Who Really Cares?

For Human Rights Day (yes, there is such a thing), the UN’s Regional Information Center, located in the global Mordor of bureaucracy, Brussels, put out the following chart, explaining to residents of Europe how they can get involved in “public life.”  For anyone who thinks that the goal of the current administration is to make us more like Europe, it ought to be at least a little dispiriting:

The differences between the American and European concepts of citizenship couldn’t be clearer.  To Americans, participation in public life isn’t just about the government or politics, it’s also about community organizations, fraternal groups, religious institutions, and so forth.  To the extent that we have the right to participate in politics, that participation is neither granted by or even really circumscribed by the Constitution.  That document exists to limit government and define its powers; our right to participate in government is really the right to be a part of government, and it comes from God.  Of course, neither the EU nor the UN could ever say such a thing.

In his book about charitable giving and the characteristics of charitable givers, Who Really Cares?, Arthur Brooks devotes an entire chapter to the notion of “continental drift,” in the subject.  Private giving, to private foundations dedicated to the public good, is minuscule in Europe compared to the United States.  Along with that has come a withering of civil society, as most of those functions have been taken over by the state, and the state has increasingly become devoted to income redistribution.  (Brooks shows that those who believe that a primary function of government is income redistribution are among those least likely to contribute time or money to charities.  This is true whether or not such redistribution actually takes place.)

As the government becomes the only venue for channeling help to fellow citizens, politics becomes the only means of differentiating where that help goes, what forms it takes, what conditions attach to it, and what incentives it creates.  Or at least it would, if Europe had a healthy political system.  (As Mark Steyn has pointed out endlessly, the parties that European voters choose between are left-of-right-of-center, and right-of-left-of-center, and the big decisions have already been made and locked in.)  But it’s also likely true that a country without a healthy civil society can’t have a healthy political system for long, either.

I’ve seen this in my own work on the JCRC.  While it’s true that most of the Jewish organizations who sit on it are temperamentally leftish, if not outright leftist, to begin with, it’s also true that many are less willing to criticize a system on which they have come to depend for a substantial part of their operating expenses.  They have decided that it’s easier and cheaper to hire a lobbyist rattle a tin cup in front of a state legislative or Congressional committee than to hire a PR person and make the case to the community at large of the value of their services.  So along with Big Labor and Big Business becoming arms of the federal government, Big Philanthropy is headed in that direction, as well.

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