Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Virtue of Liberality

There is a virtue that has fallen on hard times.

The virtue of Liberality is that trait in a person willing to share with others and to extend grace, to assume the best in others, even against the evidence of past behavior. It is trust in the goodness of others, and a willingness to give more than one gets in return. It's a fine trait, a high virtue. But like all virtues, it is not observed in the excess. That is, it is not virtue but folly to be found in one who gives away the rent money.

Another connotation of liberal thinking is the eager acceptance of new ideas and ways, even if nothing can be found wrong with the old ideas or ways. While a certain flexibility of mind is a positive characteristic, it often becomes indistinguishable from gullibility.

Both modern Conservatism and Liberalism derive from the Classical Liberalism of the 19th century, which rose to its zenith with abolition and the American Civil War. Actually, I think the peak of Classical Liberalism was Lincoln's decision to show grace to the former Confederacy.

The two began to diverge when the virtue of Liberality came to be seen by Liberals not as a personal trait, but as a characteristic of good government. If Liberality is good in a person, why would it not be even better in a government?

And so began a long slide of Good Deeds, in which government sought to supply more and more of the people's needs. Rather than simply protecting us one from another and from external enemies, the new approach to government is to take care of us and keep us from harming ourselves. That is the virtue of Liberality warped into a governing philosophy.

We should not be surprised that it fails so thoroughly. Ascribing human traits to government is an example of the Fallacy of Composition, which is applying the properties of parts to the whole. Grains of sand are hard, but the beach can be quite soft. Similarly, it's unwise to assume that the valuable virtue of Liberality is anything a government ought to have. Clearly government should not be liberal in excess, to the point of encouraging sloth.

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1 comment:

David M said...

The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the - Web Reconnaissance for 03/11/2008 A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention, updated throughout the day...so check back often.

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