In political life today, you are considered compassionate if you demand that government impose your preferences on others.
But what's compassionate about that? Compassionate is "live and let live."
Brink Lindsey, author of the new book "The Age of Abundance: How Prosperity Transformed America's Politics and Culture", says that a growing number of Americans agree. They are increasingly tolerant of other people while still holding firm values of their own. Lindsey writes at the Cato Institute website: "Core commitments to family, work, and country remain strong, but they are tempered by broadminded tolerance of the country's diversity and a deep humility about telling others how they should live. ...
"Liberal attitudes on race and the role of women in society have now become subjects of overwhelming consensus. Consider interracial dating, once among the most ferociously enforced of taboos. According to a 2003 survey, 77 percent of Americans agreed with the proposition, 'I think it's all right for blacks and whites to date each other,' up from 48 percent in 1987. ... Some 9 in 10 Americans endorsed equal job opportunities for gays and lesbians as of 2003."
Lindsey, whose book is getting favorable attention in The New York Times, The Economist, Los Angeles Times, Times of London and National Review, is not the first to point this out, but he emphasizes that the "live and let live" ethic arose only when material security could be taken for granted. As people worried less about where their next meal would come from, they had time to contemplate and develop more enlightened attitudes.
"American capitalism is derided for its superficial banality, yet it has unleashed profound, convulsive social change," he writes. "Condemned as mindless materialism, it has burst loose a flood tide of spiritual yearning. The civil rights movement and the sexual revolution, environmentalism and feminism, the fitness and health-care boom and the opening of the gay closet, the withering of censorship and the rise of a 'creative class' of 'knowledge workers' -- all are the progeny of widespread prosperity."
Relative freedom and the astounding prosperity it yielded have created one of the most humane societies in history -- the opposite of what the opponents of economic freedom predicted.