Plumb Lines

September 15, 2009

Conservatism and Subsidiarity

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Matthew Schmitz @ 6:28 am

John Schwenkler says that while he often hears conservatives talk about subsidiarity, he sees them doing very little of the charitable work that is the real enemy of the welfare state:

It is one thing to say that subsidiarity is important, but quite another to do something about it; and as things stand the kind of community-centered service and charitable work that ought indeed to be the all-encompassing welfare state’s worst enemy is far too often the province of the Left.

My first reaction is to point to Arthur Brooks’s book Who Really Cares?, which argues that conservatives tend to lead their liberal counterparts in charitable giving. While some elements of the book’s methodology and argument seem objectionable, Brooks’s evidence suggests, at a minimum, that conservatives are not significantly less charitable than liberals. Of course, the term “charitable” can be a bit slippery. Gifts or volunteering may not have a truly subsidiary effect. This, I suspect, is Schwenkler’s point.

As a side note, one of the interesting things about Brooks’s data is that it suggests that it is actually the  milquetoast moderates who lag in charitable giving. I hear a lot about the benefits of moderation and risks of radicalism, but the data shows that having strong views  on how society can be improved does not, in fact, make you a bad citizen.

-Matthew Schmitz


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