Once upon a time, Americans believed in the myth of the “self-made man,” and then the stock market crashed and people turned to each other and the government for help.
During the Great Depression, it became clear that people couldn’t survive on their own.
At that time, the New Deal was enacted to provide a safety net that hadn’t been there before. One of the pieces of that safety net is Social Security.
Then in the 1960s, the programs of the Great Society were enacted, including Medicare. None of these programs is perfect, but they are a response to the realities that none of us can survive on our own.
I think many people have forgotten that lesson. The myth of the “self-made man or woman” has returned with a vengeance.
The safety net, which has admittedly grown ever larger, is under attack. I would be the first to say that reform is needed, but that’s not the point. The point is one of ideology.
The narrative of radical individualism strikes at the very fabric of American life. It undermines such important institutions as public education, which was designed to make sure that every American had access to quality schools.
One of the ideological cornerstones of radical individualism is a rejection of the idea that I have a responsibility to my neighbor, especially if my neighbor looks different or believes differently.
One of the central figures in this new era of radical individualism is a long deceased writer named Ayn Rand.
Rand espoused an “objectivist ethic” that taught the “virtue of selfishness.” She believed that altruism – doing good to the other without expectation of something in return – was evil. The self is the center.
This philosophy stands at the heart of a number of political movements, and has been, at least until recently, embraced by the GOP vice-presidential candidate, Paul Ryan.
Rand had little use for government – except in three areas (as she lays out in an essay):
“The proper functions of a government fall into three broad categories, all of them involving the issues of physical force and the protection of men’s rights: the police, to protect men from criminals – the armed services, to protect men from foreign invaders – the law courts, to settle disputes among men according to objective laws.”
You will see nothing here regarding a safety net, nothing having to do with education or infrastructure.
Think about it for a moment: When you go for a drive in that car, who built the roads? We did, as a society, paying taxes and user fees. That’s a government role that Rand rejects.
My question is: What does the future hold for a nation that embraces “radical individualism”? What happens to a society when the poor, weak and infirm can no longer take care of themselves? To whom shall they turn?
“To the churches,” you say. Well, if only the churches had the numbers and the wealth to deal with such issues.
You say that asking you to pay taxes to care for such people is an infringement on your rights?
Well, I didn’t agree with the war in Iraq – am I not paying for it? Is that not an infringement on my rights?
After all, Iraq didn’t attack us, so even on Rand’s premises that war made no logical sense.
More to my point: If we continue on a course guided by these values, where we see greater inequality in our country, where does that lead us? Is that a good thing for us as a country?
Watch a trailer (below) for EthicsDaily.com’s documentary on faith and taxes, and click here to learn more about it.
Bob Cornwall is Senior Pastor of Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Troy, Michigan.