Last time we responded to a recent article in Commentary by Peter Wehner forwarding the notion that a just government is one which cares for people who can’t take care of themselves. This sounds reasonable but as we’ve seen, empowering government to redistribute wealth destroys the delicate balance of force required to render Government a safe repository of our civil rights.
How then to deal with the second part of his argument?
A society ought to be judged on whether the weak and disadvantaged are cared for or exploited. And a just society is incompatible with one where government doesn’t care for people who can’t care for themselves.
Hopefully all men of goodwill would agree with his premise as expressed in the first sentence. His conclusion however is a non sequitur and demonstrably false. One can easily imagine a society where the helpless are well cared for and the government isn’t involved at all. Wouldn’t that society deserved to be called just? Besides, the subject at hand is government not society, and a government that it is empowered to take from the rich to give to the poor can in no way be called just. Robin Hood’s heart was in the right place, but he was a still a thief.
To conflate Society with Government is to confuse master with slave. In our constitutional republic it is society which controls the government; the objects and limit of that control proscribed by the Constitution. Society may use the instrument of government to limit the liberty of its citizens only to the extent that such limitations do not impinge on the rights the majority has agreed all citizens possess. Entitlement programs funded from the public purse are violative of this foundational principle. As we showed in Part 1, expenditures for this purpose are not constitutionally authorized precisely because they are counter to the purpose for which our government was instituted in the first place. Society may not use government for this noble cause even if the majority wishes to do so anymore than society can use the government to curtail political speech the majority finds offensive. This is not abstract political philosophy. We’ve been running the counter-experiment for 75 years and the results are in.
Since 1937, when the three branches of the federal government colluded to break out of their constitutional straight jacket, using the General Welfare clause as a pretext to provide our representatives with the power to pander, we’ve seen the slow demise of our democratic processes. Half the population now receives federal assistance of some sort and nearly half pay no federal income tax. We are nearing the tipping point Cicero warned would be the death of democracy, when the majority realizes they can vote themselves benefits from the public treasure with no incentive towards restraint. Massive, unsustainable debt has been the predictable result. A government which has placed a 200 trillion dollar burden on the generations yet to come (who had no say in the matter) in no way deserves to be called just, nor the society which allowed this to occur. The irony is that those who advocate for an ever expanding safety net (as if life itself were some sort of high wire act) think they are on the side of the angels.
What role does Government have in caring for the indigent? Absolutely none. Edmund Burke put this question to rest long ago.
Whenever it happens that a man can claim nothing according to the rules of commerce, and the principles of justice, he passes out of that department, and comes within the jurisdiction of mercy. In that province the magistrate has nothing at all to do: his interference is a violation of the property which it is his office to protect. Without all doubt, charity to the poor is a direct and obligatory duty upon all Christians, next in order after the payment of debts, full as strong, and by nature made infinitely more delightful to us. […] But the manner, mode, time, choice of objects, and proportion, are left to private discretion; and perhaps, for that very reason it is performed with the greater satisfaction, because the discharge of it has more the appearance of freedom;
Edmund Burke, Thoughts and Details on Scarcity, 1795
Charity is a private affair. So must it ever remain if our republic is to survive.