National Catholic Register

Commentary

Mixing Hearts and Brains

BY Jim Fair

November 16-22, 2008 Issue | Posted 11/11/08 at 3:36 PM

 

Of the many insightful quotes of Winston Churchill, this is my favorite: “Any man who is under 30 and is not a liberal, has no heart; and any man who is over 30, and is not a conservative, has no brains.”

Yes, there is a tad of hyperbole here, but within this bit of wisdom lives the great political conflict of the last election: Do we improve the lives of people through massive government programs or by government getting out of the way and allowing the free-market economy to create goods, services and jobs?

First, a confession: During my college years, I was accurately called a liberal. I thought government could solve the great problems facing society.

Second confession: I’m a recovering liberal (a.k.a. conservative) who reached recovery before the age of 30. For me, the path to recovery included working as a newspaper reporter covering county government, and I quickly realized that taxpayers usually got less in services from government than they paid for — and more in taxes and interference than they wanted.

Liberalism and conservatism are conflicting approaches to creating a just society. And to understand them requires a little study of history — and a brief consultation with the Bible. 

The media view of liberal policy is that it is “caring.” That is, a liberal is someone who wants to help the poor by having the government care for them, which results in a welfare (or nanny) state. This approach demonstrates an abundance of good intentions, but rather spotty results. Famous advocates of this approach include Robin Hood (successful but a myth) and Lenin (unsuccessful and maniacal). 

The media view of conservative policy is that it is designed to protect the wealthy, maintain the status quo, and minimize government.

There are some rather famous and successful proponents of this approach, including the framers of our Constitution, the participants in the Boston Tea Party and Ronald Reagan.

But as the Church teaches, government policy that promotes capitalism, as conservative policy should, must be tempered by a willingness to allow all participants in society to share in the profit of their work — people deserve a just wage. Goods and services are created to serve society, not to satisfy unending greed.

So, are liberals the nice guys and conservatives the greedy ones? No. While it might look that way on the surface, the truth is different.

Recall the parable of the talents? The master went on a trip, leaving three servants in charge of his investments. To one he gave five talents, which the servant invested; he reaped a sizeable return. To the second he gave three talents, which the servant wisely invested. To the third, he gave one talent, which the servant buried in the back yard, receiving no income, and inflation being eternal, actually lost money.

When the master returned, he praised the first two servants and gave them more to invest. He took the talent from the third servant and chastised him for his laziness. The master, in other words, was a “conservative.”

Had the master been a liberal, he would have taken the profit from his two industrious servants and given it to the third. The third would have buried more money in the back yard, and over time, all would have been poorer as a result.

It wasn’t that the master didn’t care for the third servant. The master here is Christ, and Christ cared! But the master believed in giving people an opportunity and rewarding them on the basis of what they do with that opportunity. That’s the basis of the economic system the founding fathers created for the United States — opportunity to take one’s God-given talents and pursue life, liberty and happiness. And yes, the founding fathers were, by any standard measurement, conservatives and ardent capitalists.

When I’m not working, you’ll likely find me fishing. While I’m better at fishing than catching, on most outings, I do put a few fish in the boat. If a hungry man paddled by, I would certainly offer him one of my fish. But I also would do him the great service of explaining how to catch more. I’m a conservative.

Jim Fair writes

from Chicago.