It’s bad enough when you’ve never heard of this or that cause, but to be put down for it . . .

THE Duke of Wellington complained that he had been much afflicted with authors, and many a man could tell a moving tale of being sorely beset by reformers. Their high motives are not always a guarantee of good judgment or of agreeable companionship. Zeal too often consumes both them and their tact. One of their frequent ways of approaching people whom they would enlist or convert is the assumption of a pitying compassion for those who are not altogether such as they are. They stoop to the ignorance and the moral failings of their unhappy victims.

But it can get worse when statistics get dragged in:

This condescending attitude of reformers often takes the form of deluging others with a flood of information—usually statistical—about subjects in regard to which full knowledge is common property. They cannot believe that you know what they know, else you would be as aflame and spasmodically energetic as they. Hence they bow their heads to your reluctant ear and pour into it without any of Mark Antony’s rhetorical artifice that which you as do know. “Are you aware that two thousand seven hundred and sixty-five persons died in 1906 from heart failure caused by excessive tea-drinking? Have you duly weighed the fact that three-sixteenths of the children of immigrants from Bessarabia have never had their teeth inspected? Do you know that only ninety-seven farm-houses in Oklahoma have a bath-room?”

Since we now live in the Era of the Community Organizer, there’s something disturbingly up-to-date about the next passage:

This is hard to endure, but harder is the reformer’s superior way of supposing you torpid in sentiment and sluggish in moral fervor. Because you cannot, any more than Cordelia could, heave your heart into your mouth, you are treated as if you had no heart at all. Wondering questions are put to you: “Have you no sympathy with the strugglers? Can you sit still while men and women and children are held in the galling chains of poverty? Are you able to be cool and articulate when discussing what to do for the victims of disease, the sufferers from crime, the waifs and strays of humanity? Do not all our ‘problems’ fill you with a choking desire to do something to solve them?” This moral condescension, it must be confessed, provokes a feeling of resentment, even in the best poised. Impetuous reformers ought to have some wise and firm friend to take them aside and tell them that the deepest sympathy is not incompatible with cautious inquiry and a careful looking before and after.

"Let me organize you."

That’s it—”deepest sympathy” wisely conjoined with “cautious inquiry and a careful looking before and after.” If those in government were to operate just on that commonsensical basis, at the very least budget deficits would disappear and with them much of the stultifying influence of Big Government over our daily lives.

Here’s the entire unsigned article—“On a Certain Condescension in Reformers”—from Scribner’s, May 1910.