I want to first wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving. Take time to count your blessings.
While I was driving in my car one day, I switched to SiriusXM Left on the radio to hear what was being discussed by those with whom I usually have sharp ideological disagreements. They were talking about community and how when a community works together in harmony, the people within it can achieve so much. I believe one of the community topics specifically was about farming and buying locally grown produce.
I found myself agreeing nearly everything that was being said. It was great. Our viewpoints are usually in vehement opposition, so to find some real common ground gave me a bit of hope. Someone shared a story of how her family and neighbors were instrumental in helping her attend college and achieve success in life.
But then, the conversation turned. The line of logic that was used followed very similarly to this: community is great and helps each of us, so it is government’s responsibility to help everyone.
In other words, the claim was that government (i.e. the state) and community are the same.
I see this as a fundamental problem of our times. Reliance on the state relaxes any feeling of duty to help your fellow man. And while I don’t believe that there is a “social contract” that requires any actual duty to surrender property to anyone else (unless under the permission of your free will), most people do want to help those who are less fortunate. When the state takes over providing help to people as well as spend money on a myriad of other programs, they do so by first taking money from others. Throughout history, the state has shown an inability to accomplish their goals and unfortunately leaves people without enough money to adequately help the poor under their own voluntary actions. Even worse, there are people who feel that the state’s actions are the only solution, thus completely adequate, and so any further action would be unnecessary. These are the people who would then accuse people like me of not having any interest in helping those who need it.
This is where one of the great Frederick Bastiat quotes from The Law becomes so relevant:
Socialism, like the ancient ideas from which it springs, confuses the distinction between government and society. As a result of this, every time we object to a thing being done by government, the socialists conclude that we object to its being done at all.
It makes arguing in favor of government intervention all the easier when you paint your opponent as heartless or evil.
What’s even more worrisome is the question that F.A. Hayek asks Professor E.H. Carr in The Road to Serfdom (p. 198):
But from the glimpses one gets of the character of the future society which he contemplates, it also appears quite to be on the totalitarian model. Sometimes one even wonders whether the resemblance is accidental or deliberate. Does Professor Carr, for example, realize, when he asserts that “we can no longer find much meaning in the distinction familiar to nineteenth-century thought between ‘society’ and ‘state,’” that this is precisely the doctrine of Professor Carl Schmitt, the leading Nazi theoretician of totalitarianism and, in fact, the essence of the definition of totalitarianism which that author has given to that term which he himself had introduced?
Now, it goes without saying that I’m not accusing mainstream liberals and progressives of advocating for a Nazi-style government. However, Hayek does point out extensive similarities between these schools of thought.
The point of quoting these pieces from The Law and The Road to Serfdom is to show these feelings of equivalency of community and the state are by no means new, but instead have been recycled throughout history.
A community can be your family or a group of friends. It can be a church community or a community of neighbors.
Communities are borderless and are joined and left voluntarily. And while your town can be a part of your community, disassociating yourself from that community does not mean you have to pack up and move out of the town. Members of communities have personal relationships among the individuals that geographically state-imposed social constructions cannot ever hope to achieve.
This is why communities are best equipped to deal with those who have some sort of need. The more intimate relationships have a much better view of the real issues that a person is dealing with than the state and its necessarily blind bureaucracy. If I have a family member who can’t make ends meet because he’s a drug addict or is blowing all of his money on completely unnecessary items, the rest of the family and me likely would not offer much assistance to him until he proves that his own bad decisions are not the cause of his poor lot in life.
So in a nutshell, a community would see to it that those who legitimately need assistance will get it while those who do not will not get it. It is the community’s (but really each individual’s) time, money, and resources that go into helping, so they’re going to make for certain that their time, money, and resources aren’t wasted. It is the essence of true charity.
When the state attempts to do the same, they resort to making you help whether you want to or not. They have no idea who either the sources of the resources or the recipients are. And since it is not their own time and money being used, their level of investment is minimal.
The danger is that as we continue to view community and the state as the same, the will of the state becomes the will of the community. The community in its pure form is voluntary, while the state, of course, is involuntary.