Jonah Goldberg

What's vastly more interesting is what Brooks' data says about America. Our charitableness is a distinct cultural artifact. America's simply a lot more generous than most other countries. Not counting government aid, we give, per capita, three and half times more than the French, seven times more than Germans and 14 times more than the Italians.

This is not merely a byproduct of our wealth. In fact, one of the most interesting observations of the book is that the most giving Americans, measured as a share of their income, are the working poor. The rich come second and the middle class last.

The difference lies in European attitudes toward God and state. Europeans have largely turned their backs on the former and consider the latter the answer to everything.

Europeans defend their comparative stinginess by claiming that their outsized welfare states, and the taxes they pay into them, amount to charity. Brooks demolishes these and related assertions. But the most basic response is this: Compelling payment by others through high taxes isn't charity.

What's interesting to me is that Europeans are uncharitable for the same reason liberal secularists tend to be. In America, as in Europe, the more you think the state should provide for everything, the less you think anybody else should provide anything. As Ralph Nader said in 2000, "A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity." In other words, a "just" society is one where, because the state helps everyone, people aren't obliged to help anyone.

Brooks, a cautious social scientist, doesn't tie all this together as much as he could. Europe's transformation into what he and others call a "post-Christian" civilization has its roots in the turn-of-the-century switch from religion to statism, when "God will provide" was replaced with "the state will." This vision is a European import, and in many respects the history of liberalism in America is the history of Europeanization. Woodrow Wilson's war socialism, FDR's New Deal, Lyndon Johnson's Great Society and Bill Clinton's Third Way were all proselytized as attempts to make America more like "enlightened" Europe.

Maybe such a transformation would make America a better place. But the data suggests it wouldn't make Americans better people.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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