Monday, December 22, 2008

Gerson, W., & Me - John O'Sullivan

What Burke said of individuals is also true of governments: "Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there is without." If governments lack the internal restraint of a libertarian philosophy, they will indulge their appetites — including the appetite for moral self-congratulation — without limit until some external restraint such as the value of the currency or the level of interest rates finally obstructs them. 

That gloomy truth is in no way affected by directing government help through mediating institutions. Gerson argues somewhat confusingly that his stress on such institutions is an innovation within conservatism and yet something that transforms his federal compassion into a distinctly conservative thing. I won't go into all the obscurities here — Jonah? — but neither half of his seesaw argument works. As Burke's phrase "little platoons" tells us, conservatism has long stressed the vital necessity of mediating institutions in social policy broadly defined. Yet their value will be reduced and even destroyed if they become absorbed into the state machinery of largesse with all its regulations — especially if, as may now happen, that machinery starts to run out of cash.

Well, that's enough compassion. In view of all the above points, however, I think we need a word other than compassion for what Gerson is advocating. May I suggest the neologism: "Compassioneering."

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