Arthur Brooks, Professor of Public Administration at Syracuse University has discovered something counter-intuitive: Conservatives are more charitable than Liberals. His new book is called Who Really Cares, and it analyses charitable giving along political lines. In an excerpt found on his webpage he writes,
The data tell us that the conventional wisdom is dead wrong. In most ways, political conservatives are not personally less charitable than political liberals—they are more so.
I feel, intuitively, that he is right. Knowing religious (notice I’m equating the religious with conservatives, but that’s ok) people as I’ve grown up, they do seem to be more “civically engaged”. Not only in their church activities, but also in things like the 4-H club, student government and other various activities on my public school campus.
Though Brooks makes it clear at the outset that government spending is not charity – and in this I agree – I think he downplays the Liberal case against charity and for state expenditures toward the same ends. Liberals believe that charity is more or less an addendum to the main work of mandating “charity” through acts of government. Private Charity, you see, offers help with strings attached or with too narrow a focus. Like the Liberal (or 1st generation Progressive) case against Mutal Aid Societies from the days of yore, private giving is stifled by preferences toward people of the same religion or ethnicity. It’s parochial. And even when this isn’t the case, the mission of conversion or of some goal generally unrelated to purely material wellbeing rubs many secular humanists the wrong way. (These are important critiques – and Brooks shows that this isn’t necessarily the case for Conservatives – but that’s for another discussion.)
Thus, a Liberal might counter Brooks by saying that political activism and agitation on behalf of a more noble public policy should be considered charity par excellence, as it supposedly overcomes the narrow and divisive forms of charity at the grassroots level. Though I disagree, seeing as how the voluntary act of charity turned coercive by an act of government can’t magically bring it to existence a suddenly nicer and more other-oriented human being, I bring up the Liberal counterargument for more or less Devil’s Advocate purposes. If people can’t do it willingly, then it says something about the very people who will be trusted to oversee monies theoretically meant for the poor. Human compassion can’t be brought about by fiat.
But let it be better said by a women far more intelligent than myself, via a fellow Left-Lib traveller.
William Gillis, at his superb blog Human Iterations, recently posted a long forgotten debate by prominent Individualist Anarchist (at least for a portion of her life) Voltairine de Cleyre and Communist Anarchist Rosa Slobodinsky. A portion of the dialogue related to the above is found below:
COM.: “What! You will have the weak person suffer because he is weak? He may need as much, or more, than a strong one, but if he is not able to produce it what becomes of his equality?”
INDV.: “I have nothing against your dividing your product with the weaker man if you desire to do so.”
COM.: “There you are with charity again. Communism wants no charity.”
INDV.: I have often marveled on the singularity of Communistic mathematics. My act you call charity, our act is not charity. If one person does a kind act you stigmatize it; if one plus one, summed up and called a commune, does the same thing, you laud it By some species of alchemy akin to the transmutation of metals, the arsenic of charity becomes the gold of justice! Strange calculation! Can you not see that you are running from a bugaboo again? You change the name, but the character of an action is not altered by the number of people participating in it.”
UPDATE: After having flipped through his book at work, I see he doesn’t exactly “downplay” the Liberal case against charity, but explores it pretty thoroughly. (Not that there isn’t more to be said, I’m sure, by some of the people he criticizes, such as Ralph Nader.)