Friday, April 07, 2006

What is a Beggar?

I apologise for quoting twice today, but it has been a while since I posted. Also, I think you would like a little Chesterton. Recently there has been some talk about begging, and I thought it best to give Chesterton's comments on it.
--Dr. Thursday

What is a beggar? A beggar is a man who asks help from another man solely in the name of something extraneous but common - as kinship or charity, the Fatherhood of God, or the brotherhood of man. He does not ask for the bread because he can at once give you the money, as in commerce. He does not ask for the bread because he will soon be able to pass you the mustard, as in Society. He asks you for the bread because you are supposed to be under an ancient law of pity, by which (as it is written) if a man ask you for bread you will not give him a stone. [See Luke 11:11] That is what a beggar is. He is a man who begs - that is, he is a man who asks without any clear power of return, except the opportunity he offers you to fulfil your own ideals.
Thus, a man drowning in mid-ocean is a beggar; a man hailing wildly from a desert island is a beggar; a total stranger cast up on an alien coast (as any of us who like yachting might be any day) is a beggar. That is to say, any help extended to them must rest solely on the fact that they have the human form or the appearance of agony. It cannot possibly rest on any assumption that they will pay it back in service to the State. The man drowning in the sea might be Jack the Ripper. The man hailing from the desert island might be Peter the Painter. [The leader of Latvian anarchists; GKC wrote about this earlier.] As for the man wrecked from the yacht - well, really, if you think of some of the people who go about in yachts, you will feel that Jack the Ripper and Peter the Painter are pillars of the commonwealth in comparison. Briefly, any person, in any position, is a beggar who has nothing but thanks to give for a service.

[ILN Feb 25, 19811 CW29:44]

Anybody who sells anything, in the streets or in the shops, is begging in the sense of begging people to buy. Mr. Selfridge is begging people to buy; the Imperial International Universal Cosmic Stores is begging people to buy. The only possible definition of the actual beggar is not that he is begging people to buy, but that he has nothing to sell. ... If begging is really wrong, a logical law should be imposed on all beggars, and not merely on those whom particular persons happen to regard as being also nuisances. What this sort of opportunism does is simply to prevent any question being considered as a whole. I happen to think the whole modern attitude towards beggars is entirely heathen and inhuman. I should be prepared to maintain, as a matter of general morality, that it is intrinsically indefensible to punish human beings for asking for human assistance. I should say that it is intrinsically insane to urge people to give charity and forbid people to accept charity. Nobody is penalized for crying for help when he is drowning; why should he be penalized for crying for help when he is starving? Every one would expect to have to help a man to save his life in a shipwreck; why not a man who has suffered a shipwreck of his life? A man may be in such a position by no conceivable fault of his own; but in any case his fault is never urged against him in the parallel cases. A man is saved from shipwreck without inquiry about whether he has blundered in the steering of his ship; and we fish him out of a pond before asking whose fault it was that he fell into it. A striking social satire might be written about a man who was rescued again and again out of mere motives of humanity in all the wildest places of the world; who was heroically rescued from a lion and skilfully saved out of a sinking ship; who was sought out on a desert island and scientifically recovered from a deadly swoon; and who only found himself suddenly deserted by all humanity when he reached the city that was his home.
[Fancies Versus Fads 131, 133-134]


At 08 April, 2006 08:48, Blogger Rick Lugari said...

Brilliant, as always.

I happen to think the whole modern attitude towards beggars is entirely heathen and inhuman.

Can you imagine what his choice of words would be if he were alive in this day?


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