The terrifying politics of kindness 22

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’. – Ronald Reagan

We quote from an essay titled The Case Against Liberal Compassion by William Voegeli (via PowerLine):

All conservatives are painfully aware that liberal activists and publicists have successfully weaponized compassion. “I am a liberal,” public radio host Garrison Keillor wrote in 2004, “and liberalism is the politics of kindness.” Last year [2013] President Obama said, “Kindness covers all of my political beliefs. When I think about what I’m fighting for, what gets me up every single day, that captures it just about as much as anything. Kindness; empathy—that sense that I have a stake in your success; that I’m going to make sure, just because [my daughters] are doing well, that’s not enough — I want your kids to do well also.” Empathetic kindness is “what binds us together, and . . . how we’ve always moved forward, based on the idea that we have a stake in each other’s success”.

Well, if liberalism is the politics of kindness, it follows that its adversary, conservatism, is the politics of cruelty, greed, and callousness. Liberals have never been reluctant to connect those dots. In 1936 Franklin Roosevelt said, “Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted in different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference.” In 1984 the Democratic Speaker of the House of Representatives, “Tip” O’Neill, called President Reagan an “evil” man “who has no care and no concern for the working class of America and the future generations . . . . He’s cold. He’s mean. He’s got ice water for blood”.  A 2013 Paul Krugman column accused conservatives of taking “positive glee in inflicting further suffering on the already miserable”. They were, he wrote, “infected by an almost pathological meanspiritedness . . . . If you’re an American, and you’re down on your luck, these people don’t want to help; they want to give you an extra kick.” …

Voegeli goes on to discuss, not how wrong this hugely mistaken and antagonistic view of conservatism is, but why liberalism fails; why government “kindness” is never enough to achieve its ends; why it is self-defeating.

He finds the root cause of its failure in a contradiction: that while the politician of kindness claims to be altruistic, his real motivation is self-gratification.

He recalls the words of a man who was a chief inspirer of the French Revolution:

As Jean-Jacques Rousseau wrote in Emile, “When the strength of an expansive soul makes me identify myself with my fellow, and I feel that I am, so to speak, in him, it is in order not to suffer that I do not want him to suffer. I am interested in him for love of myself.” …

We can see the problem. The whole point of compassion is for empathizers to feel better when awareness of another’s suffering provokes unease. But this ultimate purpose does not guarantee that empathizees will fare better. Barbara Oakley, co-editor of the volume Pathological Altruism, defines its subject as “altruism in which attempts to promote the welfare of others instead result in unanticipated harm.” Surprises and accidents happen, of course. The pathology of pathological altruism is not the failure to salve every wound. It is, rather, the indifference — blithe, heedless, smug, or solipsistic — to the fact and consequences of those failures, just as long as the empathizer is accruing compassion points that he and others will admire. As philosophy professor David Schmidtz has said, “If you’re trying to prove your heart is in the right place, it isn’t.”

Indeed, if you’re trying to prove your heart is in the right place, the failure of government programs to alleviate suffering is not only an acceptable outcome but in many ways the preferred one. Sometimes empathizers, such as those in the “helping professions” acquire a vested interest in the study, management, and perpetuation — as opposed to the solution and resulting disappearance — of sufferers’ problems. This is why so many government programs initiated to conquer a problem end up, instead, colonizing it by building sprawling settlements where the helpers and the helped are endlessly, increasingly co-dependent. Even where there are no material benefits to addressing, without ever reducing, other people’s suffering, there are vital psychic benefits for those who regard their own compassion as the central virtue that makes them good, decent, and admirable people — people whose sensitivity readily distinguishes them from mean-spirited conservatives. “Pity is about how deeply I can feel,” wrote the late political theorist Jean Bethke Elshtain. “And in order to feel this way, to experience the rush of my own pious reaction, I need victims the way an addict needs drugs.”

It follows, then, that the answer to the question of how liberals who profess to be anguished about other people’s suffering can be so weirdly complacent regarding wasteful, misdirected, and above all ineffective government programs created to relieve that suffering — is that liberals care about helping much less than they care about caring. Because compassion gives me a self-regarding reason to care about your suffering, it’s more important for me to do something than to accomplish something. Once I’ve voted for, given a speech about, written an editorial endorsing, or held forth at a dinner party on the salutary generosity of some program to “address” your problem, my work is done, and I can feel the rush of my own pious reaction. There’s no need to stick around for the complex, frustrating, mundane work of making sure the program that made me feel better, just by being established and praised, has actually alleviated your suffering.

This assessment also provides an answer to the question of why liberals always want a bigger welfare state. It’s because the politics of kindness is about validating oneself rather than helping others, which means the proper response to suffering is always, “We need to do more,” and never, “We need to do what we’re already doing better and smarter.” That is, liberals react to an objective reality in a distinctively perverse way. The reality is … that public expenditures to alleviate poverty, insecurity, and suffering amount to $3 trillion, or some $10,000 per American, much of it spent on the many millions of Americans who are nowhere near being impoverished, insecure, or suffering. If the point of liberalism were to alleviate suffering, as opposed to preening about one’s abhorrence of suffering and proud support for government programs designed to reduce it, liberals would get up every morning determined to reduce the proportion of that $3 trillion outlay that ought to be helping the poor but is instead being squandered in some way, including by being showered on people who aren’t poor. But since the real point of liberalism is to alleviate the suffering of those distressed by others’ suffering, the hard work of making our $3 trillion welfare state machine work optimally is much less attractive — less gratifying — than demanding that we expand it, and condemning those who are skeptical about that expansion for their greed and cruelty.

We do not dispute Voegeli’s point that the motivation behind the “politics of kindness ” is self-gratification.

But is he saying that’s all that’s wrong with them? He wants liberals to be less satisfied with their incomplete efforts and “stick around” and “make sure” the program  has actually worked. Which means that he thinks that socialism – to give the “politics of kindness” its real name – could “actually alleviate suffering”. Nowhere in this essay does he explicitly point out that it could not and should not attempt to. In fact, he considers the possibility, and while he says he does not reject the evidence for these “possibilities”, he prefers to believe it is the superficiality of the liberals who try to legislate benevolently that makes it all go wrong.

The problem with liberalism may be that no one knows how to get the government to do the benevolent things liberals want it to do. … It may also be, as conservatives have long argued, that achieving liberal goals, no matter how humane they sound, requires kinds and degrees of government coercion fundamentally incompatible with a government created to secure citizens’ inalienable rights, and deriving its just powers from the consent of the governed.

I don’t reject any of those possibilities, or deny the evidence and logic adduced in support of each. But my assessment of how the liberal project has been justified in words, and rendered in deeds, leads me to a different explanation for why, under the auspices of liberal government, things have a way of turning out so badly. I conclude that the machinery created by the politics of kindness doesn’t work very well — in the sense of being economical, adaptable, and above all effective — because the liberals who build, operate, defend, and seek to expand this machine don’t really care whether it works very well and are, on balance, happier when it fails than when it succeeds.

Which leaves open the possibility that a different set of liberals might be more sincere, work harder, and succeed where none has succeeded before. They might do it more economically and effectively.

Finally, as if nagged by a doubt that his explanation for the failures of liberalism is not sufficient after all, he mentions “beliefs that have sustained America’s republic”, and “those moral virtues and political principles necessary to sustain it further”, without saying what they are:

Those of us accused of being greedy and cruel, for standing athwart the advance of liberalism and expansion of the welfare state, do have things to say, then, in response to the empathy crusaders. Compassion really is important. … But compassion is neither all-important nor supremely important in morals and, especially, politics. It is nice, all things being equal, to have government officials who feel our pain rather than ones who, like imperious monarchs, cannot comprehend or do not deign to notice it. Much more than our rulers’ compassion, however, we deserve their respect — for us; our rights; our capacity and responsibility to feel and heal our own pains without their ministrations; and for America’s carefully constructed and heroically sustained experiment in constitutional self-government, which errs on the side of caution and republicanism by denying even the most compassionate official a monarch’s plenary powers.

Kindness … doesn’t begin to cover all the beliefs that have sustained America’s republic, however. Nor does it amount to a safe substitute for those moral virtues and political principles necessary to sustain it further.

The principles he does not name are the ingredients of the constitution of liberty. And they are incompatible with – in fact, totally exclude – the “moral virtues” and principles of socialism.

No government should take from you what you have earned and give it to others as socialism requires. To do so is not only unkind but unjust. Who is being kind when a government takes from you what you have earned and gives it to someone else? It is not kindness but tyranny.

It has been proved amply over the last hundred years that the more government interferes in the lives of the people “for their own good”, ever expanding as it seizes ever more power, the more miserable and impoverished the people become. Or to put it succinctly, as a hard rule: The fatter the government, the thinner the people.

Obama’s record alone is enough to prove this rule.

Those who claim to know better than you do what is good for you, will impose that “good” on you whether you like it or not. What they want is the power to control you, not your happiness.

The truly good government protects you with the law from being harmed by others, but leaves you free to do yourself good or harm.

The saying of Jean-Jacques Rousseau that Voegeli quotes is honest-sounding, and on the surface of it, strong advocacy for the politics of “kindness”. But what happened in reality when the Fellow Man rejected the good that was being thrust upon him by the Rousseau-inspired re-organizers of society? He had to be forced to accept it. Dissent and disobedience had to be punished with death. Rousseau, through his ardent admirer Robespierre, was also the chief inspirer of the Terror which immediately followed the revolution. The guillotine became the most effective instrument of what our contemporary American organizers of society like to think of as the Politics of Kindness.

  • “Asinine”, Stephen? Not a piece of poop being thrown? Jealousy, bitterness, resentment, hatred will get you nowhere.

  • Stephen

    Blah, blah, BLAH! You know what the problem is? People keep attributing evil motivations to everyone who disagrees with them. An endless, nauseating poop-throwing fight.

    Maybe, just maybe, liberals really do want kinder policies … and they simply disagree with you on what’s best for the country. Is that so hard to imagine? Or do conservatives take so much comfort in this cartoon-villain image of liberals that they simply can’t even attempt to see liberals any other way?

    • There, there, Stephen! We know y’all on the Left are feeling low and bewildered at the moment, when the nation has just emphatically rejected your ideology and snatched away a huge chunk of your power. Have a good howl, and then, when you are calmer, sit down and think quietly about it. You are quite sure in your own mind that you only wanted to do good. That the government you elected was REALLY, REALLY acting in the best interests of all us chillun. Then a majority of the kids get fed up and rebellious against all that good that’s being done them – all those millions suddenly finding themselves surviving only on food stamps; all those millions more who cannot find a job; all those millions who gave up looking for one and dropped out of the work force; all those who resented being spied on by the NSA; all those patriots who were horrified by the abandonment of the brave Americans in Benghazi; all those vets who were denied treatment in their hospitals; all those upright citizens who were persecuted by the IRS, and those others by the EPA; and ever so many more, too many to list here. They failed to appreciate that you meant well. That your government meant well. That the only people you actually intended to make poorer were the rich who could so easily afford to have their wealth reduced by that sweet-natured government so it could give more food stamps to the poor. How could you have foreseen the consequences of such generous redistribution? No one ever told you that it would lead to a general impoverishment and the deep indebtedness of the nation. Hayek? Who he? Milton Friedman? You never heard of him. You listened to Paul Krugman and he said it would be okay, it was the right way to go. And now unfeeling beasts like us are crowing over your mistakes. We’re more concerned with saving the country than understanding your feelings and showing a little empathy with your good intentions. Howling again? We’ll have to leave you to it and be on our way. We’re off to work, smiling as we sniff freedom in the air again at last.

      A word more on parting: How well your comment illustrates the point of our post!

      • Stephen

        That was one of the most bombastic, asinine things I’ve ever read, thanks! 🙂

        • liz

          a little poop-throwing, there?

          • Stephen

            And your comment was not?

            • liz

              Could you kindly point out to me where it was?

            • “Asinine”? Not a piece of poop being thrown? Jealousy, bitterness, resentment, hatred will get you nowhere, Stephen.

        • Don L

          The only one posting here that is asinine is yourself. Bombastic? From the lofty position of rationality, reason and accurate analysis and conclusion she speaks condescendingly to you as you deserve.

          Ignorance, Stephen, is denying something, which you know nothing about, and refusing to learn anything about it.

          In 1893, about the time Marx’s socilaistic ideas were gaing popularity with the uneducated and dupicitous politicians, Eugen Richter wrote a NOVEL titled “A Picture of a Socialist Future”. Again, in 1893…30 years before any nation or region in the world ever adopted any form of socialist economic policy/government…it was SCIENCE FICTION of its day. You can get a copy of the book in PDF format FREE here: http://mises.org/sites/default/files/Pictures%20of%20the%20Socialistic%20Future_Vol_2_2.pdf

          Richter was a German liberal (when liberal meant conservative) who precisely and accurately predicted just what governing according to the liberal (today’s meaning of government as a gun to steal from some to give to others) would be like to live under and how it would fail after destroyng wealth, killing millions and ripping families apart He has been proven correct time-after-time as one after another soccialist government has failed and is failing.

          My point, we conservatives understand history and have studied why socialism fails…we know why liberal ideologies can never ever work…dare say it’s been understood since 1893.

          You, on the other hand, continue to adhere to failure and the notion that it’s OK to steal just because you think something ‘SHOULD’. Government SHOULD do, we SHOULD do, there SHOULDn’t be, etceteras.

          What you fail to comprehend is that you cannot legislate IS into SHOULD. Reality IS!!!

          The very idea that a person, Chairmman and Board, committee, commission, panel, bureacrat or likewise can ever manage any part or all of an economy to achieve any designed outcome of SHOULD is an absurd impossibility. Yet, you think it is…prove any program undertaken by government has worked. Please, prove how your vision works…be precise. We can be precise in demonstarting free market capitalism. We can be precise in demonstrating exactly why your ideas always fail. So, Please prove your case!!!

          Incidently, here are two quick reads you will find informative should you choose to learn about that which you don’t know and deny (all FREE): “I, Pencil” – Leanard Read — http://mises.org/library/i-pencil “The Pretense of Knowledge” – Friedrich A Hayek
          http://mises.org/library/pretense-knowledge

          You, Stephen are too ignorant to know you don’t know. You are a conditioned and Pavlovian-like stooge for a ruling-class that employs the emotional appeal of “SHOULD” to attract the uneducated (doing well in compulsory schooling isn’t being educated) to be used for their benefit…no love of humanity in the true motives.

          I’m shoving the poop in your face Stephen…prove anything you stand for with specifics…not emotional, inconsistent, contradictory or circular droppings. You can’t. And, back in 1893…Eugen Richter even knew, that today, you’re not be able to. Ask questions rather than throw stuff anf learn. Ortherwise…stay and empty plaything for your lefty leaders…LOL, such a dunce.

          PS. Kinder policies. Nobody desires poverty, hunger or any other manner of economic disaster on anyone else. The question is, how best to accomplish it…is it not? Your way has failed notoriouslly across time and across the world. Start here to discover the way that actually works (again, FREE): Lwellyn Rockwell, Jr — “Why Austrian Economics Matters”: http://mises.org/sites/default/files/why_ae.pdf

    • liz

      Actually we do see some of them, like you, as their dupes.

  • REALBEING

    “He finds the root cause of its failure in a contradiction: that while the
    politician of kindness claims to be altruistic, his real motivation is
    self-gratification.”

    Nature’s Rule Number Two covering Self-Sufficiency: No one ever does anything for someone else……….ONLY. There must always be “the payoff” for the enabler. And most of the time the deed is meant more for the enabler, not the enabled. Altruism’s end is in this payoff for the helper.

    Their subliminal message to the “down-trodden” is “You’re not good enough to do anything for yourself, so I will do this for you!”

  • Don L

    To begin, a small but important point:

    William Voegeli uses the word INalienable at one point in his essay. This is the liberal misdirection usurping the Declaration’s word UNalienable. The difference, UNalienable means can NEVER, even by one’s self, be severed whereas INalienable allows government to take and one’s self to relinquish rights. Interestingly, Jefferson initially used the expression ‘inherent and INalienable’ in the 1st draft but intentionally and knowingly changed it to the all inclusive UNalienable for the final version of the Declaration of Independence. Liberals do the same technique with Democracy for Republic and with indivisible in the Pledge of Allegiance…to name a few of their word tricks.

    Now, what a great article and, most importantly, what outstanding analysis!!!

    Correctly asserted, it doesn’t matter the leanings or mindset of those who would attempt to use government to implement any plan…it is the very nature of government that assures its failure and often with tragic unintended consequences. Ludwig von Mises book “Bureaucracy”, written in 1944 ( download FREE http://mises.org/document/875/Bureaucracy ), lays out point by point why government programs, irrespective of economic princiles, fail. Of course, the liberals, like the religious right, don’t care…only the thought counts.

    Ludwig von Mises, ten years later, turned his attention as to why liberals/socialists/collectivists hate capitalism. His findings are probably more relevant today than back in 1954: “The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality” ( download FREE http://mises.org/document/1164/The-AntiCapitalistic-Mentality )

    The reality is that liberals like theists…they are hooked…addicted. Rationality and reason are enemies of their habit. They love to love…themselves and power.

  • Don L

    To begin, a small but important point:

    William Voegeli uses the word INalienable at one point in his essay. This is the liberal misdirection usurping the Declaration’s word UNalienable. The difference, UNalienable means can NEVER, even by one’s self, be severed whereas INalienable allows government to take and one’s self to relinquish rights. Interestingly, Jefferson initially used the expression ‘inherent and INalienable’ in the 1st draft but intentionally and knowingly changed it to the all inclusive UNalienable for the final version of the Declaration of Independence. Liberals do the same technique with Democracy for Republic and with indivisible in the Pledge of Allegiance…to name a few of their word tricks.

    Now, what a great article and, most importantly, what outstanding analysis!!!

    Correctly asserted, it doesn’t matter the leanings or mindset of those who would attempt to use government to implement any plan…it is the very nature of government that assures its failure and often with tragic unintended consequences. Ludwig von Mises book “Bureaucracy”, written in 1944 ( download FREE http://mises.org/document/875/Bureaucracy ), lays out point by point why government programs, irrespective of economic princiles, fail. Of course, the liberals, like the religious right, don’t care…only the thought counts.

    Ludwig von Mises, ten years later, turned his attention as to why liberals/socialists/collectivists hate capitalism. His findings are probably more relevant today than back in 1954: “The Anti-Capitalistic Mentality” ( download FREE http://mises.org/document/1164/The-AntiCapitalistic-Mentality )

    The reality is that liberals like theists…they are hooked…addicted. Rationality and reason are enemies of their habit. They love to love…themselves and power.

  • liz

    This kind of “compassion” is not just misplaced – it’s a lie.
    Accumulating power and control by perpetuating the poverty and dependence of others is not compassion of any kind – but the term “pathological” certainly fits. It’s closer to the deranged mentality of a “hoarder”, who keeps a houseful of near starving animals in filthy conditions while imagining himself to be a rescuer and benefactor to them.
    This is who we have controlling our country. Either deranged and delusional morons, or something worse – liars who have no illusions at all, to whom we citizens are merely expendable tools used in the acquisition of power.

    • Don L

      You got it! De-career & Un-party DC: term limits, repeal 17 and End the FED…

      Mid-terms today…fingers crossed.

      • REALBEING

        After watching the Republicans win the Senate last night, I think that we will be seeing one very large victim in the White House for the rest of his term.

        I also think that Obama will make good on the statement he made a while back, using his “Executive Order” pen and telephone in retaliation, as his order of the day……

        • REALBEING: I too think he will. But if he does, it will be in plain defiance of the so-recently expressed will of the people. He might fear for his “legacy”, the reputation he wants in history. If he really thinks history is “on the side” of his sort of “progressivism”, as he has often said it is, then he’ll use the time left to him to press his far left agenda forward. But if he’s afraid of what will be said of him in the near future, if he doesn’t want to be hated – and he has a very thin skin and a very big ego – then he might have the sense to work with the Republican-dominated legislature, at least to some extent.

          • REALBEING

            I think that we have the smuggest man in history as president, Jillian.

            Listening to his speech today, this thought was verified in my mind.

            I don’t think that he will let the mandate voted for by the majority affect his ideas very much at all………

            Barack Hussein Obama is an epic example of some who is a “Legend In His Own Mind.”

            • liz

              Yes, and part of that Legend is to be the future ruler of a Caliphate. He’s aiding and abetting the enemy, and all he has to do is keep us distracted till they conquer.

          • Don L

            Probably as you typed that, Obama gave a press conference and it was amazing how delusional this man is. And, he said he’s going to act on amnesty (in so many words) if he doesn’t get exactly what he wants from Congress on a “comprehensive” bill. Of course, veto anything repealing any part of Obamacare. I suspect he will do scorched earth going away.

    • Don L

      You got it! De-career & Un-party DC: term limits, repeal 17 and End the FED…

      Mid-terms today…fingers crossed.

  • liz

    This kind of “compassion” is not just misplaced – it’s a lie.
    Accumulating power and control by perpetuating the poverty and dependence of others is not compassion of any kind – but the term “pathological” certainly fits. It’s closer to the deranged mentality of a “hoarder”, who keeps a houseful of near starving animals in filthy conditions while imagining himself to be a rescuer and benefactor to them.
    This is who we have controlling our country. Either deranged and delusional morons, or something worse – liars who have no illusions at all, to whom we citizens are merely expendable tools used in the acquisition of power.