Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Liberty is Community

My family meets regularly with a discussion group that covers all things related to the topic of liberty.  I learn a lot from these discussions, and our last meeting was no exception.  A new member of the group brought up something that really got me thinking.  He stated that he thought that people should have their basic human needs taken care of:  food, clothing, shelter, etc.  After a little bit of discussion, it became apparent that he was a very compassionate person who was concerned that without at least minimal government intervention, people who are poor or unable to care for themselves would be abandoned with no one to take care of them.

Interesting question, isn't it?  At least I thought so.  Think about it for a minute.  What if there was no government?  Is it really true that without government as we now know it, masses of people would find themselves starving and homeless?  I have to confess that for a while now, this has been a conundrum for me in evaluating my beliefs about government.  Although I disagree with most, if not all, of the actions of current governments, deep-down I had the same concerns as my new discussion group friend.  Without some kind of government structure, where is the justice for the weakest members of society?  Wouldn't a stateless society be a world where the strong oppress the weak and chaos reigns?  It would be survival-of-the-fittest with the weak and powerless simply being left to die, right?

Let me stop for a second and define my terms.  When I say "government" or "the state", I'm not merely talking about leadership or organization, I'm talking about a group of people in a society who have the ability to use force to control the behavior of others in the society.  Maybe others would define it differently, but for the purposes of this discussion that's what I'm referring to here.  Does a society require someone with guns to force them to care for others, or could a completely free society accomplish this?  What is actually necessary in a society to assure that people's basic needs are met?

I have a hard time with big, philosophical questions like this unless I have a practical example, so during our discussion group and afterward I was thinking of people I know who have fallen on hard times and needed help, and times when I've received help from others myself.  I was thinking about what happens when we help each other compared to what happens when government steps in.

The first example I thought of is a good friend of mine who is a single mom of three little ones.  We get together often and I have at times raided my pantry and sent her home with some extra groceries, or we have had their family over for a meal.  I buy in bulk for my large family, so I can share some of my savings with her.  I suppose I could just pay my taxes and she could just go get food stamps, which she could easily qualify for, but I think we would both miss out on a blessing if we relied on government to help.  One really cool thing I would miss out on is the fact that my friend is a much better cook than I am and she cooks for us when we eat together!  She also likes to clean and has even been known to come over and clean my bathroom, which for someone like me, whose love language is "acts of service", is the ultimate expression of love!  The point is, by helping each other, we build relationships and community, something that government can't accomplish by simply handing out checks.

Another example is an online friend of mine who shared a story about a time when her husband was out of work and they had very little food in their house.  A neighbor, suspecting that they were out of food, actually called social services to tattle on them.  A social worker showed up at their door and told them that if they didn't sign up for government assistance their children would be removed from the home.  The social worker gave her a ride and helped her fill out the paperwork to avoid having her children taken away.

This story is bizarre on many levels, but it showed me how messed up things get when we become accustomed to relying on government to meet basic needs.  Do you suppose my friend's neighbor even considered the idea of dropping off a bag of groceries instead of reporting her?  How about the social worker who gave her a ride and helped her with paperwork?  Do you think it crossed her mind to give her a ride to the store instead and buy her some food?  How do you suppose it made my friend feel to have this experience compared to how she would have felt if someone would have met her need without involving government?

When I look at these examples, it seems obvious to me that government can't do what community and relationships can do, and that our dependence on government kills community.  I had struggled with how to write about this, but a blog post and comments I read from blogger friends Tim and David helped me to see it more clearly.  It was pointed out that before we had so many government services available to us, there was a much greater demand for charity and kindness, so the supply of those things rose to meet the demand.  People knew how to support each other.  I hear many people complain about how people don't help each other out like they used to, but what do we expect?  The need to build community is eliminated when there is a government program for every need, and we're left with neighbors who don't even know each other and a whole lot of people complaining about welfare recipients taking their hard-earned money (I know you get those forwarded e-mails too).  If the goal of that system is cutting people off from all possible support systems, making them dependent, and creating class warfare, then it's working great.  If the goal is to actually meet people's needs, it's an utter failure.  We won't have community until we have liberty.  How do we get liberty?  Well, that's another question I ponder often.  If you're asking it too, the video in my previous post might be helpful.      


  1. Critics of liberty love to paint this picture that because you oppose government coercion, you must be a heartless scrooge. The fact is that if you want to talk about just how much charitable bang for your buck you get, the private sector is blowing away government programs on effectiveness and efficiency. The reason is simple. Private organizations have to be accountable for how they spend their donations and how much ends up in the hands of the needy. Govt programs basically get a blank check, have no accountability, and end up spending most of their "donations" (ie. our taxes) on administrative costs.

    The 2 examples you shared are perfect examples of why government "charity" doesn't work and why when people recognize need, they will step up.

  2. I find it really interesting to think about all the ways our communities would look different without the government. At first, I thought that maybe the effect would be negative, but then I thought about how this actually works in my own life. When I am aware that someone has a need and know that they are not taking government assistance, my first reaction is to think of ways I can help. Of course there will always be selfish people, but most of us would never abandon someone who is sincerely trying to help themselves and just needs a "leg up".

    I believe this idea that people as a whole are heartless and self-absorbed is more the effect of our statist society than an excuse for its existence. Because we're used to our welfare state, we're more likely to think, "Someone needs to do something," instead of, "I need to do something!"

  3. One of the monumental failures of the church through the growing statist movement has been losing sight of needs in our community. It upsets me to no end to see these huge mega-churches with stadium-sized theaters, spending millions of dollars on AV equipment, trips to Disneyland and supporting missionaries all over the globe BUT they ignore their own members' struggles.

    James 2:15-17 - "If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, 'Depart in peace, be warmed and filled.' but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead."

    1. Thanks for posting this verse. It has come to mind often when I discuss the issue of government assistance with fellow believers.

  4. AMEN to all of it! That's the #1 opposition I receive from people who cant wrap their minds around the idea of 'no government'. They say "Well, what will happen to those who can not provide for themselves? Will we just let them die?" Obviously, the answer is no for those who actually try to survive - but what about those individuals who ride the system and dont work and expect to have their needs met? Then I say "well too bad for you". They cant seem to understand how that would work if government didnt organize the effort. My thought is - I would RATHER have someone who is down and out come to my doorstep and say "I will work for you for food" than have it taken out of my bi-weekly paycheck and go to people who are most likely just using the system with no goal to change their situation. Now, some of those people will still fail to make ends meet but the lessons in humility and hard work are far more beneficial for both parties in the long term.
    I LOVE that comic that was sent to me via email a few weeks ago that was a picture of our president standing in front of a mass of people saying "Free Healthcare! Free Food Stamps! Free Clothing and Housing! AND JOBS FOR EVERYBODY!" Then the end of the comic is the part where all the people in the crowd look puzzled and one person raises their hand and asks "What do we need jobs for?"

    So true, and yet so scary! That's where we are at and I belive that it is because the government programming has facilited it! No different than a wife who bakes and cooks all of the food for her obese husband who is dying and cant move from the bed. ??? We point the finger and say "THATs WRONG" but it's the same thing with government programs.

    1. Hi, Nicole! Thanks for reading and commenting! Chas forwarded the cartoon you mentioned--funny! I hear a lot of people complaining about those who take advantage of the system, and I know a lot of people do, but we rarely talk about how the entire system is set up to foster dependency in the first place. That's what bothers me the most--those who complain about "welfare cases", all the while vehemently supporting the very system that creates that kind of dependency.