The Catholic Thing
How the Inhuman De-Humanizes Print E-mail
By David Warren   
Saturday, 22 March 2014

There was once an exchange in Delhi, between the British High Commissioner, Malcolm MacDonald, and my hero, Nirad Chaudhuri. This was in the late 1950s. The topic was foreign aid.

“Mr. MacDonald, do you think, if you give enough money to the chimpanzees, they will one day come up, shake hands with you, and say, How do you do, Mr. MacDonald?”

“Certainly not,” he replied, “a fair question fairly answered. But may I in my turn ask you a question? Will they remain the same chimpanzees?”

“Certainly not,” Chaudhuri said, “but they will not become humans, they will only make themselves more efficient and cunning chimpanzees with your money, and blackmail you for more.”

Now, one of the reasons Chaudhuri is among my heroes, will stand plainly revealed. It was his use of the term “chimpanzees” to give his argument color. Gentle reader may be assured that through the first years after independence, Indian nationalism had imposed standards of political correctness, not less sanctimonious than the standards in America today. One did not imply that the party of Gandhi and Nehru consisted of chimpanzees.

But more, and to the point: In my days of traveling through what was then called the Third World, I was often struck by the truth of Chaudhuris observation. “Free money” from the West achieved, in approximately 100 percent of cases, the precise opposite of its intended effects.

That it abetted official corruption, and discouraged productive effort, could almost go without saying. But neither did it win friends and influence people. Instead, it made the ruling classes more self-consciously resentful of “colonialism” and “imperialism.” And their resentment in turn fuelled their demands for ever more foreign aid – not by beggary, but by right.

The exceptions were interesting. In Taiwan, for instance, and in Germany (which had been reduced to a Third World country in 1945), I found real gratitude, especially for American help. This was not for state aid, or the Marshall Plan, however. It was expressed by old people who could remember receiving food and other gift packages – sent blindly, by actual Americans, many of whom hadnt even identified themselves.

“For I was hungry, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took me in. Naked, and you covered me; sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.”

The quotation is from the Douay-Rheims Bible, but the sentiment was expressed to me several times in other unforgettable ways. And it resonated in me, for I could myself remember, as a child of six, a moment towards Christmas in Lahore, Pakistan. My father was gravely ill, and we were penniless. Some American strangers found out about this, and showered us with money and presents.

          Nirad Chaudhuri

Let me dwell on that for a moment. To me, it came down to a big bag of “Smarties,” the size of a pillow through a childs eyes. All my life, whenever I have heard some ideologue spitting anti-Americanism, the image of that bag has come to mind. And there is no “irony” in it. On several occasions, I became irrationally, almost violently pro-American in response to this smug, hateful, and indeed statist posturing.

It had not been a guilt offering. We had received genuine charity, with no strings attached. It was not from “the United States.” It was from specific expatriate Americans who had done a whip round, and sent everything over with their servants, rather than deliver the packages themselves. Perhaps they knew my mama was proud – that she would rather starve than take handouts. Shed had to cross-examine the servants, to discover the source.

Now, the idea behind foreign aid – and behind the whole welfare state for that matter – began in that passage from Matthew 25, and the many others like it scattered through the “Judeo-Christian” scriptures. There are parallels to be found in other religious traditions.

Our entire political order is founded on good intentions, or where not, in a semblance of them. The slogans upon which bureaucratic statism depends recognizably echo the old saws. The state parades as the Good Samaritan, evolving over time and taxes into a kind of Robin Hood, taking forcibly from “the rich” to give to “the poor.”

And those who resist the states claims, are methodically demonized as the hypocrites of Christs parable, who passed the injured man by. I have myself often been lectured in this way, by people of higher income who live on my tax money. Or if you will, by the “chimpanzees” of Nirad Chaudhuris parable.

To my mind, the distinction between a person and the state is not a subtle one. The first is a moral agent. The second is inhuman, and therefore cannot be. In our day, the specious term “democracy” has been employed to bridge this chasm: to make the most involuntary acts, such as being openly robbed by a faceless irresistible force, into something nominally voluntary.

Among the virtues I attribute to the old, pre-democratic orders, was candor. Power was personal, rather than collective, and the distinction between ruler and ruled was sharp. Not by democracy, but by the long, essentially mediaeval development of – e.g. – British  common law, by which the individual was defended against the arbitrary acts of the rulers.

Whereas, “democracy” replaced a much smaller and less effective tyranny with a much larger and more effective one – able to arrogate to itself not only the monopoly on physical force, which all governments aspire to, but also the monopoly on righteousness, which only the insane once asserted.

And what is taken by main force, and distributed by political calculation is, in turn, received without gratitude, as if by right. It brings out the worst, even in the beneficiaries.

Consider: “As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me.”

David Warren is a former editor of the Idler magazine and columnist with the Ottawa Citizen. He has extensive experience in the Near and Far East. His blog, Essays in Idleness, is now to be found at:
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.

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Comments (13)Add Comment
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, March 22, 2014
Talleyrand wrote that “Governing has never been anything other than postponing by a thousand subterfuges the moment when the mob will hang you from the nearest lamp-post, and every act of government is nothing but a way of not losing control of the people.”

If we want to curtail welfare spending, are we ready for a repetition of les journées de juin 1848, following the closure of les Ateliers Nationaux, the welfare system of the day? Then, the Liberals secured a victory over the Radical Republicans, but at the cost of 1,500 dead in the streets and thousands of summary executions of prisoners. The Assembly, one recalls, welcomed the surrender of the last barricade with cries of “Long Live the Republic!” What they got, inevitably, was Napoléon III.

International aid is equally self-interested, in forestalling challenges to the existing order and none the worse for that.
written by Marie Therese, March 22, 2014
"To my mind, the distinction between a person and the state is not a subtle one. The first is a moral agent. The second is inhuman, and therefore cannot be."

"And what is taken by main force, and distributed by political calculation is, in turn, received without gratitude, as if by right. It brings out the worst, even in the beneficiaries."

Thank you for your spot-on description of socialism. After thirty years of living in Scandinavia I have intimate knowledge of a State that grabs across the board, ballooning into a conscience-devoid apparatus, operated by politicians with huge egos and no personal responsibility, of beneficiaries who morph into patients. It's a sorry, inhuman state when charity is institutionalized. On the other hand, it's a sorrier state when basic human needs - like a roof over your head, food, being acknowledged and treated kindly - are not met.

Will we - or can we? - ever reach that middle ground?
written by Rich in MN, March 22, 2014
Years ago I saw a movie called "The Last Emperor" about the last Emperor of China in the early 20th Century. In the movie, a young, beautiful, and pathologically heartless and devious Japanese spy introduces the Emperor's wife to the "pleasures of opium." Once she is hooked, the spy then asks her for information as well as various types of lesbian sexual favors. The wife hates herself and hates the spy, but she cannot resist.

As we send the "smoke of Satan" within our "Trojan Horses" of foreign aid around the world, I think we take more a queue from "The Last Emperor" than from Matthew's Gospel.
written by Ted Seeber, March 22, 2014
I have an idea. It's an imprudent idea, but it repairs many of the problems of foreign aid. I'm going to keep posting it until somebody who has the ability starts doing it.

Instead of giving money, buy edible native plant seeds for your intended area. Get some soil and clay, and make miniature seed bombs. Rent a helicopter, and scatter widely.

You'll do more good with that, especially if you do it right before the rainy season, than anything else.
written by Prof. Fred Nazar, March 22, 2014
Welfare state and foreign aid is the forced expropriation of charity, through taxes. In the economy of salvation this transfer of money does absolutely nothing to improve the world. At least, the state could allow citizens to deduct donations 100% and chose where to submit their taxes.
Except the virtue of poverty (having less because of sharing), the root of poverty is sin. That is why Jesus said we will always have poverty until the end of the world.
It is not possible to solve lack of virtues, values and religion (n.b. order, industriousness, excellency) with giveaways.
Charity is the only way solve poverty. Charity urges us to promote the Eucharist, the source of any real charity. This doesn't mean donations are useless. The Gospel is clear: you can't tell someone to go in peace (convert) with an empty stomach. First the tummy, then the soul? no, both at the same time! Tummy without soul, will never solve the problem.
"Chimpanzees": that's not a charitable term and shows lack of manners and mercy.
Blessings in the Heart of the Holy Family
f.nazar at
written by schm0e, March 22, 2014
Very provocative first few paragraphs.
written by schm0e, March 22, 2014
@rich in minnesota:

Ah yes, The Great Satan, eh?

Minnesota must be very close to Dearborn.
written by Tony Esolen, March 22, 2014
Pope Leo XIII observed that the socialists of his day despised the charitable efforts of the Church, because they supposedly blunted the edge of fury with which the Socialists wished to whet the mob to rebellion; in other words, because they obviated the need for Socialists.

I have long wondered why people take for granted that private charity cannot replace most public assistance. After all, the government has no money besides what it expropriates from people. The best argument for public assistance seems to be that a government can sometimes allocate funds and resources to specific recipients in times of emergency. And yet the government proves to be fairly inefficient even at that; and that doesn't take into account the moral and political hazard of establishing the government as a welfare agency. It would be interesting to compare what Americans used to do for one another before the welfare state existed, with what they do for one another now. That would require a careful and qualitative study of history, which few historians and even fewer social scientists now are equipped to undertake.
written by Jack,CT, March 22, 2014
Rich;Charity comes in different forms,money,time,programs is one to "Decide" "the smoke satan" from
true charity of love?
written by Stanley Anderson, March 22, 2014
Tony Esolen writes "It would be interesting to compare what Americans used to do for one another before the welfare state existed, with what they do for one another now. That would require a careful and qualitative study of history, which few historians and even fewer social scientists now are equipped to undertake."

At least in international affairs we have the Peace Corps and I understand that there is an effort being made to standardize all method of aid into a systematized, testable process. I think it is called "Common Corps" if I'm not mistaken...

(Sorry, sorry, sorry, couldn't resist. I'll go back into hiding now...)

written by CCR From Buenos Aires, March 22, 2014
Think of the federal and state money allocated to take care of New Orleans after Katrina. Then see how much money in goods and services were received by those affected by the disaster. The difference will be of course closer to the amount allocated than to the amount received. The inhabitants of New Orleans therefore were for the most part left to their own devices before, during, and after the disaster. Any conversation about this subject is futile. Money given to government is never to be seen again, and the poor we will always have with us. Bypass government and the poor will be OK.
written by Graham, March 22, 2014
It occurred to me some time ago in -- I'm sorry to say -- a negative context that how something is being done is what is in fact being done (see any 21st century civil rights campaign). But this also obtains the other way. I once mentioned to an extremely leftist colleague in the book industry that according to Arthur Brooks Americans were individually and as groups sending 300 billion dollars a year overseas (before the Great Recession of course). She replied "I wouldn't brag about it." But of course that is exactly what statists such as the supporters of Obama do -- brag and imply that you are "unChristian" because you would rather do it yourself or in collaboration with like-minded people. Proof of the statists pride and contempt? I recently drove past an elementary school in a blue-collar (i.e. working class/working poor) suburb of Detroit -- similar to the one I grew up in. Spread across the entrance to the school was a huge banner announcing that the the students were fed breakfast and lunch courtesy of the government. I often wonder what the children thought of this; never mind their parents or neighbors. As a boy I would have been humiliated. There is a Hebrew word for doing the right thing, giving anonymously, tzedakah. Apparently this is considered the second highest level of charity according to Maimonides. The government noblesse oblige is by necessity and nature shouted from rooftops because an unseen act of charity garners no support on election day. It's about power over the recipient and from the misguided social justice demographic. And in the end statists are all about power. Sadly this viewpoint has become somewhat dominant in the Church -- at least from my experience in the Archdiocese of Detroit. The election of 2012 was the final push out of the door from the parish in which I entered the Church as an adult. And into an inner city parish where the pastor commented that the devastation outside the gates of his parish was a moral, not an economic, disaster. As Blessed Fulton Jay Sheen warned in the seventies, the politicization of theology would be a plague on the Church. And it is. Especially regarding the theological virtue of Charity.
written by Rich in MN, March 23, 2014
To shm0e and Jack CT,

Sorry, I guess I was a little vague in my comment. My reference to "lesbian sexual favors" and the double entendre of "Trojan" was meant to allude to our tying of abortion, contraception and gay rights to foreign aid. That was the "smoke of Satan" to which I was trying to allude.

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