… is from pages 524-525 of George Will’s excellent 2019 book, The Conservative Sensibility:
Compassion does indeed involve the desire to prevent or ameliorate pain or distress. Because there is never a shortage of those things, compassion is steady work. So, as a political imperative, compassion as an animating force of government can mean expanding government without end. Hence the contradiction between compassionate conservatism and constitutionalism.
DBx: I suspect that when many people encounter an expression of the reality conveyed in this quotation they leap to the mistaken conclusion that the person expressing this reality opposes compassion. Fact is, government is not the only source of compassion, either actual or potential. Indeed, as a source of genuine compassion, government’s record is rather poor; it is, after all, history’s greatest source of oppression.
Some of these oppressions committed by the state are on a grand scale. Think, for example, of the experience of the U.S.S.R. But most state oppressions are on smaller scales. Think, for example, of the tyrannies committed today in the United States by many government police officers who enjoy, courtesy of the U.S. Supreme Cost, the absurdity of “qualified immunity.” (By the way, a must-listen is Juliette Sellgren’s recent podcast, with Cato’s Clark Neily, on the dysfunction in America’s criminal-justice system.)
The greatest – some would plausibly argue the only true – source of compassion is individuals. Family members taking care of each others. Neighbors watching out for each other. Friends helping each others. Small and large privately organized efforts to alleviate the worst pain and suffering and anguish and distress. “Progressives” and other statists deny that private people are sufficiently willing or able to offer appropriate kinds and amounts of compassion – a denial that is not only contradicted by history, but is practically impossible to square with the accompanying presumption that the governments elected by these very same indifferent and incompetent people are somehow willing and able to offer compassion in the requisite varieties and quantities.
And don’t forget this fact: Even the most compassionate government is incapable of unlimited compassion. Our world is one of inescapable scarcity. More compassion here means less of something valuable there – perhaps less science funding, less courtroom space, even less compassion extended in some other direction.