Lincoln and the Welfare State

The left will scream bloody murder if we say that Lincoln objected to the welfare state. But philosophically, there can be no doubt of the fact. He would not only stand against it, he would fight it. Why? Because his piercing gray eyes would instantly recognize it as another form of slavery, one more insidious than the variety he fought, but slavery nevertheless.

Among Lincoln's chief arguments against slavery were the following:

Natural rights, as spelled out in the Declaration of Independence, meant that all people had a right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, regardless of skin color. No person (or party) had a right to treat another person as property. In his speech in Peoria in 1859 he argued: "Equal justice to the south, it is said, requires us to consent to the extending of slavery to new countries. That is to say, inasmuch as you do not object to my taking my hog to Nebraska, therefore I must not object to you taking your slave. Now, I admit this is perfectly logical, if there is no difference between hogs and negroes." 

Lincoln also protested against slavery because of man's innate sense of justice. He asked an audience to think about the half million freed negroes in the U.S.: "All these free blacks are the descendants of slaves, or have been slaves themselves, and they would be slaves now, but for something which has operated on their white owners, inducing them, at vast pecuniary sacrifices, to liberate them. What is that something? Is there any mistaking it? In all these cases it is your sense of justice, and human sympathy, continually telling you, that the poor negro has some natural right to himself-that those who deny it, and make mere merchandise of him, deserve kickings, contempt and death."

Additionally, man had a right to govern himself. "The doctrine of self-government is right -- absolutely and eternally right -- just application depends upon whether a negro is not or is a man. If he is not a man, why in that case, he who is man may, as a matter of self-government do just as he pleases with him. But if the negro is a man is it not to that extent, a total destruction of self-government, to say that he too shall not govern himself? When the white man governs himself that is self-government; but when he governs himself, and also governs another man, that is more than self-government -- that is despotism."

Lincoln believed that all men had the right to the fruits of their labor. "That men who are industrious, and sober, and honest in the pursuit of their own interests should after a while accumulate capital, and after that should be allowed to enjoy it in peace, to use it to save themselves from actual labor and hire other people to labor for them is right."

It is striking to note Lincoln's respect for labor itself. During his inaugural address a man stood up and said "Mr. Lincoln, you must not forget that your father used to make shoes for our family." And the whole Senate laughed, they thought they had made a fool of Abraham Lincoln... Lincoln looked at the man and said, "Sir, I know that my father used to make shoes in your house for your family, and there will be many others here... because the way he made shoes, nobody else can. He was a creator. His shoes were not just shoes, he poured his whole soul in it. I want to ask you, have you any complaint? Because I know how to make shoes myself, if you have any complaint, I can make another pair of shoes. But as far as I know, no one has ever complained about my father's shoes. He was a genius, a great creator and I am proud of my father." The whole Senate was struck dumb."

Not only did Lincoln appreciate the dignity of labor, he wanted everyone to succeed at it: "we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. [Applause] When one starts poor, as most do in the race of life, free society is such that he knows he can better his condition; he knows that there is no fixed condition of labor, for his whole life."

Finally, Lincoln was against slavery because he believed it impaired the general welfare of the country. "We believe that the spreading out and perpetuity of the institution of slavery impairs the general welfare. We believe, nay, we know, that that is the only thing that has ever threatened the perpetuity of the Union itself."

Though the welfare state has no exact definition, Hayek described a "welfare state that aims at 'social justice' and becomes 'primarily a redistributor of income.' He warned that this is "bound to lead back to socialism and its coercive and essentially arbitrary methods."

Let's analyze Lincoln's arguments with respect to the welfare state:

Natural rights: All men have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The welfare state results in a loss of choices, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As Hayek foresaw: "If government wants not merely to facilitate the attainment of certain standards by the individuals but to make certain that everybody attains them it can do so only by depriving individuals of any choice in the matter...." Obamacare, to give one example, will be enforced through coercion, contrary to the principles of freedom."

Does the welfare state treat the person as property? We can see this use of people as property in the Democrats' need of and use of a permanent underclass: gift-giving for vote-getting. Liberals treat the votes of their wards -- their political power -- as their property, to be utilized as they see fit. Iconic examples include distribution of the "Obamaphone" and the "Obama stash," or in the notorious cases of Democrats abusing the voting rights of unfortunate mentally disabled individuals.

Critically, and most importantly, the welfare state, like slavery, is an assault on the recipient's human dignity. But human dignity "is bound up with taking responsibility for conducting one's own affairs." (Paul Rahe, Soft Despotism: Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect) Not only does the welfare state not encourage citizens to take responsibility for conducting ones' own affairs, it is packed with disincentives against working and raising families. We can ask if it is not actively destructive of these goals.

Does the welfare state violate our innate sense of justice? When the fruit of man's labor is gathered in taxes and then divided for others to enjoy food stamps, health care, education, phones, subsidized promiscuity, housing, the rebuilding of millionaires' homes on the tony shores of Jersey and the Hamptons (Incredibly, Thomas DiNapoli, Comptroller for New York, called for a 90-100% reimbursement rate from FEMA on the grounds that the federal government could "print money."), it violates our innate sense of justice and economic justice. No one is talking about a safety net for people in hard times; modern governments have all provided for people under these conditions.

Man has a right to govern himself. Our government now uses its coercive powers to insure that men are given what it thinks we need. More and more we no longer exercise any choice in some of the most important matters of our lives: health, employment, housing, and provision for retirement and, as Hayek states, "must accept the decisions made for us by appointed authority on the basis of its evaluation" of our needs." This is no longer self-government but soft despotism.

As we have seen, Lincoln was a firm believer in citizens being able to enjoy the fruits of their labor. What labor does the welfare state advocate? The perfect example is Obama's plan to waive the work requirements for welfare. Waiving the work requirement by definition means there are no fruits of man's labor because there is no labor. The welfare state teaches able-bodied men and women to accept non-working as a condition of their servitude. Does this give the "humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else"?

The tentacles of the welfare state impair the general welfare. It is in the interest of the welfare state to subsidize dysfunctional welfare families. As Greenfield notes, liberals' solicitude toward them results in the employment for an entire class of government workers: social workers, employees of government clinics, schools and counselors.   It is to the advantage of these government workers not to solve the problems of these people, for it would mean a loss of a government job. They need to keep them down. Thus the welfare state does not solve any of the truly monumental problems tearing our society apart -- broken families, drugs, failing schools. It impairs the general welfare. The blunt question is: is it a racket? The ramifications of the welfare state are examined in the recent documentary Runaway Slave which suggests that it has harmed and even "enslaved" African Americans. It has kept them in a permanent welfare state, a permanent underclass, a form of tyranny. For anything that keeps any group of the country's citizens in a form of tyranny represents a form of tyranny to the whole nation.

It is clear that Lincoln would be against the welfare state, because it is another form of slavery. The first form of slavery was clearly visible. There were shackles and chains and often physical restrictions (though its worst effects were on the soul). Slave masters were cruel. In the new form of slavery it is not as clearly visible and the masters or experts appear benign -- they "care." But it still affects the deepest parts of the soul -- that of man's dignity -- and represents no less an assault on it.

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