On Charitable Giving

On Charitable Giving

Auberon Herbert responds to a reader named Mr. Hook who writes in to say, "It seems to me that the principle of having no taxation beyond what is borne voluntarily must always remain impossible of application. It would require a human nature as nearly perfect as one can conceive--perfect beyond that degree which would be needed to make workable the schemes of Socialists."

Herbert responds: Is that so? Are subscribers to hospitals or to Church of England schools, are Nonconformists who pay for their own chapels, are the Jews who support their own poor, are the hundreds of thousand of people who subscribe to institutions of every kind in which they believe, perfect? They give, often very generously, but they give without being perfect as yet, though they have taken a good start towards that goal. That they are better men and women, better citizens for such giving, Mr. Hook will, I believe readily admit; and I would ask him should not our object be to carry still further this faculty of giving, not depress and discourage it, as compulsory taxation does? One more point. I deny that voluntary giving requires perfection in human nature; whilst I assert that compulsory taking requires such perfection. The chief danger of compulsory taxation is in the imperfection of our nature. With our still imperfect natures we learn easily enough how to take. Taking is such a violent, unequal, oppressive thing in itself that it brings out everywhere, in every country the unreasonable, violent, dominant side of our nature. You can train men into giving but by no possibility can you moralise taking. It is the worst school possible in which to set human nature to learn the duties of citizenship. It is the perpetual lesson of might above right.

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