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Beyond Humanitarianism: Michael Mattheson Miller on the Goal of Human Flourishing

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In a recent episode of EconTalk, Russell Roberts chats with Acton Institute’s Michael Mattheson Miller about Poverty, Inc., the award-winning documentary on the challenges of poverty alleviation in the developing world.

The entire conversation is rich and varied, ranging from the ill effects of Western do-gooderism to the  dignity of work to the need for institutions of justice.

You can listen to the whole thing below:

Later in the episode, Miller discusses the need for us to reach beyond mere humanitarianism to a fuller expression of love, recognizing the dignity and capacity of every human person, as well as the full scope of human needs — material, social, spiritual, and otherwise:

Part of the underlying problem with the humanitarian model, is that humanitarianism is really a hollowed out type of love — of  charity…Humanitarianism is a type of secular Christian love: “Let’s not have all the religious attachments. Let’s just make it about caring for people.” I understand why, but let’s look at it more carefully.

The word “charity” comes from the Latin word “caritas.” Caritas is love. And what is love? It is to seek the good of the other….It is the intentional desire for the benevolence of the other person…which means you want to help spread human flourishing, and that means you want to engage with the person in a way that helps them flourish as a human being, and not simply be able to buy stuff and comfort themselves with entertainment and food, because that’s not a rich human life.

This problem with humanitarianism is that it doesn’t think sufficiently about human flourishing — about treating a person like they’re not simply an object. And so, to use kind of a Nietzschean language, humanitarianism has this kind of limited horizons. It stops before it reaches the spiritual capacity of the person. It transvalues, and it makes comfort and the basic needs the highest value, instead of recognizing that as something that is helpful and essential for a greater human experience as a person.

For more, listen to the whole thing, or see Poverty, Inc. and the PovertyCure series.

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Joseph Sunde is an associate editor and writer for the Acton Institute. His work has appeared in venues such as The Federalist, First Things, The Christian Post, The Stream, Intellectual Takeout, Foundation for Economic Education, Patheos, LifeSiteNews, The City, Charisma News, The Green Room, Juicy Ecumenism, Ethika Politika, Made to Flourish, and the Center for Faith and Work. Joseph resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota with his wife and four children.

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