The great humanitarian scandal

The current financial crisis elicits explanations, excuses, and blame from the full breadth of the political spectrum. There are no shortages of would-be saviors to our pallid pocketbooks, and none loom as large as government–sponsored humanitarianism. It’s a view in which the gap between the rich and poor, widened by the abuse of power, must be eradicated by government’s strong hand. Well-meaning humanitarianism is fraught with many dangers, and Herbert Schlossberg’s description of what it really does to us still applies today:

It exalts categories of weakness, sickness, helplessness, and anguish into virtues while it debases the strong and prosperous. In the country of ontological victimhood, strength is an affront. Denying the possibility of strength for the weak keeps them weak. Being freed from dependence would bring the victim back into the human family, responsible for himself and others. How much better to remain a victim, shielded from trouble and responsibility by altruism. Imposing a load of false guilt on the strong, ressentiment elicits a countering resentment that blinds them to the need of repentance for their real sins. Both poor and rich need to be made whole, but nobody can be made whole with a humanitarian understanding of his life. Poor and rich need to be reconciled, but altruism accentuates the self-righteous hypocrisies of both.

(Idols for Destruction: The Conflict of Christian Faith and American Culture, p.70)

Times like ours are ripe for making weakness into a virtue. The problem with this, of course, is that if weaknesses are seen as virtues, they have little need to be overcome.

Weakness should be seen as something to dispense of in favor of growing stronger, but the humanitarian impulse thrives upon weakness and is out of a job without it. In light of so many Americans being out of jobs themselves, we would do well not to feed the humanitarian monster. Blessed are the poor, indeed. But if poverty was really virtuous, the poor wouldn’t need blessing, would they? Better to strengthen through struggle than to keep down through luxury.

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