Peter Maurin and the realm of charity

Dorothy Day on Peter Maurin’s philosophy of charity:

He ate on the Bowery when he was in New York, at cheap restaurants and of poor fare. If he had no money he went without food. He always advised people to beg if they were in need. But I know he did not like to beg himself. He preferred to go without. I used to taunt him gently with this.

“That is why people prefer going on relief, getting aid from the state,” I told him. “They prefer that to taking aid from their family. It isn’t any too easy, you know, to be chided by your family for being a failure. People who are out of work are always considered failures. They prefer the large bounty of the great, impersonal mother, the state.”

But the fact remained, he always reminded me, no matter what people’s preferences, that we are our brother’s keeper, and the unit of society is the family; that we must have a sense of personal responsibility to take care of our own, and our neighbor, at a personal sacrifice. “That is a first principle,” he always said. “It is not the function of the state to enter into these realms. Only in times of great crisis, like floods, hurricane, earthquake or drought, does public authority come in. Charity is personal. Charity is love.”

—from The Long Loneliness, p. 179

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