“Charity begins at home” was one of the most telling proverbs in the English language.  I say “was” because the English language is deader than Latin, and its post-English/post-American replacement, while it contains sound sequences remarkably similar to the old words, charity and home, has put both words in bondage to liberal propaganda.  Home is now used as a more seductive synonym for house: Real-estate salesmen never sell houses any more, only homes—which, by definition can neither be bought nor sold.  Home once designated the semisacred spot where the family memories were kept; where children were born and reared and the old people died; where you could still see the pencil marks on the kitchen wall, charting the growth of each of the children; the place to which the prodigal son returned; “the place where, when you had to go there, they had to take you in.”  The substitution of home for house, however, accepted by the great mass of Americans, can only mean that we now regard a home to be a building purchased on a 30-year mortgage, where we consume, usually in separate rooms, the things we buy and hold on to, one of a series of way stations on the road to bigger and more expensive.

The degeneration of charity is even more complex.  The most obvious corruption has been the reinterpretation of charity as the equivalent of almsgiving.  Giving alms to the poor is often an expression of charity, though we may also give money out of fear or vanity or under compulsion.  But charity, properly speaking, is caritas, a Latin word meaning dearness and, thus, affection and nonsensual love.  Cicero and Livy spoke of our charity toward children and toward our country, and it was the word chosen to translate the Greek agape of the New Testament.  The “charity” praised by St. Paul in First Corinthians does not primarily refer to the giving of gifts to the poor: It is more like a spiritualized version of Aristotelian philia (friendship) that rises ultimately to the love of God.  Properly speaking, charity is, as Addison observed, not of the hands but of the heart.

Charity is said to begin at home because it is within the home that we learn to treat other human beings with lovingkindness.  Many parents, if they merely consulted their own immediate interests, might decide to send their children out to work, as Dickens’ family sent the young Charles out to a blacking factory.  A mother focused on her income and career might choose to kill her child before he is born or to emulate the inexperienced rabbit, who eats her offspring.  (The difference is that most human mothers know what they are doing.)

Instead, most mothers and fathers sacrifice their material interests in order to help their children.  Decent people will extend such kindness to other members of the family and to neighbors, and, if they are Christian, they will desire to help the poor people they encounter, provided that, in giving to the poor, they do not injure the interests of their own families.  Saint Paul, Saint Augustine, and Saint Thomas all made it clear that Christians must not fall short of pagans in providing for their families, and, as Augustine points out, since few of us have infinite wealth, we should devote most of our scarce resources to the families we are obligated to take care of.

Thus, charity begins at home.

The confusion between charity and alms is old in English, and, by the 18th century, wits such as Sheridan were cracking the now-familiar joke that charity that begins at home “rarely stirs abroad at all.”  Classical liberals like Ebeneezer Scrooge are opposed to all eleemosynary activity, partly in the belief (as Emerson puts it) that, if life and property are secure, “you need not give alms.”  Emerson (like all the Scrooges) misses the point as usual.  One object of any equitable and efficient social order is to provide the conditions under which hardworking and independent people can thrive, but human life is filled with misfortunes.  A good man might be too weak to prosper; a stranger might find himself without resources; decent people get sick and cannot feed their families.  And, since none of us is perfect, we are obliged to consider the fate of the not-so-virtuous and not-so-decent people who fall on hard times.  Christians do not exercise charity in the hope that they can solve all human problems but in fulfillment of the two Great Commandments: to love God and to love their neighbors.

This is what distinguishes the Christian ethic from the Marxist system that automatically transfers wealth from my family to another’s, from my neighborhood to yours, from our country to some place most of us will never visit.  This compulsory almsgiving robs me not only of my property in general but, in particular, of that bit of surplus income I can spend on the poor and the unfortunate.  A family man who is forced to give half his income to bureaucrats has less to give and less incentive to give.  Charity given under compulsion is not charity at all but tribute, a tribute paid to a political system that despises the very religion that has preached charity for two millennia.

The national welfare state replaces charity with a socialist theory of justice that no Christian can accept and no rational person could believe in.  (The widespread acceptance of theories of “social justice”—debunked brilliantly in our own time by Anthony Flew—are proof that man is not really a rational animal.)  The international welfare state, which is being created by the United Nations and the NGO’s, fulfills Marx’s diabolical dream of a global regime in which a  planetary proletariat serves the tiny master class that controls the state.