Compassion is better as a retail than as a wholesale virtue

Screen Shot 2016-05-06 at 21.31.17No doubt, writes Dalrymple, there are exceptional people

who are able to feel compassion towards populations or categories of humans. But they are few. The more widely a person’s compassion is cast, the thinner it tends to be spread, until we begin to suspect that it is not compassion but a pose or an exhibition of virtue — humbug, at best an aspiration, at worst a career move.

State-subsidised bogus charity

State-subsidised bogus charity

The welfare state, Dalrymple points out,

  • protects people from the consequences of bad choices and fosters and encourages those choices, which follow the line of least resistance or favour instant gratification over longer-term desiderata
  • undermines the taking of individual responsibility, especially where the economic difference between taking it and not taking it tends to be small
  • favours the undeserving more than the deserving, in so far as the undeserving have a capacity or talent for generating more neediness than the deserving. (They also tend to be more vocal)
  • dissolves the notion of desert. There is no requirement that a beneficiary prove he deserves what he is legally entitled to. Where what is given is given as of right, not only will a recipient feel no gratitude, it must be given without compassion — without regard to any individual’s situation
Save the aid workers

Save the aid workers

The difference between public and private charity

is not that the former does not consider personal desert while the latter does; Christian charity does not require that recipients be guiltless of their predicament. It is the spirit in which the charity is given that is different. That is why large charities so closely resemble government departments: you cannot expect a bureaucracy to be charitable in spirit.

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