The Ethics of Macro-Compassion
The Ethical Limit
Here is the sixth and final installment of an exploration by David H. Chester, looking into the topics of charity, compassion and economics.
by David H. ChesterPART SIX Part One Part Two Part Three Part Four Part Five
Concluding Remarks - Avoiding the Ethical Limit
Apparently Hillel's (Pharisaic) view was abhorrent to the Christian Church, which much preferred to emphasize the loving aspects of the Golden Rule, whilst deliberately forgetting that by logical analysis the need to avoid doing the opposite is a necessary derivation of equal if not greater significance. Because of this ecclesiastic doctrine within Henry George's religion, he could not push his philosophy and ethics to their logical limit. He found himself in the unenviable position of having to avoid showing how the neighbor-loving principle of giving charitably was a parallel virtue. Instead, he left it to be understood (by implication) that the degree of poverty would simply be reduced by the long-term effects of his wider-acting proposals.
This arrested philosophical development leaves behind a certain amount of confusion. After all, George proposed to “beg no question, to shirk from conclusion but to follow truth wherever it may lead”18. The strong moral principles to which George adheres, were clearly expressed within his religious attitude to Christianity. George chose this loyal form of expression, which continues to provide one of the conventional means of identification with his philosophy.
However as explained above, in fact the implied attitude taken by George was more precisely a Jewish philosophical one along the lines of Hillel, when applied to the national economy at large. (It also is related to the ecological ideal of preserving the Earth's environment.) Much as one can empathize with Christians who find in George's philosophy a kindred moral principle, it is actually Hillel's view that is being recognized and reconstructed here and to which George was (probably unknowingly) relating.
When applied to the larger matters of macroeconomics and to largesse in general, the neighbor-loving approach subsequently and unfortunately became compromised through the attempt of communal relief of poverty, the development of which was described above. It degenerated into a kind of rationalized "Robin-Hoodism" (the love and humility aspects having been lost en-route).
It was recently adopted by the British Labor Party in 1945, and expressed by the creation of the Welfare State. Of greater importance, it was drastically changed by Marxist Socialism, when it became transformed into the somewhat inefficient and impractical Communist doctrine form of total(itarian) and boorish sharing. Thankfully today this approach has lost much of its appeal, having recently run out of fashion and money, back in the (late) U.S.S.R!
Hopefully we may be able to encourage a return to the older ways of thought and behaviour through Henry George's philosophy, in spite of the continuing attraction of Socialism to young minds in a modern and changing world.
REFERENCES AND NOTES
18. "Progress and Poverty" cited above, in the Introduction, p 11.
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