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Choice and Charity

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Charity, a Critical Part of Free Civil Society

There are many reasons why charity is such an important part of how we interact and live together in society. Those reasons seem even more evident when you are the one in need of a little extra help.

Most of us just know intuitively, we should reach out to help those who are less fortunate. But is charity important only from this ethical, or religious point of view? Perhaps there are also some purely rational reasons why it must be an integral part of any truly free society. That is what we will discuss here.

Let us start with a definition. Charity refers to voluntary acts of service or gifts of value, given by the competent and informed free will of a donor, to a recipient who is in need of help.

There is a separate notion that involves forcefully taking something of value from one person, in order to give something to a second person. Although this is often referred to as charity, particularly in our modern culture, it is not. It is something else entirely. And part of our exploration will be to identify more precisely what it is.

Finally, in order to better understand the more practical reasons why authentic charity is so critical, we must first discuss how and why we organize ourselves into systems of government.

Society and Government

As human beings, we coexist with all the other animals species in the world. We too are animals. Yet, in spite of our similarities, still we are very different.

We seem to act on more than just instinct. We create for ourselves complex social constructs defined by laws, both written and implied. We recognize borders, regulations, speed limits, and other artificial rules of behavior—all a part of the way we choose to live and interact with each other.

Yet under the surface remains the natural world—a place governed by the harsh forces of nature—the “law of the jungle.” In this environment, organisms compete against each another in a brutal fight to control the scarce resources of the earth. It is, quite literally, a fight for survival. And only the strongest will prevail.

Because humans are intelligent and self aware, we have the fortunate ability to contemplate such concepts as morality and virtue. We can think about more than just taking what we want or need. We can ask ourselves whether it is right for one human being to live at the expense of another.

Is it OK or stronger people to take food and other critical resources, by force, from those who are weaker? Or should we live in a better, fairer, and more compassionate way?

In ideal circumstances, this is why we create the rules of civil society and our various forms of government to enforce them. We want to protect the weak from the strong, so everyone can live by his own account, and not just for the benefit of someone higher up on the food chain. As the American founders put it: We all have an inherent right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of our own happiness.

This sense of empathy, and the associated urge to protect the weakest among us, is uniquely human. Unfortunately, not everyone is willing to live according to these principles of universal freedom and equality. Instead, perhaps even unconsciously, some consider themselves better, more entitled, or more fit—willing to subjugate and exploit others to provide for their own wants and needs.

So as we form governments and institute the rules for our society, there is a resulting competition between two very different forms of government. The first is inspired by the protectors.

Authentic protectors form government based on the principles of individual choice. Everyone should be able to own themselves and to control their own lives. Individuals should be able to choose, to the greatest degree possible, how they want to pursue their own happiness and fulfillment. By creating organized government, protectors hope to more effectively guard these rights.

But just because we form a government meant to protect the rights of the people, that doesn’t mean everyone will always support that notion. There are still exploiters among us, and they will have to be dealt with. But in a free society, all are first assumed to be innocent, so everyone starts out with the same rights and freedoms.

Once an act of aggression or exploitation is committed however, a choice based society has three options:

  • Reparation

    Society imposes some kind of monetary penalty on the offender such as a fine, or a judgement. This is roughly equivalent to reversing the subjugation committed in the first place—at least temporarily. Taking money from someone is like taking some of their time, or a portion of their life. This is a form of servitude, imposed by the force of government. In ideal circumstances, the benefit of such a taking should accrue directly to the victim of the crime. If possible, we would like to make them whole again.

  • Exile

    Under this form of punishment, the offender is not forced into service. He is just not allowed to associate with the society any more. If he can find some other place to live, he can maintain his freedom. But he loses the privilege of living within the jurisdiction and protection of the people he has offended.

  • Confinement

    This form of punishment is even more severe than the other two. Like exile, the offender is removed from society. But he is not allowed to live freely elsewhere either. Instead, he will lose his freedom completely, confined to a prison cell for the duration of his punishment.

    The ultimate form of confinement is capital punishment or death. The offender is not just removed from society, but removed from life itself. He will no longer associate with any society.

Unfortunately, most governments are not controlled by protectors, but rather exploiters. And even when a government is established to promote free choice, that may not last for long unless the principles of personal choice are vigorously defended. More often, centers of power become infiltrated by exploiters and begin to erode toward what we will call “government by compromise.”

Under a compromise government, the exploiters are in charge, and everyone else is expected to produce. But such an unfair arrangement can be very difficult to maintain. After all, there are not that many exploiters and lots of producers. How can the few maintain control over so many? This is where the compromise comes in.

The exploiters compromise by allowing the producers to get something out of the deal too. Rather than taking everything, they sprinkle some of the returns back out to the producers themselves. This creates a degree of security, perhaps financial, emotional or physical.

The producers compromise by allowing the exploiters to rule over them. They may realize they are being taken advantage of and they are giving up some of their freedoms. But if they get back enough of what they want and need, they may be willing to put up with it.

The compromise might afford more freedoms to the producers if the exploiters only skim a little value off the top for themselves. Or it can become very oppressive, leaving very little of the producers’ work left for them to enjoy. This all depends on how aggressive the governing regime, and much abuse the producers are willing to put up with. What will they endure before they finally rise up in rebellion?

We see this kind of governance, in varying degrees, throughout the world. Some governments are the official kind we all recognize—aligned with borders and the nation states in which they operate. Others may not really be considered governments at all, but merely centers of power that rise up in response to a vacuum of power or enforcement under a state sponsored government.

We see examples of this in organized crime such as the drug cartels of Central America. They might donate to schools and hospitals, funds that have been stolen or extorted from other sources. And they may provide a certain degree of security as well. In many areas, a local cartel can become much more respected, and even appreciated than the official government.

Mobs, terrorists and cartels all have to raise money to operate just as governments do by taxing their citizens. Just like official governments, they too like to maintain a positive public relations image through the appearance of their public service. And they also live at the expense of the people they rule over, by force, just as the ruling class in any organized country.

Politicians, terrorists and mobsters all understand the law of the jungle—at least the successful ones. He who has the guns gets to make the rules.

But the producing class can be a formidable foe if it ever awakens to the reality of its own condition. So it must be placated by apparent acts of giving. It must be taught to appreciate, and even to depend upon the class who rules over it.

So we see, under compromise governance of any kind, there is a need for the appearance of charity, dispensed by the benevolent hand of centralized power. But it is an imposter—just a big, expensive public relations campaign. It is phony, just as compromise government is a phony substitute for a government truly built on the principles of individual choice and freedom.

Phony charity builds a bond of dependence between the recipients and the ruling class. People become accustomed to receiving their handout and they don’t want to see that change. This assures continuing power for those in the ruling class, ut is bad for everyone else.

It creates endless cycles of dependency for those who receive the entitlements. And it saps precious resources out of the economy that could be used to more effectively help those who genuinely need assistance.

Authentic Charity

Just as phony charity is a necessary tool for compromise government, there are important reasons why authentic charity is a critical part of any government established to protect the inalienable rights of its citizens.

In the natural world, the strong live by exploiting the weak. By physical threats and violence, the weak are kept subservient to their stronger masters.

A choice-based government is built to protect the weak and allow them to compete equally without being threatened by those who might otherwise exploit them. But eliminating the threat of physical coercion still does not make all mankind equal. Some people are more capable of supporting themselves, and others are less so. Some are strongly motivated to achieve, others not so much.

The result is, even in a free society, some people are bound to be richer while others will be poorer. Our prosperity will be just as diverse and different as are our individual abilities to produce wealth. And that is generally a good thing.

But life requires a lot of hard work. And the world usually grades us on a curve. So just as there are some who have everything they need, and more, there are others who must struggle even to survive. As we will see, such poverty is not only for those experiencing it, but it is also very destructive to our civil society.

When authentic charity is rendered to those in true need, it enriches both the giver and the receiver. A social bond is established, but not like the spokes of a wheel, emanating from a central power or authority. Rather true charity, based on love and respect, builds a complex web of social connections that criss-cross society, binding us together, across lines of class and station. This ties us together as one people, and makes us better, stronger, and more sustainable as a society.

If the capable do not render voluntary assistance to those who are in need, we sow the seeds of our own eventual social collapse. After all, is a person better off to starve within a free society, or to receive a meager handout under a government based on compromise?

If less capable people are just left alone to struggle in a society where others are much more successful, we become much more divided. Class distinctions develop and are amplified. The exploiters step in, turning class against class for the selfish purpose of advancing their own power. Then a free society begins to degrade back toward compromise government where a ruling class takes from a production class and distributes a few benefits to an entitlement class in order to maintain their own positions of power.

Free civil society needs to work for everyone who is willing to live free—not just the people who already know how to be productive, or who may have inherited their wealth. We can keep our society free by engaging in regular, generous, and private acts of charity. We must reach out to help those who are in need, and then teach them to become more self sufficient so they can begin to more effectively pursue their own happiness in the ways they may choose.

If government does have a role, it can help by facilitating such acts of private charity. It can give more public recognition and thanks. Most importantly, it can remove existing regulatory burdens and relieve other risks that may discourage private giving.

But it should not attempt to relieve us of our individual social duty to help those within our reach.


We live in a time of political and social unrest. Our society is divided, rich versus poor, black versus white, male versus female, young versus old. But this is a false division, manufactured by exploiters to keep us all so occupied, we forget this important truth: We can live together in peace and happiness if we will just learn to honor the principles of individual choice and liberty.

The real divide is just as it has been from the beginning of mankind: On one side is a majority, willing to work and produce, not only for their own maintenance but also to help and assist those who are less fortunate.

On the other side are those who want to be in charge. They are better and smarter than the rest of us. They will decide who must give and who may receive. And they will take their own portion as well, a generous amount sufficient to put them in the upper tiers of society, even though they may have done nothing to earn it.

If the producers are satisfied compromising with these takers, they can live out their lives, owning that small portion of their freedom left to their own control. But there is a better way.

We establish it upon the principles of choice. And we maintain it by regularly engaging in private and voluntary acts of charity. This builds a network of connections throughout our society that binds our people together in a single purpose:

To enjoy our lives, our liberties, and the free pursuit of our own happiness; and to reach out as free people, to help all others learn to effectively enjoy these same freedoms, even if they may not already know how.

Yes, authentic charity is the right thing to do. But it is also the sustainable thing to do. It is how we maintain a free civil society.