Acton Institute Powerblog

Hurricanes as schools of charity

The only force greater than the destruction wrought by this summer’s hellish hurricanes is the solidarity written indelibly upon the human heart. The acts of charity they galvanize show the power of voluntary efforts springing from voluntarism, virtue, and compassion.

Unfortunately, natural disasters often inspire calls for more government intervention, either to fight climate change or to preserve the temporary sense of national unity they create. But Steve Stapleton writes that “the default position of a free people in a free society should never be to look first to the federal government for solutions” to every social problem. Responding to statist analyses in a new essay for Religion & Liberty Transatlantic, he writes:

What is much more obvious about the reaction to these hurricanes is the immediate outpouring of relief that followed each. This uncoerced charity, which is as predictable as the sunrise, provides conclusive evidence of human solidarity. Whenever disaster strikes, people – individually and in groups – voluntarily mount drives to alleviate the victims’ suffering. One only needs to “Google” Harvey or Irma hurricane relief to find countless stories of goods and money donated by ordinary Americans, companies, and celebrities. The Albuquerque Journal reported in late August that blood donations rose 35 percent above normal levels, specifically because of the hurricane in the neighboring state. With each catastrophe, organizations ranging from churches and schools, to service organizations and emergency relief agencies spring into action. After every natural disaster, people of goodwill spontaneously weave a beautiful and inspiring quilt of human solidarity.

American charitable undertakings thrive precisely because they are voluntary, he writes.

Stapleton, who has more than 30 years of experience in the investment and financial industry (and who attended the most recent Acton University), brings his robust history of charitable leadership to bear on the issue in his insightful essay. When the government begins to intervene in an ever-wider circle of social concerns, true charity begins to atrophy, with consequences rippling through every level of society:

As we lose opportunities to practice individual moral decision making, we lose these good habits. Over time this leads to a coarsening of society, both through our inaction and the conflict instigated by politicizing every aspect of society. The state, of course, has an essential role in a free society – and a leading role in disaster relief. But the state can be at its best only when the culture rests on a bedrock of virtue and solidarity. …

No law of the state can prevent the erosion of our moral capital.

You can read his full essay here.

(Photo credit: michelmond / Shutterstock, for editorial use only.)

Rev. Ben Johnson

Rev. Ben Johnson is Executive Editor of the Acton Institute's flagship journal Religion & Liberty and edits its transatlantic website.