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Safe Haven: The Contribution of Benevolent Societies

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By Greg Scandlen

The Citizens Council for Health Freedom has just published a paper I wrote about the history and potential future of mutual aid associations, often called “friendly societies” in Great Britain or “fraternal associations” in the United States.

The paper looks at the contribution such organizations have made over the past several hundred years, not only in delivering material benefits, but also in emphasizing virtuous behavior by their members. The American Founders believed such virtues were absolutely essential for a self-governing people –

  • George Washington — “Virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government,” and “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.”
  • Benjamin Franklin — “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom.”
  • James Madison — “To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people, is a chimerical idea.”
  • Thomas Jefferson — “No government can continue good but under the control of the people; and … their minds are to be informed by education what is right and what wrong; to be encouraged in habits of virtue and to be deterred from those of vice … These are the inculcations necessary to render the people a sure basis for the structure and order of government.”
  • Samuel Adams — “Neither the wisest constitution nor the wisest laws will secure the liberty and happiness of a people whose manners are universally corrupt. He therefore is the truest friend of the liberty of his country who tries most to promote its virtue.”
  • John Adams –“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

(Compiled by The Washington, Jefferson & Madison Institute of Charlottesville, Virginia)

The rise of Progressivism in the 20th Century attacked the value of such associations. Indeed, Progressives thought that virtues such as thrift and mutual aid undermined people’s loyalty to the State and hurt an economic system based on consumer spending. They worked diligently to replace the benefits of fraternal associations with government social welfare programs.

But the Progressive Era is coming to an end as we discover such programs cannot deliver on the promises they have made. Indeed, we currently have unfunded obligations of at least double the amount of all the wealth of the world.

As the reliance on government programs comes crashing down, people will turn once again to voluntary associations to help each other in times of trouble. In recent years a new wave has started to emerge, especially in the form of the Christian Health Care Sharing Ministries, which are exempt from the requirements of the Affordable Care Act. These are still rudimentary, but when combined with the networking potential of social media, they may be a model for a new era of mutual aid.

Read more: Citizens Council for Health Freedom

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