamentally at odds with fiscal conservatism — no social priority is deemed more urgent than balancing the budget. For others, it is a violation of their vision of limited government — the state’s only valid purpose is to uphold markets and protect individual liberty. But by drawing these limits so narrowly, such critics would relegate conservatism to the realm of rejected ideologies: untainted, uncomplicated and ignored. And by leaving great social needs unmet, they would grant liberalism an open field and invite genuine statism. ~Michael Gerson
As opposed to the supposedly faux statism that Gerson and his minions promote? Raise your hand if you’re sick of this condescending garbage!
How tiresome it is to hear that “social needs” are unmet because government is not involved in meeting them, or that government must be involved if those needs are, in fact, unmet. If they’re unmet, they’re probably unmet because someone whining in the name of “compassion” forty years ago complained that the government wasn’t doing enough, so the state usurped the proper social functions of existing institutions that have since withered and died from neglect and lack of support, and now all we are left with is recourse to still more government. However the program or initiative is designed, it will always be another form of dependency and another means to concentrate power in the state by creating these bonds of dependency on government initiatives. How insulting to listen to someone who has never blinked at proposing spending other people’s money on the problems of people he has never met mock fiscal responsibility, and then claim that those interested in the profoundly moral effort to not pass on our debts to our posterity supposedly believe that balanced budgets are the top “social priority.” What is Michael Gerson’s top social priority? It seems that gratifying his undying need for atoning vicariously through good works that he isn’t doing that are paid for by wealth he isn’t creating in places he will never go is his top priority, and woe betide the moneychangers who block him on the path of righteousness!
But it is a stretch to interpret his personal challenge to the rich young ruler as a biblical foundation for libertarianism.
But then Tom Coburn isn’t urging libertarianism on anyone. He was calling for voluntary charity and self-sacrifice, which are not exactly what most people would associate with any form of libertarianism. That isn’t to say that libertarians can’t be charitable and self-sacrificing, but that libertarianism does not call you to be these things; Christ does. But you have to remember that for Gerson there is Catholic social thought, which he doesn’t understand very well but claims for himself, and then there is the howling apocalyptic wasteland infested with demonic zombies that is “libertarianism” (a.k.a., whatever Michael Gerson wants to identify tendentiously with his opponents in a policy debate). There are theological arguments for preserving and upholding the common good, but Gerson never makes them and sometimes he makes me wonder if he even knows them. If he engaged with these arguments, he would have to grapple with questions of subsidiarity, the same principle of subsidiarity that the policies he and his allies have championed have trampled all over.
Once again, Gerson invokes Shaftesbury, as if what Shaftesbury did has any real relationship to the state intrusion into religious charities that was the faith-based initiative or the state intrusion into local schools that was NLCB. That is what “compassionate” conservatism has meant in practice. You don’t get to cite what Tory reformers or Christian socialists of another era on another continent did that happened to be successful when your agenda has been a catastrophic failure. “Oh, look, they were Christian reformers, too!” These examples also make no effort to ground this sort of activism in an American context. Different peoples are suited to different kinds of regimes, and they are likewise suited to different sorts of collective action.
Instead of a supposedly libertarian Christ, Gerson offers us Christ the social worker, which is an appropriation every bit as unpersuasive as the other caricatures he rejects, and the disciples of this social worker have an unerring ability to be extremely annoying.