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The Tragedy of American Compassion

Publisher: Regnery Publishing • 1994 • 299 pages

This is a richly documented, controversial history of the welfare state as seen from a conservative political perspective. The system is generous with money but stingy on human involvement, argues Olasky, a University of Texas journalism professor: compassion means tough love in which those who give must demand self-help from those who receive. But Olasky adds a proviso that the giver too must be personally involved. He holds up the example of 19th-century charity workers, whose religious beliefs made them compassionate and willing to deal intimately with the poor, rather than dispensing money to them through government agencies. There’s plenty of social history here–from Horace Greeley, soup kitchens and orphan asylums to today’s homeless impasse. Olasky does not blame the system for poverty. He faults the poor, along with social workers back to Jane Addams and the founders of the settlement house movement.

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