Kirkus Reviews QR Code


What It Is, What It Does, and How It Can Transform America

by Marvin Olasky

Pub Date: July 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-7432-0131-0
Publisher: Free Press

A founder of the “compassionate conservatism” movement, Olasky (God, Sex, and Statesmanship, 1999) lays out a program to attack poverty without compromising conservative principles.

As part of his research, Olasky toured the country, visiting programs that do or don’t meet his standards of compassionate conservatism. Invariably, those that do are community-based and run by locals. Here the poor receive counseling, training, and recreation—but the emphasis is on work or school. There is no entitlement: simply being hungry, jobless, or homeless will get you the door at such institutions. Once inside, everyone must behave, accept responsibility, work reliably, and remain free of drugs and alcohol—or face a quick expulsion. Olasky lays particular emphasis upon the value of religion as a means of social and moral advancement, and many of the programs he admires stress religious commitment and strict moral codes. There is an undercurrent of tension, however, between the expectations of sectarian organizations such as these and the larger secular society within which they operate. In particular, there is considerable resentment of the government’s refusal to fund (or, conversely, its attempts to direct) religious charities. Olasky quotes one such agency leader responding to a grant offer: “If I take this money and hire a housing director, I will hire a Christian and expect a certain standard of behavior. If the director has sex outside of marriage, I will fire him immediately.” She doesn’t get the grant. Nonbelievers may well take umbrage at such attitudes, but Olasky maintains that it is precisely such self-assurance that brings success—in marked contrast to the dismal track-record of the public agencies.

A thoughtful, if controversial, analysis that should be considered by everyone concerned with the plight of the poor.