by Timothy Lane 3/9/15
I found the October 2014 issue of Imprimis today (it had gotten buried among a lot of other mail). The issue consists of an article by William Voegeli (adapted from a speech at Hillsdale), “The Case Against Liberal Compassion.”
Voegeli points out that liberals continue to portray themselves as the kind-hearted ones and denounce conservatives as cold and heartless. Since this is very easy to believe given that liberalism is based on limitless government welfare, whereas conservatives point out that everything has a price and sometimes the price is too high, the smear remains a popular delusion.
But there’s a problem, pointed out by Mitch Daniels a few years ago and noticed, even by liberal activist E. J. Dionne, over the failed startup of the Obamacare website: If liberals really are as kind and compassionate as they claim, then they should be as upset by government waste and failure as conservatives are. After all, every wasted dollar is a dollar not made available for actually helping the poor and other victims.[pullquote]…liberalism is really about moral preening, not results.[/pullquote]
But there have been some explanations for this, in fact going back to Rousseau in Emile. As many people have observed (Thomas Sowell has written about this extensively), liberalism is really about moral preening, not results. The point is to advertise themselves as kind and compassionate (which, as already noted, they do every chance they can). But this leads to an interesting result.
Just as many conservatives have pointed out that liberalism can’t solve problems if they’ve all been solved, and thus has an incentive never actually to solve problems, so it also turns out that this is an emotional as well as practical concern. Liberals want to show how much they pity the victims of society — and how much more can they do so if there are more victims, and they’re especially bad off? So they have an incentive to support programs that are supposed to help the poor etc., but in reality they don’t want to help them. They want the poor to remain poor, and indeed perhaps even to be poorer, in order that they can show how much they pity them.
Some will recognize the similarity of this to what has been called “Munchausen syndrome by proxy” — the desire to inflict harm on others for the purpose of helping them out. (An early appearance of his notion appears in the Moliere play The Misanthrope/) No doubt liberals were quite ready to believe Richard Jewell was guilty of this in the Atlanta Olympics bombing (he wasn’t, as it turned out). But projection by liberals is never a surprise.
Timothy Lane writes from Louisville, Kentucky and publishes the FOSFAX fanzine.
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