Roger’s Rules

The Smuttiest Book Since Burke's Reflections on the Revolution in France?

That’s what the statistician William Briggs says about David Stove’s What’s Wrong With Benevolence: Happiness, Private Property, and the Limits of Enlightenment, which we published a few weeks ago at Encounter Books. Not, I hasten to add,that the book is in any way salacious. It’s just that your “progressive” friends, poor dears, are likely to find themselves outraged and offended by much that Stove has to say in this reflection on the Welfare State and its discontents.

Liberal sensibilities will be especially shocked by Stove’s central contention, namely that benevolence, when elevated from its proper place as a private practice to a social policy, tends to mutate from being a commendable virtue into a being a deplorable vice.

I’ve already ruminated about the evils of unchecked benevolence in this space in “The Perils of Benevolence.” Mr. Briggs adds some astute elaborations:

Benevolence is the attitude of deep caring and smug self-satisfaction that allowed, for one example from a near infinite number, marketer Kenneth Cole to issue the advertisement “What’s wrong with shoeing the homeless?” and think it a rhetorical question.

What’s wrong with it is that if you give “relief” to those that are poor, by programmatically and coercively taking from those that are not, and thus also creating an administration to store and allocate these confiscations, you do one (temporary) benevolent thing, but at least three harmful things.

The benevolent thing is easily seen: the poor person who receives the shoes, bread, house, video games, car, shopping cart, clean needles, etc., etc. is obviously immediately better off than before he had these things. It is that immediate and visible change of circumstance with which the benevoloent credit themselves and which fills them with pride and self congratulation.

But the harm that is caused . . . is far greater. First, it encourages those that are not poor to think that they needn’t work as hard as they otherwise would, because they have a “safety net” waiting to catch them. Those that are receiving “relief” are scarcely have the impetus to better themselves. “Widespread poverty cannot be relieved from the outside and, therefore, can relieved (if at all) only by industry, self-reliance, and prudence of the poor themselves.” . . .

Second, the money that is taken from those that earned it are worse off (but, we are told, they can “afford it”). Except that the money that was theirs is now in the hands of the government and not allowed to circulate in the hands of citizens. This always and necessarily contributes to economic stagnation. . . .

Which brings us to the third consequence of benevolence: an increase in government, coercion, control, mindless bureaucracy. Which, we now know, when unchecked leads to death camps, broken families and loneliness, mass starvations, gulags, coercion, firing squads, and glowing reports in the New York Times. Community or equality of property is ever promised to lead a betterment of mankind, but which in fact always leads to a worsen-ment of actual people.

Something to think about as we behold the spectacle of Barack Obama “spreading the wealth around.”