Reclus on Charity

An idea I want to look into and possibly do some research on some day is the inherent inefficiency and waste of trying to fix the problems created by capitalism. So many people running around trying to make many tiny adjustments so that people can, for instance, not starve to death. A wonderful thing, but wouldn’t it make more sense to deal with the disease and not the symptoms? How much effort is continuously being put forth applying band-aids?

I haven’t been sure of how to look for writings on this topic, but the following passage from Elisée Reclus’s “An Anarchist on Anarchy” (1884) made me think that discussions of charity might be one avenue:

“And what are the remedies proposed for the social ills which are consuming the very marrow in our bones? Can charity, as assert many good souls — who are answered in chorus by a crowd of egoists — can charity by any possibility deal with so vast an evil? True, we know some devoted ones who seem to live only that they may do good. In England, above all, is this the case. Among childless women who are constrained to lavish their love on their kind are to be found many of those admirable beings whose lives are passed in consoling the afflicted, visiting the sick, and ministering the young. We cannot help being touched by the exquisite benevolence, the indefatigable solicitude shown by these ladies towards their unhappy fellow creatures; but, taken even in their entirety, what economic value can be attached to these well-meant efforts? What sum represents the charities of a year in comparison with the gains which hucksters of money and hawkers of loans oftentimes make by the speculations of a single day? While Ladies Bountiful are giving a cup of tea to a pauper, or preparing a potion for the sick, a father or brother, by a hardly stroke on the Stock Exchange or a successful transaction in produce, may reduce to ruin thousands of British workers or Hindu coolies. And how worthy of respect soever may be deeds of unobstentations charity, is it not the fact that the bestowal of alms is generally a matter of personal caprice, and that their distribution is too often influenced rather by political and religious sympathies of the giver than by the moral worth of the recipient? Even were help always given to those who most need it, charity would be none the less tainted with the capital vice, that it infallibly constitutes relations of inequality between the benefited and the benefactor. The latter rejoices in the consciousness of doing a good thing, as if they were not simply discharging a debt; and the former asks bread as a favor, when they should demand work as a right, or, if helpless, human solidarity. Thus are created and developed hideous mendacity with its lies, its tricks, and its base, heart-breaking hypocrisy. How much nobler are the customs of some so-called ‘barbarous countries’ where the hungry person simply stops by the side of those who eat, is welcomed by all, and then, when satisfied, with a friendly greeting withdraws — remaining in every respect the equal of their host, and fretting under no painful sense of obligation for favors received! But charity breeds patronage and platitudes — miserable fruits of a wretched system, yet the best which a society of capitalists has to offer!”

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