• The Heritage Network
    • Resize:
    • A
    • A
    • A
  • Donate
  • A New Year's Resolution that Can Strengthen Civil Society

    In his recent Bradley Lecture at the American Enterprise Institute, civil society expert Bill Schambra charged conservatives who say “that’s a job for civil society” to “be able to name and demonstrate immediate acquaintance with at least a dozen actual examples of civil society doing the job, in the form of grassroots groups personally visited and funded.” That’s a good New Year’s Resolution, and one that should also lead to greater alliance between conservatives and faith-based grassroots leaders and community healers who are putting conservative principles of human dignity and personal responsibility into action among communities in need.

    Their approach is fundamentally different from liberal ideologues who, for more than 40 years, have channeled trillions of taxpayers’ dollars into a vast array of programs and entitlements in the name of America’s poor and disenfranchised minorities.

    Yet, the fact that the number of people who are dependent on these programs continues to mount gives evidence that something is fundamentally wrong with the liberal approach, which centers on top-down services, designed by an elite cadre of policy advisers and delivered through a bureaucracy of credentialed service providers. And that fundamental failure is nowhere more clear than “where the rubber hits the road”-in the impoverished communities that suffer the problems social dysfunction most intensely, without the buffers of financial stability.

    As Bob Woodson, founder of the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE), has shown through on-the-ground communication in low-income neighborhoods throughout the country, the government’s vast expenditures have been misspent and have funded, for decades, entities that people consider an option of last resort. When asked who they would turn to in times of crisis, the vast majority of respondents identified an individual or local group of peers within their community.

    In fact, CNE was created to serve as a societal “Geiger counter” that has been able to identify these resources of first choice in low-income communities throughout the nation by talking with folks in barber shops, hair dressers, and diners to find out what’s working and why. Woodson dubs the grassroots neighborhood healers he has discovered as America’s “Josephs.” He urges our nation’s leaders to trust the people who have proven that they can bring results, just as the Biblical pharaoh, at a time of crisis, reached beyond his traditional advisers and sought out the wisdom of a young Hebrew boy.

    The Josephs identified by CNE include the likes of Freddie Garcia, a one-time drug addict, whose personal transformation became a launch pad for outreach that has touched and changed the lives of thousands of drug addicts and alcoholics. The ranks of these grassroots healers also include Bob Cote’ whose no-nonsense outreach to the homeless of Denver has transformed street drunks into responsible spouses and parents and successful entrepreneurs. And they include former gang members who have committed themselves to touch and reclaim the lives of peers who were immersed in a culture of violence and retaliation.

    Typically, this transformative grassroots outreach is faith-based and faith inspired-and that is a fiery and impassioned faith. Today’s Josephs may be more rugged and rambunctious than typical conservatives, but that may be because there’s more at stake in their environments, where their outreach often, literally, makes the difference between life and death among the people they serve. And though, to date, the ranks of the Josephs have not been recognized as allies by most conservatives, they are clearly in the camp of traditional values and steadfast defenders of the inherent dignity of each human being.

    In contrast with conventional government funded programs whose “beneficiaries” languish in a chronic (and often intergenerational) state of dependency, the ultimate goal of faith-inspired grassroots leaders is the self-sufficiency of the people they serve; And the means to that goal is the expectation of reciprocity from day one. Perhaps nowhere else in the nation are the “little platoons,” the pillars of civil society, a more vital part of the daily culture than in the afflicted communities where the Josephs live and serve.

    At a time of a steadily growing domain of the government, the faith-based neighborhood healers and those they serve are ready to break from a liberal ideology that threatens to replace their roles in their communities. Yet they need a place to move toward as they move away from an arena that has simply taken them for granted. An alliance of fundamental principles and values should move conservatives to open the door for them.

    As Woodson has decried, for too long our nation’s Josephs have gone “unrecognized, unappreciated, and underutilized.” As Schambra urged, conservatives should seize the opportunity to embrace them and their outreach, which has proved to be so dramatically effective, and to develop policies that will facilitate their work and remove any barriers that encumber their efforts. Fulfillment of this New Year’s resolution will not only benefit those who are most in need but it also has the potential to bring new life to the very fabric of our nation’s civil society.

    Posted in Culture [slideshow_deploy]

    11 Responses to A New Year's Resolution that Can Strengthen Civil Society

    1. Todd, Iraq says:

      For those of you who believe a person should be responsible for their own actions. For those of you who feel that our nation is fast becoming an UN-productive society who rely more on entitlements instead of ones own hard work. For those of you who feel many in our nation rest on the Laurels of those who've came before us to make our country great and want to try and help keep our nation great. This can't wait as Robert Kennedy put it: "If not us, who. If not now, when?" I think those words hold truths now just as much as they did then. If we don't reverse our course now then our history and fate has already been written.

      Just A Point of View

    2. Bobbie Jay says:

      To move the economy forward, is to remove government where it's unconstitutional.

    3. SAMUEL, AMERICA says:


      Some jobs barely paid to drive to, however; I worked everyday. It never occured to me to ask for help from government. I was taught to work. I have worked under difficult situations (being a women). I have worked every shift. I am now semi-retired.

      I look around and see very able bodied 20–30–40–50, year olds sitting everyday and allowing those that do work to keep them up. They make more than I do after I have worked all my life.

      Why work when you get free housing, free food, free utulities, free clothes, free money on top of all the other freebies.

    4. David Lunt New Glouc says:

      Just read your article re:strenghening civil–one ting wrong with gov't programs can be illustrated by something that happened to me.

      While working for a Federally funded social services non-profit, I told a group of staff members that their job was to work themselves out of their job–the success of their work should lead those they were helping to self-sufficency.

      Needless to say the group was horrified by my statement.

    5. Pamela Allen says:

      I wholeheartedly agree with Todd, Iraq. Our country was founded and sustained by Individual Responsibility and Accountability. Our founders wrote the Constitution to get government out of the way of people taking care of themselves and their families, which the Bible, that book our Constitution was based on (Look it up in the books of Deuteronomy and Exodus,where our court system and Bill of Rights has its foundation, as well as the book of Romans Chapter 13(Respecting all law enforcement because all law comes from God, paying taxes, being debt free by oweing nothing to no one!)clearly points out. This is why the founders got it right in the beginning-They had a road map from God. The problems we are having now stem from this country's shift AWAY from what God and our founding father's had in mind. Todd, may God provide protection and wise counsel for you and all of your fellow soldiers in the theater of the Middle East and provide for the day to day for all of your families at home. God speed for your safe return & THANK YOU FOR PROTECTING OUR COUNTRY FROM THE ENEMIES OF GOD, WHOSE ONLY SON IS JESUS CHRIST!

    6. Pamela Allen, Las Ve says:

      Sorry, I left out where I am. I wrote the long comment of support of what Todd in Iraq said.

    7. ann kitay fulton,tx says:

      "conservative values of human dignity and personal responsibility"? Had a lively debate w/an acquaintance t'other day – things like truth and principle. Got a 'yeah, but–'. we have folks out there willing to sacrifice a few freedoms for the non-existant health care in the HC bill. THere goes human dignity and personal responsibility out the window. Just give it to me – I have the right– Man, we are surrounded by people who, if they had brains, would take them out and play with them. HD and PR are not conservative values – they are mother's milk straight from God Himself.

    8. John Clancy, Wyan.MI says:

      When adults watch a 4/5 year old tying her shoe, they have a sense that it is good for the child to struggle with the laces. If the adult steps in to help, the child typically says, "I can do."

      The reasonable adult, knowing instinctively that it is in the child's best interest to help only when help is absolutely needed, leaves the child alone (former Senator Monihan called this "benign neglect."

      To move in on the child and do this for him is to destroy incentive. This is fundamental. When the government moves in to do what can best be done at a lower level, the government violates a fundamental principle. This is called the principle of subsidiarity. Our founders were very aware of this, so they wanted a limited government.

      Our government in Washington, however, has violated this principle over the last 40-50 years and is presently on a rampage.

    9. Bobbie Jay says:

      When government is filling the trough, there is absolutely no incentive for the poor to do any better for themselves. And with government taxing the independent, working, responsible class, that are poor, for every breath of air, will never get ahead.

      Sick of the load and sick of government's forced obligatory on us to carry it.

    10. Steven, Elkton, MD says:

      I agree with the premise of a civil society but more to the point, and directly, every person must be made to be the owner and beneficiary of their hard work and decisions.

      Want to waste your life and sit it out? Fine by me. That's your decision. Just don't expect me to put food in your belly and a roof over your head! (Get hungry and cold enough and bad behavior will ultimately change for the better.)

      Here's my plan: Welfare as we know it (specifically, unlimited entitlements with no personal accountability) is replaced with 'Public Assistance' and has a limited lifetime earned benefit.

      -No Public Assistance is approved for able bodied men and women without a documented work history. A minimum of 3 consecutive years of W-2's is required before any payments occur.

      -Public Assistance has a lifetime benefit of 52 weeks.

      -Public Assistance is only paid out when earned unemployment expires (i.e. you have to work!)

      -Public Assistance is taxable at 15%.

      -Public Assistance is paid at the flat rate of 55% of your last documented earnings. Public Assistance is paid out at 85% of your last documented earnings for those who possess a valid high school diploma.

      -Public Assistance payments will only be paid for up to 26 consecutive weeks. A 10 week minimum moratorium is then imposed following which Public Assistance must be reapplied for.

      Sound harsh? I don't think so. The USA was founded on the basic principles of personal freedom and free enterprise. The founders made no provision for 'welfare' or 'public assistance' in the Constitution so I think the above plan is quite generous.

      I've worked since I was 12. Any yes, I've been unemployed. I've been penniless, I've been cold, and I've been hungry. Great motivators, one and all!

    11. Drew Page, IL says:

      I am convinced that the majority of Americans do want to work and to be self-sufficient. I realize that there will always be a percentage of people who are physically and/or mentally (not emotionally) incapable of helping themselves and for these, there needs to be in effect a social safety net.

      I believe that the answer to so many of our societal problems is a reduction of unemployment to less than 5%. How can this be done? To begin, reduce taxes on businesses to 15% of their adjusted gross income; limit government's involvement in health care to Medicare, Medicaid and the Veteran's Administration; level the balance of trade between the U.S. and other countries; develop and implement a comprehensive energy policy that includes refurbishing the power transmission grids in the U.S.; building of new nuclear power plants, offshore drilling, exploiting known oil fields in Alaska, conversion to natural gas as the fuel for automobiles over a 3 to 5 year period and continued development of practical alternative sources of energy. This is what the $800 billion Stimulus bill should have done.

    Comments are subject to approval and moderation. We remind everyone that The Heritage Foundation promotes a civil society where ideas and debate flourish. Please be respectful of each other and the subjects of any criticism. While we may not always agree on policy, we should all agree that being appropriately informed is everyone's intention visiting this site. Profanity, lewdness, personal attacks, and other forms of incivility will not be tolerated. Please keep your thoughts brief and avoid ALL CAPS. While we respect your first amendment rights, we are obligated to our readers to maintain these standards. Thanks for joining the conversation.

    Big Government Is NOT the Answer

    Your tax dollars are being spent on programs that we really don't need.

    I Agree I Disagree ×

    Get Heritage In Your Inbox — FREE!

    Heritage Foundation e-mails keep you updated on the ongoing policy battles in Washington and around the country.