Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of excerpts from the book “The War in Heaven Continues: Satan’s Tactics to Destroy You, Christianity, the Family, the Constitution, and America” by Gary Lawrence.
Next week: The Cancerous Administrative State
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“You work and I’ll eat,” has long been a phrase attributed to old hereditary aristocracies. It is fast becoming a phrase of the lazy in non-aristocratic ranks targeted at the productive. Facilitated by government aristocracy.
If a man is hungry and you give him a sandwich, it’s a moral transaction and both of you feel good. But if a third party forces you to give the man a sandwich, the food result is the same the man gets a sandwich but the moral result is vastly different. You resent it, the recipient soon comes to expect another sandwich, and the third party, who doesn’t give a sandwich of his own, rides off proclaiming himself to be a morally wonderful human being.
The author of this example, Dinesh D’Souza, continues, “Whenever the government is involved, there is an element of compulsion, and the effect of compulsion is always to strip the virtue out of the transaction.”
Free food fills the tummy, but corrodes the soul. Here’s why.
Hunger and agency
When Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden, their first concern was getting enough to eat in a lone and dreary world where food did not spontaneously grow on trees. As their posterity multiplied, two opposing thoughts arose that continue to this day:
- I will get enough to eat by my own labors
- I will get enough to eat by taking from the labors of others
As mankind organized, almost all societies developed rules against the latter. Frederic Bastiat, 19th century French economist-philosopher, laid it out this way:
- Life, liberty, and property are gifts from God, precede all human legislation, and are superior to it.
- Man seeks to satisfy his desires with the least possible pain.
- Man can satisfy his wants by labor. This is the origin of property.
- Man can also satisfy his wants by consuming the products of the labor of others. This is the origin of plunder.
- Man will resort to plunder when it is easier than work.
- Plunder stops only when it becomes more painful and dangerous than labor.
- The law is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense.
- The proper use of law is to protect property and punish plunder.
There are two types of plunder. If an individual takes someone’s fruits of labor, the law punishes this obvious illegal plunder. But what if the law itself “takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong”? Such can only be called legal plunder stealing under color of authority.
Now here’s the threat to agency and the individual. The most popular fallacy of our time, Bastiat writes, is that the law should not only be just, but must be philanthropic. “These two uses of the law are in direct contradiction to each other. We must choose between them. A citizen cannot at the same time be free and not free.” One cannot use the law both to protect liberty and advance fraternity; the latter will destroy the former.
A Midwestern governor tweaked his opponents, “When you die and go to heaven, St. Peter is probably not going to ask you what you did to keep government small. But he is going to ask you what you did for the poor.” Nice debate tactic, but it falsely implies that helping the poor is directly correlated with the size of government, and that only government can provide resources. The role of agency and individual benevolence is conveniently ignored.
If God’s purposes for hunger are to be realized, helping others must be voluntary. If voluntary, the poor are fed and the givers enjoy the growth that comes from exercising agency. Both feel thankful for their blessings food for one and sufficiency to give for the other. If, on the other hand, helping is not voluntary but dictated by authoritarian leaders, the poor may still get fed (minus oh-so-reasonable administrative fees), but who grows? No one. The conscripted giver, unable to exercise agency, is resentful, and the recipient, not knowing whom to thank, in time views the gift as an entitlement for which he need not work.
The Church welfare difference
Now compare the Church welfare program to the give-em-money-and-food-stamps approach of government. Why does Church welfare work so well while government welfare is so wasteful?
Two reasons: First, our goal is to help people out of poverty; feeding them is just the first step. We are goal focused, not process focused, and we are guided by a direct commandment: “Thou shalt not be idle; for he that is idle shall not eat the bread nor wear the garments of the laborer.”
Second, we do not work from a formula that so much income, so many assets, so many dependents determines welfare. We insert the judgment of a real person into the mix who can take into account attitude, motivation, education, marketable skills, etc. and can determine what will best assist that person. Many bishops judges in Israel discover they handle cases that may appear identical to an outside observer, but, because they are working with the deeper person and not surface requirements, have been prompted to help one through a food order and the other through different means. Yet both are helped toward self-sufficiency.
The Church system involves a real person making a qualitative judgment instead of an apparatchik checking boxes in a formula; involves others to help the member improve his marketable skills; provides for on-going assessments of need; and works with the person so he, exercising his agency, is led to solve his own problem.
Welfare that does not require something from the recipient robs people of dignity, but also and more importantly, robs them of their agency and their chance to progress and become what their Father in heaven wants them to be.
Bastiat hammers this home like a gospel doctrine teacher:
But when the law, by means of its necessary agent, force, imposes upon men a regulation of labor, a method or a subject of education, a religious faith or creed then the law substitutes the will of the legislator for [people’s] own initiatives. When this happens, the people no longer need to discuss, to compare, to plan ahead; the law does all this for them. Intelligence becomes a useless prop for the people; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.
One nibble at a time.
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Gary Lawrence is a public opinion pollster and author who lives in Orange County, California. He welcomes comments at [email protected].
 Dinesh D’Souza, Oregon State University debate, October 8, 2012
 Frederic Bastiat, The Law, Foundation for Economic Education, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York, 5-9
 Bastiat, 16
 Wall Street Journal, August 15, 2013, A4
 D&C 42:42
 Bastiat, 19-20