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Quotations about Liberty and Power

About this Quotation:

Here we again explore the consequences of the South East Asian tsunami of December 2004. There was an immediate world-wide outburst of private charitable giving, especially in the developed world. Clément in the quote explores the difference between private charitable giving and state funds taken from the tax payers and given to others.

10 January, 2005

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Ambroise Clément draws the distinction between two different kinds of charity: true voluntary charity and coerced government “charity” which is really a tax (1852)

Read the full quote in context here.

In the wake of the tsunamis which detroyed so many lives in south Asia both governments and private individuals have donated funds to help in the relief work. A French classical liberal from the mid-19thC ponders the difference between the two types of charitable giving:

If, however, we understand by society or the state the government, the question is changed altogether; and we must no longer ask whether charity being a virtue in the individual, is not equally a virtue in society, but whether it is proper, moral and advantageous to have charity practiced by the government, or whether it is even possible for the government to practice charity at all. We say not. It is very evident that Charity and fraternity are virtues only when they are free and spontaneous. State and, therefore, forced, charity is not a virtue, it is a tax.

The full passage from which this quotation was taken can be be viewed below (front page quote in bold):

What is society? If it be the collection of members composing the nation, it is clear that this collection will unite in themselves the total of all the virtues possessed by each one of the individuals composing it. If it is wished to personify the collection, and to make of it that creature of the mind called society or the state, it is absurd to attribute to this being which has no existence, an action independent of that of all the members composing the nation. If, however, we understand by society or the state the government, the question is changed altogether; and we must no longer ask whether charity being a virtue in the individual, is not equally a virtue in society, but whether it is proper, moral and advantageous to have charity practiced by the government, or whether it is even possible for the government to practice charity at all. We say not. It is very evident that Charity and fraternity are virtues only when they are free and spontaneous. State and, therefore, forced, charity is not a virtue, it is a tax. Now, the sacrifice imposed on some in favor of others clearly loses the character of charity. The legislator has no merit in the case, for all he has to do is to cast his vote in its favor. The executive power or the tax collector has still less, for, instead of giving, he retains a part of the gift as pay for his services. Neither has the tax payer, since he contributes only in spite of himself. Where can we find here the conditions of charity: a benevolent inspiration followed by a voluntary sacrifice on the part of him who feels it? Is not that a strange kind of charity whose acts are performed by the tax gatherer and policeman?