Ghostly Goodness

Compassion stinks.

There, I’ve said it. Some of you have wondered how a libertarian can have any compassion. Well, I don’t. I’ve seen compassion in action and I don’t want any part of it.

I have feelings for other people–lots of them. I just don’t parade them around so everyone can see how damned good I am. Further, I don’t pretend that another’s misery or my empathy for them justifies any and all remedies. This appears to be a point of great concern on the part of self-anointed saints.

Liberal friends of mine are rarely to be faulted for their kindness, but kindness does not feed people or cure diseases. It may motivate us to help, but the emotion itself is has little going for it in practical terms. It also has a sinister side. Unbridled compassion justifies all manner of morally abhorrent interventions in the lives of others. In its most vicious form, it justifies taking from others by force.

One would think that compassion for others would include some analysis of how the things that help them come to be. Liberals seem to be vaguely aware that there is something called “business” and that things get swapped for mutual benefit in a “market.” Beyond that, they are hopelessly lost.

This attitude is evidenced by something Henry Hazlitt calls a failure to consider secondary consequences. I recommend his book Economics In One Lesson to numerous people on the vague hope that they will see that taking from A to give to B has an impact, often disastrous, on C and D. If after digesting Hazlitt’s central theme someone were to then offer a cogent argument for the morality the welfare state, including its impact on the rest of the alphabet, I would consider my efforts successful and the argument worth addressing.

I do not expect this to happen, frankly, as I do not expect anyone to read the book, even though it is short, well-written and eye-opening. Perhaps, in fact, it is this last characteristic that makes it so unappealing to apologists for the welfare state. It is much easier to make grave and sanctimonious pronouncements about taking from those who have than it is to figure out how they came to have it or how to make it oneself.

The world is covered with a veneer of ghostly goodness. The creator of tangible value renders corporeal that which the “spiritual” can only bray on about, usually in the name of “compassion.” For that, he/she is accused of misanthropy and called to answer to the Great Spirit of Goodness. In the end, the lights come on and we find that the compassionate ones have been conjuring instead of creating, seeking to impress rather than striving to implement, and holding a seance instead of sowing a crop.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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1 Response to Ghostly Goodness

  1. cnoel says:

    It’s not compassion that stinks….it’s ignorance combined with an insatiable desire to control others that stinks. Genuine, sincere acts of compassion occur without others knowing about it (especially those to whom you have directed that compassion) and need NEVER cost a dime.


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