Skip to comments.When Christian Socialists Attack
Posted on 01/14/2007 4:13:46 AM PST by cinives
Michael Gerson helped create compassionate conservatism. Now hes attacking the small-government idealand inadvertently highlighting Americas need to learn from Europe.
In what may be the most aggressive attack on small-government conservatism in years, highly influential former Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson writes: What does antigovernment conservatism offer to inner-city neighborhoods where violence is common and families are rare? Nothing. What achievement would it contribute to racial healing and the unity of our country? No achievement at all. Anti-government conservatism turns out to be a strange kind of idealisman idealism that strangles mercy. Gersons arguments, though flawed to the core, present a grave threat to the philosophical underpinnings of limited government conservatism and the legacy of Reagan in the Republican Party. At heart, Gersons arguments are old Christian Socialist arguments, falsely presented as being conservative.
If one believes, as Ralph Nader does, that a society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity, then seeing the civil society weaken as the state expands is not a problem.
Contrary to Gersons claim, small-government conservatism has a great deal to offer inner-city neighborhoods. By providing security against crime, good schools and good education through vouchers, plentiful jobs, rising wages and benefits through an economic climate which encourages investment, and good retirement savings through personal accounts (nest eggs with cumulative interest that can be passed on, unlike current Social Security savings), small-government conservatism has much more to offer people in inner-city neighborhoods than the well-intended but failed policies it has gradually, happily, begun to replace.
Gerson claims he is concerned about compassion and charitable benevolence. If he is, let him look at the glowing dynamism and strength of the American civil society, which is so strong only because the U.S. government (unlike European governments) is still relatively small. The civil society is the social glue that holds a society with individualist economic policies together: it is the informal network of neighborhood associations, churches, charities, and philanthropic institutions that help good causes and those in need. The strength of American civil society, worth more than $260 billion in 2005 (about $500 billion if you include the estimated dollar value of volunteer time), shows us that compassion and human kindness do not vanish in a free-market system.
Washington 3 by Flickr user XeronesGerson claims that the government can strengthen civil society, but as Europe shows, he has it backwards: it is the state, and not individualism, that destroys civil society and societal compassion. In France, Germany, Italy, or the Netherlands, though a vigorous civil society is as necessary today as ever before, it has been severely weakened by decades of compassionate welfare state policies.
If one believes, as Ralph Nader does, that a society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity, seeing the civil society weaken as the state expands is not a problem. But theres an ominous catch: the warmth and effectiveness of the civil society cannot be effectively replaced by the state. When the government takes on compassionate social roles formerly fulfilled by the civil society, justice does not increase. Rather, voluntary giving is replaced with coercion, warm human charity with cold handouts, sincere compassion with bureaucratic redistribution, and even, as in Germany, church donations with a government tax for believers.
How vibrant is Europes civil society? How healthy are the networks of European churches, neighborhood associations and charities? It is not a pretty picture. For Gerson to favor that state of affairs when American civil society has proven to be such an extraordinary force for human goodso much better than the government could ever beis deeply saddening.
Gerson writes that small-government conservatism is "a political movement that elevates abstract antigovernment ideology above human needs. In assuming that human needs will go unmet but for government intervention, Gerson falls victim to an old socialist fallacy. Frederic Bastiat, the great French free-market economist, wrote about this philosophical fallacy in 1850:
Socialism, like the old policy from which it emanates, confounds Government and society. And so, every time we object to a thing being done by Government, it concludes that we object to its being done at all. We disapprove of education by the Statethen we are against education altogether We object to an equality which is brought about by the State then we are against equality, etc They might as well accuse us of wishing men not to eat, because we object to the cultivation of corn by the State.
And so, if small government conservatives object to massive philanthropy being undertaken by the federal government, people like Gerson conclude that small government conservatives are opposed to charity and philanthropybut they are not. They are opposed to state philanthropy, which supplants the genuine philanthropy of the civil society and which is not genuine philanthropy in any case.
Perhaps President Reagan put it best when he proclaimed in 1981 that The size of the federal budget is not an appropriate barometer of social conscience or charitable concern. Republicans like Gerson are not fond of Reagans small-government conservatism: in a bid to discredit Reagan, they go as far as to accuse him of straying from his small-government principles for the sake of political expediency.
Gersons accusation of fiscal profligacy (During the Reagan years, big government got bigger) should be taken with a big grain of salt and a look at the statistics, which prove otherwise. As AEIs Veronique de Rugy notes, Reagan was the only President over the past forty years to have cut inflation-adjusted non-defense spending. And, as de Rugy shows, in Departments as varied as Labor, Energy, and Education, Reagan aggressively cut spending. President Bush, by contrast, has massively boosted spending on these departments and across the board.
Gerson claims that the government can strengthen civil society, but as Europe shows, he has it backwards.
We should not be surprised that Reagan never was popular with the Republican Party leadership: GOP leaders consistently favored the big government conservatism of Nixon, Rockefeller, Ford, and now Bush, to Reagans small-government conservatism. Though voters and conservatives adored Reagan, GOP leaders considered his small-government idealism to be an irritating obstacle to winning votes. Voters proved those GOP leaders wrong by wide margins in 1980 and 1984, and in numerous elections since then, but Republican leaders just dont seem to learn.
Just this past November, Democrats won not by campaigning on a big-government platform but rather by accusing Republicans of wasteful pork spending and prolonged complicity in the creation of large deficits. In so doing, ironically, Democrats tapped into a profound longing of Americansa longing for limited government, balanced budgets, and fiscal responsibility.
To Gersons great dismay, most American politicians will realize sooner rather than later that pursuing small-government policies is not only the right thing to doin the United States, it makes for smart politics as well.
Jurgen Reinhoudt is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute.
Anyone who avoids seeing that "The Great Society" accomplished more destruction of the "family" in the United States than did anything else in our history is being deliberately blind and stupid.
There is such bliss and inner peace in liberalism that it's a wonder we don't all succumb. When you are liberal you never ever need to look at the consequences of your actions.
Well not to split hairs but, there isn't much difference between the two, if any.
But I think one difference is that one is a National Socialist, and the other is an International Socialist.
Which is Bush?
And his cabinet?
Yes. Sorry I forgot to add that to the caption.
It just gets worse every day.
An unsupported assertion. If one follows Jesus' teachings and the examples he and his followers set, you'd be a communist. Indeed, this is what the communistic "Liberation Theology" movement is all about.
Anytime I see the phrase "social justice" I read "Communism".
That is not correct, because Jesus never (to the best of my knowledge) advocated using government force for "acts of charity".
The difference is, socialism is backed by governments threatening force to make citizens behave a certain way. Think taxes and the government programs spawned by uwe of tax money, abolition, slavery, public education, etc.
Jesus just "threatened" denial to the kingdom of heaven.
yep, me too
I don't think the Framers "left the door open" with the Commerce Clause. I think FDR and the living document revisionists took it off at the hinges to get around the lock.
Abolition? As in slavery?
IOW you believe that freeing the slaves was a bad idea?
Say it ain't so!
This is all dependent on whose definition of "Christian" you want to use, and whose definition of "socialism" as well.
No, what I was trying to imply was that slavery was an institution protected by government law. If it wasn't for laws protecting slaveholders, slavery would have ended a lot sooner - and without a war.
Not at all. Definitions are definitions.
At least according to the Bible, Jesus never sought laws taking from one by force and giving to others (taxation).
Socialists, on the other hand, advocate nothing but.
Then there are those "Christians", the ones I mentioned and a whole lot more, who do believe in using the power of the state to attempt to rectify social problems whether any individual likes it or not.
That message worked for Reagan in 1980 and 1984, and the "GOP leaders" like that well enough. But an antigovernment message didn't work for Goldwater or for other candidates who've tried it. And even Reagan's victories didn't make the government any smaller.
I suspect people, even if they don't like Bush's budgets, don't trust "anti-government" or "anti-statist" rhetoric because they don't know what people are trying to evoke with such language or how far they are willing to go.
A majority of Americans trusted Reagan. Very few trust the Randians and Rockwellites who often make use of "antigovernment" rhetoric for radical quasi-anarchist purposes. And whatever any of us thinks of Gerson, people are right not to have much use for that extreme fringe.
OK, commie, what should conservatives (or those of any other political persuasion) offer inner-city neighborhoods? The answer is simple - we taxpayers already give too much to deadbeats. We owe the inner city NOTHING.
The time has come that stop the practice of feeding, clothing, and sheltering those that commit violence and fail to contribute in a positive way to society. Until people have to earn their own way, they will not do so.
Sorry if I sound harsh, but 5 decades of welfare has done nothing to solve the problems inherent in many inner-city neighborhoods. Expanding the program will only increase the price of non-achievement.