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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Might Makes Right: Monopoly on Compassion

The wealthy actor Gérard Depardieu gave up his French citizenship in order to avoid France's seemingly ever increasing taxes.  The French socialists have been howling about the injustice of the huge and hugely wealthy man avoiding his obligation to help the French poor.

Theodore Dalrymple wonders if the socialists are really concerned with injustice and proposes the following thought experiment:
"Suppose that Gérard Depardieu were to undergo a conversion experience and see that his wealth was not unjust but unseemly in view of the difficulties or hardships of others, and that as a consequence he decided to give it away to those most in need (as determined by him) in exactly the same proportion as he would have been taxed. Would that be acceptable to all those who criticized him for refusing to pay his tax? 
"I suspect not: for in the modern world, the state claims the monopoly not only of force, but increasingly of compassion as well."
I find that the state's monopoly of compassion is an interesting concept.  Charity is one of the components of compassion, at least at the individual level.  The Jewish philosopher Maimonides lists 8 levels of charity (in ascending order of "goodness"):

  1. Giving unwillingly.
  2. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  3. Giving adequately after being asked.
  4. Giving before being asked.
  5. Giving publicly to an unknown recipient.
  6. Giving anonymously to a known recipient.
  7. Giving anonymously to an unknown recipient.
  8. Giving that results in a person no longer living by relying upon others.

Giving anonymously is considered a preferred form of giving.  It has the advantage of not advertising the goodness of the giver but rather helps ensure that the giver is giving because of compassion with few other benefits to self.  The second advantage is that the person receiving the charity can't feel beholden to any individual since he has no idea from where the charity originated.  If anything, the recipient will feel beholden to the community, to humanity, and since this is a religious philosophy, the recipient will possibly feel beholden to God as well.  This all adds to social cohesion and harmony.

With the state having a monopoly on giving, in some sense the giving is anonymous.  Unfortunately, the benefits of that anonymity is preempted by the fact that the giver is often doing so unwillingly (many resent paying taxes).  On the other side, while the "givers" or taxpayers are unknown to him, the recipient can be sure that the vast majority of the charity comes from outside his community and therefore feels no sense of obligation to that community.  Government replaces God as well.

And that's probably the point.  Reduce the capacity for societal cohesion at the family and community level and replace that with worship at the altar of government.  It's not about injustice, but power.

Might Makes Right.


erp said...

We've always given via #6. It's the most gratifying because we know the recipient isn't a parasite nor a shirker. It's absolutely the most wonderful feeling to know that your gift has made a difference if only on a small scale ... and it permits small falsehoods.

When we lived in Vermont, poverty was real and we often had “extra stuff” we couldn’t use. I remember one Thanksgiving, we told my son’s classmate whose family was in dire need that we won a huge turkey in a raffle, but we couldn't use because we were going away and it wouldn't fit in the freezer.

The thank you from his mother was nothing less than heartwrenching. They usually had bacon, a treat, for Thanksgiving dinner, but since she was convinced it wasn’t charity, so was able to take it with a clear conscience.

Anonymous said...

"Might makes Right" - until the Gods of the Copybook Headings return to teach a different lesson.