The propositions and policy prescriptions libertarians advance sometimes lead people to conclude that they believe people are (or should be) hermetically sealed islands, each one never a part of the main. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Libertarianism, properly understood, is a political philosophy which tasks itself with the discovery and elucidation of the proper role of government (read: force) and the implications of this in society. Libertarianism requires that people use force only in self defense and never for other reasons. Adherence to this requirement leads to all the other goods of society, such as charity, property, friendship, security, etc.
Concerning politics, then, we can see that those actions of government which threaten violence against dissenters can never actually advance the greater good, for goodness resides in the choices and actions which good men make—stripped of their rights to decide for themselves who to give their time, labor, and charity to and in what quantity and quality will mean that society as a whole suffers, as some person’s conception of what constitutes proper and just aid will take precedence over another, the ability to reason through the problems of society will be diminished—and this will create social disharmony, and less opportunity for human beings, thwarting the stated goal of those who believe government should be in the business of “charity.” Any action taken by a group of people which interferes with their ability to reason through the problems of society is intrinsically wealth-minimizing, destructive, and immoral.
There is nothing substantive in the notion that freedom and charity are mutually exclusive; to the contrary. Only a free and just society creates the kind of wealth necessary to pull human beings from all walks of life out of poverty.
In recognition of these facts, our Young Americans for Liberty chapter chose to participate in a local charity called the Empty Stocking Fund. The aim of this charity is simple: take donations and use the money to buy presents for children of poverty-stricken families. These presents are bundled up and the parents are then able to come pick up the toys a little while before Christmas. The presents ranged all the way from rattles for children aged one year, all the way up to digital cameras and mp3 players for children aged 12 years.
This ensured that over a thousand local children received at least one good gift for the holidays, and spared a good deal of hard-working, underprivileged parents their sanity over the holidays.
Putting in time with the charity included standing outside the local Wal-Mart in shifts to receive donations from people passing through doing their holiday shopping. It was interesting to see the wide range of people donating, and their willingness to do so. It was truly a heartwarming experience, and I highly suggest getting involved in some sort of local charity; it will revive the spirits of even the most cynical or curmudgeonly person.
It was also great fun to see all the people in our chapter come out and get involved in the community—taking a direct role in society, rather than theorizing about it.
The second stage of the charity involved stocking the toys into boxes to be given out to the families a couple of weeks before Christmas, with Christmas songs playing, and various other groups coming out to help. It was interesting to be involved behind the scenes, as it was clear that the Empty Stocking Fund was run above-board, efficiently, and with little or no soaking up of the donation money in administrative or bureaucratic costs, since everyone that helped did so of their own free will, and without a desire to get anything more out of it than the joy of helping their fellow human beings.
The cold bureaucratic machinery of the welfare state dismantles the role of community since it damages (though it cannot destroy) the natural tendencies for mutual aid and fellowship between people not of one’s own family or close circle of friends. After all, if the state is taking care of it, then why bother? In addition, it is my belief that such forced aid creates a culture of resentment, and reinforces the class system.
Nonetheless, there will always be people who desire to do good things regardless, either our of personal satisfaction, or because they feel that the state’s way of doing it is illegitimate. After this experience, it is easy to see why a society founded on choosing charity, rather than forcing it on people will be a society of greater human beings—a society of people chained to one another will be a society of resentment and struggle rather than one of cooperation and free, mutual determination to better themselves and each other.
I believe Penn Jillette (a noted magician and libertarian) sums it up best:
It’s amazing to me how many people think that voting to have the government give poor people money is compassion. Helping poor and suffering people is compassion. Voting for our government to use guns to give money to help poor and suffering people is immoral self-righteous bullying laziness.
People need to be fed, medicated, educated, clothed, and sheltered, and if we’re compassionate we’ll help them, but you get no moral credit for forcing other people to do what you think is right. There is great joy in helping people, but no joy in doing it at gunpoint.