Wednesday, 4 October 2006

Conservatism: A new obituary (part 3) - "Compassionate conservatism" in practice

Continuing the series of excerpts from Prof. Brad Thompson's article 'The Decline and Fall of American Conservatism,' published in The Objective Standard. Today, Part Three. (You can find Part One here and Part Two here.)

Yesterday we learned the theory of "compassionate conservatism," such as it is. Today, let's see how it translates into both policy and practice?
At the heart of compassionate conservatism’s policy agenda is President Bush’s plan to “revolutionize” the welfare state through his “faith-based initiative.”
Behind all the grand-sounding rhetoric and the ideological mush, it seems when the faith-based rubber meets the road of taxpayer money, this "revolution" amounts to little more than channeling welfare money through "faith-based" agencies: in other words, giving your money to give to churches so that they can be charitable with it. Some revolution. It may not be a road to a new theocracy, but it's most certainly a violation of one of the most important of America's founding principles.
This political competition between churches for taxpayer money is the beau idéal of compassionate conservatism. Churches and charities compete with one another for government funding, and the recipients of this “charity” have the freedom to choose between various government-sponsored and government-regulated denominational soup kitchens. This is what compassionate conservatives mean when they advocate combining “free market” policies with religious programs for the poor. But this is an Orwellian perversion and an utter corruption of free-market principles. There is no such thing as “market competition” between semi-private charities for the favors of government bureaucrats who have the power to arbitrarily give away money that is forcibly taken from other Americans. This is sheer government coercion and forced redistribution of wealth. Worse yet, it is a violation of the separation of church and state.
That is exactly what it is. Where the liberal Welfare Statists merely take your money and pour it down an ever-growing black hole, the Welfare Statists over on the conservative side of the aisle take your money and use it to propagate religion: a religion that's delivered along with the soup and the welfare chits of the Welfare State.
Under Bush’s faith-based initiative, the federal government has been enlisted to do the “Lord’s work.” ... Despite the President’s occasional protestations to the contrary, the faith-based initiative is, in the end, about promoting religion... The purpose of President Bush’s faith-based initiative is to create a religious welfare state—that is: to go beyond the secular welfare state by feeding both the body and the soul—filling the body with soup and filling the soul with religious dogma, faith, otherworldliness, and the morality of self-sacrifice...

Observe the gargantuan hypocrisy of conservatives who posture as defenders of property rights and helpers of the poor while advocating the violation of property rights to fund programs that poison the poor. If this is compassion, let us have none of it.
Amen to that, brother! But it's worth looking at another gargantuan hypocrisy perpetrated by these apostles of "forced charity."
Forced charity is an oxymoron that destroys the good will and generosity associated with genuine charity. By effectively nationalizing charity, conservatives have damaged the very idea of charity and curtailed the benevolence that makes it possible. Further, as a result of being forced by the government to be “charitable,” taxpaying citizens give less to genuine charities because they recognize that they are paying twice.
I couldn't agree more. And if feeding the poor is the moral duty that "compassionate conservatives" claim it is -- so important that you're happy to take the gun out to empty donors' pockets -- then where do you draw the line? Why should your country's borders limit your largesse with Other People's Money? And indeed, surfing on a tidal wave of taxpayer trillions, the "compassionate conservatives" recognise no limits. Their "compassion" is planet-wide.
Republican senator Rick Santorum, generally regarded as a “right-wing” conservative, puts it plainly: Compassionate conservatism “targets the poor and hurting for help, whether they are across the street or across an ocean.”26 In other words, compassionate conservatism imposes “duties” on individuals and nations that are limitless and without borders.
Enter from stage left Irish auteur Bono, who traipses around Africa lecturing former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill (a clown from stage right) on the new black holes down which American taxpayers have a duty to pour their money, no matter the awful consequences in the past of such charity: the funding of dictators to increase their oppression, and lower growth with aid than there is without. But results are not important so much as the feeling of virtue that giving Other People's Money generates. As I've said here before at Not PC, it's the giving that's considered the main thing here, not the results -- it's about us, not about them. What's needed is not aid, but more sweatshops.

Enter stage right the world tax "to help fight poverty in developing nations." Ignoring the dire results of past aid that has helped to impoverish nations rather than develop them, this new tax -- to be administered by the UN -- has been embraced by the conervatives who espouse compassion.
How has the Bush administration responded to the idea? Immediately after rejecting the idea of a U.N.-administered tax as a violation of U.S. sovereignty, President Bush publicly sanctioned the moral purpose of the tax. He said that “we” Americans are duty-bound to “share our wealth” with poor nations...
Sharing our wealth. If you think that sounds like collectivism, then you'd be right. At the blighted dead end of "compassionate conservsatism" is the realisation that any differences between the right and the left of the spectrum of bleeding hearts is an argument over how to divide up the spoils derived from plundering the pockets of productive Americans.

What, in the end, distinguishes the approach of compassionate conservatism to the world’s poor from that of compassionate liberalism? The answer is, fundamentally, nothing. Both insist that another nation’s [and another person's] need creates a moral duty that Americans must accept and fulfill.

Like the aging hippies of the New Left, compassionate conservatives reject the idea of basing morality on reason and instead embrace a morality grounded in feelings. They reject the possibility of a morality of self-interest and individual rights, and instead embrace a morality of self-sacrifice and governmental coercion. Despite all their loose rhetoric about applying “free-market” solutions to the plight of the poor, compassionate conservatives accept the moral premise of liberal-socialism: that you have a moral duty—a moral duty that will be enforced by the state—to love and support those who have needs greater than your own.

This is the moral premise on which the Bush administration, like every Democratic administration since the New Deal, has promoted the alleged virtue of sacrifice. The ultimate goal of compassionate conservatism—like that of compassionate liberalism—is to make all Americans more compassionate and, therefore, more open to socialist redistribution...

There is only one possible “free-market” solution to the problem of poverty that is consistent with individual rights: to abolish the welfare state. But given the moral code of the compassionate conservatives, no steps will be taken toward this goal on their watch.
So much for the theory and the practice of the "compassionate conservatives."

Tomorrow: we look at "an even more influential philosophy, the reigning ideology of the conservative movement and Republican policy-makers," that of neo-conservativism. What is that all about? Tune in tomorrow and find out.

THE SERIES SO FAR: LINKS: As cold as charity - Not PC (Sept, 2005)
Altruism: It's about us, not about them - Not PC (May, 2005)
Live-8 losers - Not PC (June, 2005)
More aid, less growth - Not PC (July, 2005)
More sweatshops please - Not PC (August, 2005)

RELATED: Politics-US, Politics, Objectivism, History-Modern, History-Twentieth Century

1 comment:

  1. Good series. Had my doubt about the intro and first part, but the 2nd and 3rd are superb.


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