Re-re-posted – coblogger texas95 is in a hot debate and I thought this might be relevant.
Re-posted from January 17th. In light of the current debate over “corporate welfare”, I thought this was still topical…
Along with debates about the repeal of the Patient Protections and Affordable Health Care Act of 2010 (Obamacare) and the recent Congressional dust-up over the retention of the Bush tax rates; there has been a significant amount of discussion about the concepts of “selfishness” and “fairness”. These are items that are clearly open to debate and are fair discussion points in light of our current political and economic conditions.
Conservatives have been accused of:
- Being “selfish” due to opposition of the PPAHCA because, let’s face it, anyone who opposes paying for someone else to be healthy is just uncaring, right?
- And as far as taxes, how many times have we heard that “the rich can afford to pay more” and that “rich” people should have to pay their “fair” share. If they don’t agree to foot the bill, they are just selfish (see #1 above).
Moral vs. Legal
Selfishness and fairness are not legal concepts, there is no enshrinement of a manmade law that says being selfish is illegal, neither is there one that dictates that everything must be fair. The absence of law is that that these are moral concepts, not legal ones. In natural law, there is no such concept as “fairness” – the cougar is stronger than the rabbit, the success of the food chain and the survival of the cougar depends on it. The cougar also does not know how to be “selfish”, it eats when it is hungry and as much as it is able to catch…but animals are not burdened with morality or a soul. The realizations of both “selfishness” and “fairness” are human constructs and are based on an individual and societal point of view and an established value system, a value system that is typically based on religious beliefs. We seek to create these concepts as a matter of social interaction and civilization, essentially to protect society from the barbarity and savagery of natural law.
Author’s note: In this instance, I am not defining “religious beliefs” as adherence to a specific spiritual dogma (i.e. Christianity, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, etc), rather in the sense that religion can be defined as a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of life and the universe. These belief systems tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos and human nature and our role in it. Secularists and atheists may not believe in God or other deities and they will say that logic is their guide – then by definition, logic then becomes their “religion”.
Secularists in our modern political arena proudly trumpet the clarion call of “separation of church and state” yet seek to inject moral concepts like “selfishness” and “fairness” as a matter of legalistic fiat.
I find a remarkable intellectual inconsistency in that secularists argue creationism/intelligent design must be ignored in favor of evolution while trying to eliminate via legislation the very basis of evolution, that being natural selection or “survival of the fittest”.
It is my opinion that the Founders saw that two systems, one moral and one legal, were necessary for the maintenance of the American experiment in freedom and that they expressly constrained government through the Constitution from encroaching on the province of the moral. I believe that the wisdom of the Founders included the recognition that morality could not be legislated because it rested on the character and the belief system of the individual and to regulate morality would be an unacceptable breach of individual freedom.
Author’s note: to my friends on the right who believe that Christianity should be an express component of our government: I am a Christian; I grew up in the Methodist faith and later in life became a Southern Baptist. While my life is informed by this and guided by God, I cannot find (in my own reading and understanding) a specific admonition to include a specific religiosity. I do strongly believe that both the Declaration and the Constitution were greatly influenced by Judeo-Christian tradition and that there are many enduring Judeo-Christian ethics enshrined in these documents. It is also clear to me that they contemplated that just governance requires the existence of a moral society in parallel and that no government can overcome the consequences of an immoral society.
While there is an undeniable bias toward the exclusion of Christianity from the public sphere (several years ago, I would have used the term “religion” instead of Christianity, but we now see the active protection of Islam and its tenets under the guise of “diversity”, “tolerance” and “multiculturalism”), these concepts have a greater root in Judeo-Christian tradition than in the legalism of man.
It seems counter-intuitive but I believe that the evidence of a Judeo-Christian influence exists in the very absence of a specific reference to the majority Judeo-Christian religions of the day.
I also believe that the Founders were very wary of the dangers of a monarchy or a legalistic government made up of Philistines and these documents were written to protect INDIVIDUAL freedoms. They realized that legalism is a response to an immoral society and it only begets more legalism. Their minimalist approach to government is a tacit recognition that when one makes a law, then they often must make more to control the consequences of that law, and on and on. Legalism is the reason for the massive government agencies and the promulgation of endless rules and regulations. Attempts to codify morality are futile. Due to the infinite number of interactions and unique challenges in our individual lives, there can never be a law or rule for every situation and eventually, a legalistic society is crushed under the weight of all the laws made in that attempt.
I believe that this realization by the Founders is the most significant aspect of our unique system of government.
There will be those who say that fairness is enshrined in the Constitution. My argument would be that fairness is provided for, not specifically mandated or defined. The Constitution speaks of fairness and equal treatment with respect to governance, not societal fairness. The words “fair” or “fairness” are not present in the text of the U.S. Constitution. Even in the Declaration of Independence, you will find the express concept that “all men are created equal”, not “equality is guaranteed for life”.
Relevance to the charges levied against conservatives
It can be argued that the nexus of legality and morality exists in the creation, maintenance and expansion of the welfare state.
Conservatives oppose the welfare state because we see it as an impediment on individual freedoms, not from the aspect of taking from one who earns to give to another but for the soul wrenching, independence robbing effect that it has on the people caught up in it.
“Progressives” see the former as conservatives refusing to share our relative bounty (because they think that we benefit disproportionally from the American experiment); therefore we are “selfish”. In the latter, because we want to maintain freedom for the least fortunate of us, we want them to be free of government dependency and achieve anything that they have the ability to; we are enemies of “fairness” because we believe in equal opportunity, not equal outcomes.
Is the Welfare State Moral?
If the nexus of legality and morality truly exists in the creation, maintenance and expansion of the welfare state, then we must ask this question.
For me, it comes down to my moral code. It comes down to the Biblical admonitions of the 8th and 10th Commandments, those being: “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”
In an article for the American Spectator back in October of 2008, Robert Stacy McCain summed it up thusly:
“Whereas transactions in a market economy are voluntary and peaceful, the actions of government are essentially coercive, backed with the threat of violence to those who disobey. What government does, it does “at the point of the bayonet,” so to speak. Therefore, the fearsome power of government ought to be constrained to limited and specific purposes — defending the life, liberty and property of citizens.
When government begins to meddle in the economy, picking winners and losers, using appropriations and fiscal policy to transfer money from one group of citizens to another, it divides society into two classes, taxpayers and tax consumers, punishing the former in order to reward the latter.
Such a policy is not merely misguided, it is immoral — indeed, it is sinful, and by displaying the spectacle of government engaging daily in legalized theft, the welfare state tends to corrupt the morals of its citizens.”
As for the 10th Commandment, I can relate this to tax policy.
I know that this is a shopworn and tiring batch of statistics but this information is highly relevant to the discussion of “fairness”.
Using data from the IRS from 2008, we find that:
- The top 1%, those making $380,354 or greater paid 38.02% of all income taxes
- The top 5%, those making $159,619 or greater paid 58.72% of all income taxes
- The top 10%, those making $113,799 or greater paid 69.94% of all income taxes
- The top 25%, those making $67,280 or greater paid 86.34% of all income taxes
- The top 50%, those making $33,048 or greater paid 97.30% of all income taxes
- The bottom 50%, those making $33,048 or less paid 2.7% of all income taxes
One of the greatest dangers to our Republic (and any other democratically based society for that matter) is something that Alexis de Tocqueville and others have termed “tyranny of the majority”. There is no clearer illustration of that tyranny than in a “progressive” tax structure. In the above tabulation, it is simple math to divine that only 25% of tax filers pay 86% of all income taxes, 75% pay only 14% and the bottom 47% pay no tax (and in fact, receive transfer payments in the form of the Earned Income Credit even though they paid nothing).
Since one person equals one vote, yet support of the outcomes of those votes rests disproportionally on taxpayers, is this not tantamount to taxation without representation? Does this not mean that the votes of the lower 75% count more than the votes of the upper 25%? If the lower 75% vote in favor of something that they know that they won’t pay for (especially the 47% who bear no burden for the cost of the federal government), can that not be defined as “covetous” and a violation of the 10th Commandment?
I believe that this illustrates the basic immorality of the welfare state, how it is wrong for government to take money that one man has worked for and give it to someone who hasn’t earned it. Breaking one Commandment to honor another does not validate the action. The adherence to a moral code is an exercise in mutual exclusivity, not relativism.
The Bottom Line
I catch a lot of grief from my opponents about “seeing a commie under every rock” because of my insistence that we must resist Marxism and other forms of communism and take a lot of flak for calling policies and people socialist and Marxist but even if it is Marxism is presented incrementally and “branded” as something else, it is still Marxism. I happen to believe that the greatest danger to a Republic, the tyranny of the majority, leads to the elimination of individual freedom and a descent into a Marxist/Communist society – the end of America in everything except name.
I have been on a bit of an anti-Marxist tear lately simply because I see elements of socialist/Marxist/communist policies being accepted under the guise of being “progressive and evolutionary”, part of “modern society”, being features of “other industrialized countries” or some other emotional appeal – and all without critical examination. Right or wrong, left or right, we all should have a better understanding of policy other than “because someone said so”.
Who can argue with the propositions that:
- No person should die for lack of access to health care
- No person should go broke because of the cost of health care
- We should help those less fortunate and protect the defenseless
- We should oppose fraud and corporate financial misconduct
Reasonable people can’t…
Caring for our fellow man and promoting a healthy society does not demand that we slice off pieces of our liberty as payment for it. Words mean things but actions speak louder than any words. Look at not only what is said but what is done.
Freedom, prosperity, security and just, effective government are not mutually exclusive concepts.