Some conservative writer–I think it was John Nolte–once said that A Christmas Carol was a conservative story. Scrooge, he reasoned, learns the value of private charity. I cannot find the quote, but as I recall he made reference to Scrooge’s line about sending the poor to prisons and workhouses as demonstrating that he is in the beginning a “liberal” who puts his faith in government. By the end, after the ghosts stop by, he decides that aid to the poor must be done privately (but lavishly!) and so becomes a conservative.
I don’t think Dickens was even thinking in those terms when he wrote the story, so I don’t really buy this interpretation. The story is more about generosity vs. stinginess in general. Scrooge is designed to be unlikeable to everyone, liberal or conservative. The only people I can see liking pre-ghost Scrooge would be Ayn Rand types who oppose all charity.
Nevertheless, it is rather interesting to consider the dichotomy that this conservative interpretation of that classic tale implicitly draws. Though there are Randian exceptions, the majority of conservatives are not opposed to charity in general, they are only opposed to charity when it is done by the government.
It cannot be because they are concerned people will become dependent upon charity; for that is equally likely whether it is the State, or the Church, or private individuals providing the charity. Conservatives never worry that people will become dependent on the Church or wealthy individuals. Only on the State.
Thus, we may reasonably conclude that, with a few exceptions, Republican opposition to welfare programs is because they are of the State, and not because they are welfare programs.
So, again, why?
Consider this excerpt from Albert Jay Nock’s 1936 book Our Enemy, the State, a sort of protest he wrote against the expansion of government under Roosevelt:
If the State has made such matters its business, and has confiscated the social power necessary to deal with them, why, let it deal with them. We can get some kind of rough measure of this general atrophy by our own disposition when approached by a beggar. Two years ago we might have been moved to give him something: today we are moved to refer him to the State’s relief-agency. The State has said to society, ‘You are either not exercising enough power to meet the emergency, or are exercising it in what I think is an incompetent way, so I shall confiscate your power, and exercise it to suit myself.’ Hence when a beggar asks us for a quarter, our instinct is to say that the State has already confiscated our quarter for his benefit, and he should go to the State about it.
Notice that this, by and large, is not true. It may be logical enough in its way, but it is not how most human beings actually behave. (Maybe Nock was a Vulcan—the name fits.) Most people will make that sort of decision based on more immediate factors, and do not stop to think about whether government has already “confiscated” the funds. Nock evidently did, but he should have figured out that he was an exception.
I think the answer boils down to the nationalist/business divide in the Republican party. If you read this blog regularly, you know that my answer is, as I once put it: “Business wants to keep the government from getting its money; nationalists hate the actual people in the government.”
Well maybe “hate” is a strong word. Still, I think the major issue is their dislike of the government, and the resultant concern that people will become dependent upon it, rather than dependent on, say, religious institutions. Their quarrel is not with dependency per se, but only with what institution the beneficiaries of charity are in danger of becoming dependent upon.
But perhaps even that does not altogether account for it. As has been stated many times, the Republicans do not mind wasteful government spending on certain things that they like, particularly the military. It is only when the spending is devoted to someone or something they don’t like. They don’t oppose the whole government, only certain parts of it.