Charity is defined in my dictionary as "liberality to the poor; alms-giving; an act of kindness." Fair enough.
What about forced charity then, the situation that exists with respect to the Welfare State. Clearly, if charity is forced then any 'act of kindness' is neither kind, nor moral, and 'charitable' is certainly not what one can call those who apply the force; since morality requires choice, only unforced actions can be moral ones -- an act forced on us by others, one that we ourselves have not chosen, cannot be considered a moral act. "Morality ends," as Ayn Rand used to say, "where a gun begins." Neither can it be a moral act to give away someone else's wealth against their will (and if it wasn't against their will, you wouldn't have to force them, would you?) -- if giving is admirable, then the admiration surely only adheres when it's your own stuff you're giving away.
So 'forced charity' is actually a misnomer; what it means is taking from Peter by force in order to give to Paul: it's theft, and as George Bernard Shaw observed such a theft will always get the support of Paul.
Charity is only charity when it's voluntarily given; when it's demanded from others or taken by force it's a very different thing. Systematised theft then, rather than charity, is what is at the heart of the welfare state.
It wasn't always so. President Bush's $50 billion appropriation on behalf of New Orleans has prompted Walter Williams to consider some of the history of US Federal Government charity.
Isn't government charity sometimes needed? No, says Williams: 'Charity Is No Function of the Federal Government':
In February 1887, President Grover Cleveland, upon vetoing a bill appropriating money to aid drought-stricken farmers in Texas, said, "I find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and the duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit."And so it has. Witness the name-calling, buck-passing, back-stabbing and racial smears going back and forth after Katrina (as Tibor Machan reflects, the only sure thing is that real responsibility will never be accepted for any of this). Fortunately, the nastiness and the blame game hasn't obscured the many acts of genuine kindness that have helped relieve people in their misfortune. It is this genuine kindness freely offered that represents real charity.
President Cleveland added, "The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood."
There's nothing wrong with voluntary charity -- indeed only charity offered voluntarily is worthy of the name -- but as David Kelley once observed, production naturally precedes consumption, and maybe our demands that others give, give, give until it hurts sometimes obscure this truth. As Kelly once answered when questioned, "Is it better to give or to receive? It is better to produce." What's wrong with praising producers, those who make charity possible? Why do we instead praise those who forcibly appropriate and distribute the wealth of others?
It all gives new insight into Ambrose Bierce's acerbic observation that charity is that "amiable quality of the heart which moves us to condone in others the sins and vices to which we ourselves are addicted." If we're addicted to theft or to living off its proceeds, you can be sure we'll find ways to make that vice look better. Calling theft an act of charity is one way of doing that.