The Downfall of Compassionate Conservatism

tragedycompassionUntil 60 or 70 years ago, when Americans hit hard times and needed help, they helped each other. 

There were no government programs, there were no handouts, there were no welfare checks, just private individuals, family, charities and churches helping people in need.

This system

Marvin Olasky, author of The Tragedy of American Compassion, writes about the failure of President Bush’s efforts to promote “compassionate conservatism.”

Now I and many others have always had a big problem with the term “compassionate conservatism.”  

Conservatism is the most compassionate political ideology in existence, unlike liberalism which promotes a faux “compassion” supported by government theft from those who produce and characterized by inadequate verification and oversight.

Conservatism recognizes the need for each of us to work hard, carry our own weight, and owe no one anything other than the debt of love for our fellow man.  And in those times when events beyond our control place us in need of assistance, conservatives recognize that this is the responsibility of people, not government.  This much is obvious, in that our government is one of enumerated powers.  This means if the federal government is not empowered to do a thing by Article 1 Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, it is not legal for the government to do it.  The founders made it clear to us that the federal government has no power or responsibility with regard to charity, compassion and wealth redistribution:

– A wise and frugal government…shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. – Thomas Jefferson

– To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it. — Thomas Jefferson 

– Congress has not unlimited powers to provide for the general welfare, but only those specifically enumerated. – Thomas Jefferson

– The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.” — John Adams 

– [Congressional jurisdiction of power] is limited to certain enumerated objects, which concern all the members of the republic, but which are not to be attained by the separate provisions of any.” – James Madison

– The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined . . . to be exercised principally on external objects, as war, peace, negotiation, and foreign commerce.” – James Madison  

– With respect to the two words ‘general welfare,’ I have always regarded them as qualified by the detail of powers connected with them. To take them in a literal and unlimited sense would be a metamorphosis of the Constitution into a character which there is a host of proofs was not contemplated by its creators. – James Madison

– I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents. – James Madison

– Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government. – James Madison

– We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right so to appropriate a dollar of the public money. — Congressman Davy Crockett

Most of the founders were learned Christians who held a Christian worldview which informed their public policy perceptions and decisions. The Bible also points to a private charity model where the responsibility for helping those in need falls to family, friends and church.

The Bible also reveals why this model of compassion is best: fallen human nature indicates some people will attempt to abuse compassionate outreach, but those closest to them (e.g. family, friends, church) will be in the best position to determine the genuine need, and provide or withhold “compassion” as appropriate.

– If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold. (Leviticus 25:25)

– Do not show favoritism to a poor man in his lawsuit (Exodus 23:3)

– Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly. (Leviticus 19:15)

– If a man will not work, he shall not eat. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

– These should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family (1 Timothy 5:4)

– As for younger widows, do not put them on such a list…they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house (1 Timothy 5:13)

– If any woman who is a believer has widows in her family, she should help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need. (1 Timothy 5:16)

But back to Olasky’s piece.

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2 Responses to “The Downfall of Compassionate Conservatism”

  1. Forget “conservatism,” please. It has been, operationally, de facto, Godless and therefore irrelevant. Secular conservatism will not defeat secular liberalism because to God both are two atheistic peas-in-a-pod and thus predestined to failure. As Stonewall Jackson’s Chief of Staff R.L. Dabney said of such a humanistic belief more than 100 years ago:

    “[Secular conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today .one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt bath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth.”

    Our country is collapsing because we have turned our back on God (Psalm 9:17) and refused to kiss His Son (Psalm 2).

    John Lofton, Editor,
    Recovering Republican
    [email protected]