Friday, February 29, 2008

socialism and (a lack of) ethics

From Richard John Neuhaus in First Things, an excellent excerpt from a 1962 editorial by John Strietelmeier entitled “On Soaking the Rich” (occasioned by the release of a book commemorating his work)...

We object, on moral grounds, to denying any man the right to profit from his ingenuity and his industry....The idea of an economically egalitarian society in which no one is very rich and no one is very poor is not at all our idea of Utopia. It seems to us merely a mean manifestation of envy....

The good ­society does not let any considerable proportion of its citizenry subsist on sub-human standards of food, clothing, or shelter. If necessary, it will ‘soak the rich’ to ensure the poor a minimally decent standard of living....[But] The productive capacity of the United States is so great that we do not need to rob the rich to pay the poor.

There are other parts of the world, notably Latin America, where it would seem that there is not enough to go around, and that the concentration of wealth in a few families while millions starve cannot be justified on any moral grounds. If we lived in Brazil, for instance, we would be a socialist, and make no apologies for it.

But we live in the United States, where it is not necessary that everybody be poor so that no one need be desperately poor. Socialism in the United States, it seems to us, is not grounded in necessity but ideology, with more than a tinge of envy mixed up in it. Capitalism, too, is shot through with envy, but at least in this country it allows man the moral choice between being generous and being selfish—a choice which socialism makes for him, and thus removes from the sphere of morality.


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