The Golden Rule and Its Implications
|June 4, 2004||Posted by Staff under Archive, Progress Report, The Progress Report|
The Ethics of Macro-Compassion
The Golden Rule and Its Implications
The Golden Rule has dual forms — “do X” and “don’t do not-X.” How do these interrelate, and does this distinction capture two valid, but independent, perspectives on the role of charity?
Here is the fifth installment of a six-part exploration by David H. Chester, looking into the topics of charity, compassion and economics.
by David H. Chester
Extenders of the “Golden Rule”
The concept of maintaining good human relations within society is expressed by the compliance to a general religious principle. From Leviticus, Ch.19 v.18 originally came the requirement to “love one’s neighbor as oneself” and this Golden Rule subsequently grew through the teachings of Jesus15. Both the Jews and the Christians regard this Rule as a fundamental postulate. One form of its practical expression, by the virtue of giving alms to the needy, is also shared with the other great religions of the World.
In practical microeconomic terms, the Golden Rule means that different families should share the products of their labor, particularly in cases where one neighbor is much less materially successful than another. It covers the inability to provide due to poor health, long-time unemployment, and lack of savings or over-bearing home commitments, which can result in certain families or individuals living in poverty. This directive for the practice of neighborly love is on an individual basis, without any degree of participation by the community or the resources that it commands. It is therefore regarded as an act of charity. Elsewhere in the Bible there are more direct calls to be charitable, which are covered by this general precept, as well as laws that enable the poor to help themselves in a small way.
However, George’s T.L.V. (the taxation of land values) ideal does not directly fit within the format of neighborly love on a charitable level to follow the Golden Rule, although his aim is more than merely to encourage mutual respect between the parties. George has responded to the Rule in an avoidance sense only, by a proposed move to discourage its violation and to restore the balance. This is achieved by the landowner’s payment of the ground rent revenue as compensation for the offense and lost productive opportunity that a fellow worker experiences, after his right of access to the land has been denied. (Incidentally George did not stop at applying this principle here, he also used it in a parallel proposal for free-trade between countries. The same ethic is implied, in this case the aim being to avoid causing offence internationally.)
By his taking up the negative side of the Rule, George has transformed the scale of the action from that of the individual loving care of one’s fellow into a national or macroeconomic commitment. It is this modified principle and its practical widespread application, which give meaning to the exercise of T.L.V. This system of land tenure, which covers the behaviour of society at large, preserves human dignity within the concept of economic justice. The Georgist ideal, expressed by the redistribution of the rent as tax, thus embodies a logical corollary derived from the Golden Rule. It runs in a parallel but separate context from the former postulate of directly sharing one’s earnings, that comprises one of the basic lessons of the Bible.
The connection between this line of small-scale activity and the broader social obligations was provided by Hillel the Elder16, who lived from about 40 BCE to 30 years in the Current Era, and was joint head of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem that was under Roman rule. Hillel’s response came when he was being challenged (and simultaneously taunted) to briefly summarize his Faith. He was asked to explain the entire Jewish Law (and religion) “whilst standing on one leg”. Although he knew the Golden Rule in its original form, the answer Hillel gave was that, “What is hateful to oneself should not be done to one’s neighbor, this is the entire Torah (or Law), the rest being commentary now should be studied”17. As explained above, this is a corollary that is logically related to the Rule.
By the double negation of the loving principle, Hillel’s version clearly separates the positive and somewhat saintly individual expression of love for a neighbor, from the subsequent more universal and practical directive about the avoidance of doing him harm. Within this broader spectrum of activities, the same principle applies against the monopolistic practices in commerce and industry, that are harmful to the greater community. The restrictions include the withholding of the free access to unused land, its uncaring pollution and the speculation in its sale price, the privatization of patent rights and techniques after a reasonable time period, protection of parts of outer space, electro-magnetic spectra etc. These forces work against the beneficial use of the land for purposes of the production and distribution of goods and services, for residence, communal activity and access to the joys of nature.
To summarize this essay, the chief relationships between the various elements described above are shown in the following diagram:
THE GOLDEN RULE (Biblical criterion for loving conduct, on a local scale) POSITIVE APPROACHES “DOUBLE NEGATIVE” APPROACHES PRACTICING CHARITY (Religious call for compassion) AVOIDING THE HARMING OF A NEIGHBOR (Universal logical development of the Rule, by Hillel The Elder) ACCEPTANCE OF NATIONAL RESPONSIBILITY (Pharaoh and Joseph) TAXATION OF LAND VALUES AND FREE-TRADE (Henry George) PRESERVING THE ENVIRONMENT (Rachel Carson) SOCIALISM GOVERNMENT WELFARE AND POVERTY RELIEF (The British Labor Party) “RATIONALIZATION” (Karl Marx) COMMUNISM, USSR STYLE (Lenin, Stalin)
Next week: Concluding Remarks — Avoiding the Ethical Limit
REFERENCES AND NOTES
15. See the expression of the Golden Rule in Matthew Ch.7 Vs.12 and Luke Ch.6 Vs.31, for good examples.
16. See “Hillel, the Elder”, Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol.8, pages 482-485, Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1971.
17. This idea originates from the apocryphal book of Tobit, Ch.4 Vs.15, “And what you hate, do not do to anyone”. Tobit was written in Babylon between the 6th and 4th centuries B.C.E. during the Persian Exile period of Jewish history.
Hillel must have been aware of this text. He was born and well educated in Babylon before moving to Jerusalem, where he became a leader in religious and legal matters. Hillel is particularly remembered for his “7 Hermeneutic Principles” of logic for the interpretation of the religious laws in the Bible. The phrasing that Hillel used for his modified version of the Golden Rule is closer to the original expression in Leviticus. It avoids the re-arranged order that is used later in Tobit and Matthew (1st. century CE).
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