Charity in a Free Society

From an uncharacteristically consistent, fundamentally pro-individual rights standpoint, two authors discuss charity at the American Thinker. (I say uncharacteristically because the publication often succumbs to the classic conservative problem of ceding the premises of the left and then bickering about where the deck chairs should go.)

Andrew Foy and Brenton Stransky show their hand with their choice of title: Charity and Sacrifice in a Free Society. "Sacrifice" is the grain of salt we must take in their article, because it shows they still don't fully get that their entire argument rests on rational egoism and individualism, and that sacrifice is antithetical to that rather than being a virtue.

But if we get past that, they do an admirable job of nailing the key political issues and putting some vitally important ideas out there for their conservative brethren. After quoting Ayn Rand from "Collectivised Ethics" in The Virtue of Selfishness, they say:
The Founding Founders established a Republic under a written Constitution with the clear intent of protecting individual freedom. However, the role of our government has been grossly perverted over the last century to the point where politicians now violate individual rights routinely and without batting an eye. Most violations occur under the banner of providing for the public good, and they call upon the virtues of charity and sacrifice to garner support. Fortunately, charity and sacrifice in a free society are individual and personal undertakings. As a rule, they cannot be subject to coercion if liberty is to be maintained. The current President and various members of both political parties do not abide by this rule, and as such, they are positioning themselves as tyrants. Servitude will be the price we pay unless we stand up today and boldly defend our rights. It is time to educate the broader public on the proper role of charity and sacrifice in a free society.
Again, the confusion of including "sacrifice" in their formulation is unfortunate, but the overall point is good. And they're correct that "charity and sacrifice in a free society are individual and personal undertakings." It's just that they seem to equate charity and sacrifice, holding both as virtues, while not considering that charity can and should be a benevolently egoistic undertaking, and that sacrifice is the opposite of such benevolence.

The unfortunate confusion of their political argument is heightened when they later quote Rand again, from VoS, who of course grounds the political in the ethical:
If a man speculates on what "society" should do for the poor, he accepts thereby the collectivist premise that men's lives belong to society and that he, as a member of society, has the right to dispose of them...that psychological confession reveals the enormity of the extent to which altruism erodes men's capacity to grasp the concept of rights or the value of an individual life. [bold added]
Perhaps the authors have missed that the "charity=sacrifice=virtue" equation relies on the altruism Rand condemns, and that such concepts are antithetical to the individual rights they seem to hold so dear. (My guess is that this stems from the background of Christianity, but it's just a guess as I'm unfamiliar with the authors.)

Still, because they otherwise grasp the important points, it simply provides a good educational opportunity to point out the contradictions in their premises so they can work toward a more fully integrated and consistent philosophy of individual rights. They are making arguments on the political end of the ethics-rights-politics continuum, and they grant that charity/sacrifice can't be forced by government, so now we can ask them to follow the trail of logic back down the philosophical hierarchy and to question their ethics. They're so close. . . .
. . .Ayn Rand considered government the biggest threat to individual rights. "It holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims. When unlimited and unrestricted by individual rights, a government is men's deadliest enemy." It matters not whether its intentions are charitable.
If the authors and their readers can understand that much, one would hope they could see that it isn't just government-forced sacrifice that is wrong, but that altruism itself, in any form, is the mortal enemy of the individual rights they fight for.


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