Preferential Option for Personal Responsibility

Not normally a fan  of Kevin Williamson’s work, but this is pretty good:


I am, as it happens, evicting my mother’s fourth husband’s fifth wife from a modest house (much more modest than the condition I left it in) in which she resided rent-free for a decade or so. I inherited the house from my mother when she died, and her husband inherited a “life estate” in it, meaning a legal right to reside there so long as he kept current on the taxes and such. He remarried (these are marrying people) and lived there with his new wife until his life estate ended the way life estates end, and I came around to take possession of the house and sell the damned thing. They’d had years and years to prepare for this moment, and, of course, they hadn’t.

“Why are you doing this to us?” the woman’s daughter demanded. Because I am the bad thing that is just happening to you today, the unforeseeable event that has been hanging over you by a single hair of a horse’s tail for a decade, the inevitable end of a terrible lamentation.

But people love their sad stories. They feel compelled to tell them. Local law here is pretty straightforward on the matter of evictions: If you don’t pay your rent (mine is the only case today not involving rent), then you have to go. “Did you pay any rent in February?” the judge asks two dozen times. “Did you pay any rent in March?” The judge’s power in these matters extends only to ordering (or not ordering) an eviction and ordering the payment of unpaid back rent. If a tenant wants to sue the landlord for violating the lease, or if the landlord wants to sue the tenant for failing to pay an electricity bill or damaging the property, that is a separate action. But even though the judge repeatedly explains that the sins of the landlords are irrelevant at this moment to the immediate legal question before his court, the tale must be told: He didn’t return phone calls or text messages. There were repairs left unmade. There were bedbugs. Tenants put scarce and desperately needed money into making unlivable rental properties just barely livable.


Go here to read the rest.  Especially in Catholic circles we have a tendency to romanticize the poor, but all too many are poor because of endless bad decision making and the endless search for excuses.  We all have a God imposed duty to help the poor, but after dealing with their immediate needs, the best thing that can be done is to tell them that they need to get off their dead behinds and work to improve their situations.  Some can’t and will need lifelong help, but most can, and those who will not do not deserve lifelong assistance, and endless get out of jail cards in the game of life.

More to explorer


  1. In our desire to help the poor, we can fall into the trap of turning them into objects of our pity. This makes them vulnerable to all kinds of exploitation, not the least of which is their vices.

  2. His mother was born Wanda Ferne Viean on 21 November 1938 and died on 16 February 2003. She was married to Joe David Williamson from 1958 to around 1976, give or take a few years; the marriage produced two children, Darrell (b. 1971) and Kevin (b. 1972). She was married to Roy Sutton from 1980 to 1983 (div.). She was married to Thomas Stinebaugh from 1983 until his death in 1994. She was married to Alvin Fouse from 1996 until her death. Alvin Fouse appears to have been something of a mess, contracting several brief marriages over the period running from 1958 to 1984 ‘ere marrying her in 1996. After her death, he married a widow seven years his senior in 2004, one Letha Lovell Cox, to whom he remained married until his death in November 2016. Mrs. Fouse died in November 2018 at the age of 87. The legal proceedings Williamson’s referring to would have taken place about two years ago against an 85 year old woman who is now deceased. Here’s Letha Fouse’s obituary:

    And it’s a reasonable wager she didn’t show up for the hearing because she was on oxygen her last years.

  3. St. Paul issued his admonition on everyone working in his second epistle to the Church at Thessalonika because in his first he talked about the imminent second coming of our Blessed Lord, and too many people thought that meant that they wouldn’t have to work anymore. But the Lord has delayed His second coming for His own inscrutable reasons, so they were wrong: everyone has to work whether the Lord comes this evening or 2000 more years from now. Thus, the preferential option for the poor recently preached by modern Popes is a putrid rancid heresy for Leviticus 19:15 states:


    “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.”


    Indeed, the preferential option for the poor is a perversion of justice as much as favoritism for the rich is. And Jesus went even further in John chapter 6 and John chapter 12 than St. Paul in 2nd Thessalonians chapter 3. In John chapter 6 He fed the 5000 then went around to the other side of the lake. The people followed Him. Read the exchange between the people and Jesus in verses 25 through 26:


    When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”


    The 5000 didn’t get another free handout because Jesus knew that like today’s modern people they didn’t care one iota about the Message (repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand); they cared only for free this, free that, free the other thing and Jesus wasn’t going to give it to them.


    We see this again in John 12 when Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfumed oil worth a year’s salary and traitor Judas Iscariot objects by saying that the oil could have been sold with the proceeds going to the poor He sounds just like a Democrat politician. Read what verses 6 through 8 say and see how thieving Judas is just like thieving politicians who get your tax money and mine:

    [Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. “Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.”

    No amount of social justice, the common good and peace at any price will ever eliminate poverty, creating a Heaven on Earth. That post-Vatican II heresy has got to be atom-bombed into oblivion.

    Now consistent with St. Paul’s admonition to the Church at Thessalonika, Prager University has a video commended to everyone’s attention:

  4. LQC, he says this

    “They very much wanted to stay in the house, though not enough to offer to rent it or buy it. But certainly enough to sit tight and hope that the situation would somehow just resolve itself in their favor.”

    What he’s not telling you is if he ever gave them the option of renting the house. He’s only telling you they die not offer to do so.

    In setting the scene, he’s also misrepresenting the defendant. Best I can learn from spelunking around, her children are no great shakes (The son, age 53, is a registered sex offender, though his conviction was 25 years ago; no clue where he works; the daughter, age 49, has been divorced since 1998 and appears to have a very ordinary job at a local nursing home) and I’d wager neither they nor the adult granddaughter (a Texas Tech grad currently employed as a technician at a local firm which produces media for the deaf) have much spare cash. What he’s not telling you is why Letha Fouse might have been inclined to stay where she was and why they might have been lackadaisical about planning to move: she was 7 years older than her husband and she appears to have had end-stage emphysema or some such. Ordinarily, a woman of 85 has a life expectancy of 7 years. An emphysema diagnosis would cut that by about 30%. As it happened, she lasted another year and a half. Yes, these people are ‘the poor’ in one sense, but she’d spent 22 years as a Navy wife ‘ere here 1st husband took up civilian life in Lubbock; he ended his days working for a car dealer and his wife evidently had some sort of cottage business. These were ordinary local burgesses, once upon a time. The woman was just old and sick and stubborn.

  5. Of course, if he HAD just left her there, there’s a good chance they could just take the house because they’d been living in it, paying taxes, etc.– squatter’s rights.
    Bet you the daughter was living there with her mother, too.

  6. Of course, if he HAD just left her there, there’s a good chance they could just take the house because they’d been living in it, paying taxes, etc.– squatter’s rights.

    It seems to me there is an antique legal concept ‘adverse possession’ which can still be invoked in Texas courts. Doubt it applies here as Mrs. Fouse had been occupying the property for 12 years and was ejected from it with a pro forma hearing.

    Which brings me to another peeve I had about the article. He refers to her living there ‘rent free’. His exercise of his allodial rights was contingent on his step-father’s death. His step-father was bequeathed usufruct for life. He’s behaving as if these people were sponging off him. They were doing nothing of the sort.

    Given that the late Mrs. Fouse was 85 years old and hooked up to an oxygen tank, it would be quite reasonable to have one of her relations living with her. An unmarried middle-aged daughter who works in a nursing home would be nearly ideal.

  7. “It seems to me there is an antique legal concept ‘adverse possession’”

    Wouldn’t apply since they had been living there under the life estate, and there is nothing adverse about that.

    ” He refers to her living there ‘rent free’.”

    Which she had since the owner of the life estate died, and her daughter, per Williamson’s account, wanted the rent free gig to continue idefinitely.

    I have done thousands of evictions and foreclosures. The Defendants all have sob stories to sing as to why someone else should provide them a free place to live. Everyone has their problems, but that doesn’t give them a right to off load their problem of finding shelter on to a third party.

  8. per Williamson’s account, wanted the rent free gig to continue idefinitely.

    Again, he’s careful to say they did not offer to purchase or rent the property. He never says if he was willing to work with them formally or constructively.

    One can collate some of the stories he tells about himself. Like the time he was annoyed by someone’s glowing smart phone in a theatre and he snatched it out of her hand and threw it across the room. Or the time he was hired to edit a local newspaper down in Texas. He thought their IT was antique and needed upgrading. Instead of ordering the new equipment and having it installed and providing for his staff to get acclimated to it, he tossed their old machines in the trash that very day. (No clue how they got the paper out; n.b. this was the story he told on himself). Or his contemptuous commentary on predominantly non-immigrant small-town and rural communities, When you have a good argument, you don’t resort to cherry-picking; his example was a county in Eastern Kentucky with the lowest personal income per capita in the state and about 5,000 residents. (One story he doesn’t tell on himself concerns the salaries the board of trustees of the philanthorpic corporation which publishes national review approved for him and Richard Lowry: > $200,000 a year. If you think physicians-and-surgeon’s incomes are how the market values the services of those two, I’ve vending bridges). It’s thoroughly appropriate that he looks like Anton LeVey.

    Maybe it’s exactly according to your summary. Given Williamson’s personal history and his misrepresentation of this woman, it would not surprise me in the least if her daughter asked him to hold off selling the property until her mother died and he insisted she leave immediately, because that’s how he rolls. I’m told in the real estate business you have to be brutal with non-paying tenants or you go under, but he’s not in that business and he never says in so many words they refused to rent the property. (Recall for a moment that a young adult with end stage emphysema has a life expectancy of about four years; this woman was 85 years old). I also find it interesting that in his presentation his mother left the property to him. He has a brother who at the time lived locally and (if I’m not mistaken) had a wife and child.

  9. “Again, he’s careful to say they did not offer to purchase or rent the property. He never says if he was willing to work with them formally or constructively.”

    Why in the world should he have to? After the death of her husband it was Williamson’s property. I see nothing untoward about the enforcement of a legal right, especially in this case where he had no relationship to this woman.

  10. I am inclined to agree with Donald. Read the parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-1. Each worker whether he started at morning, noon or late afternoon gets paid a single denarius. When those who worked during the heat of the day complain that those who came late get equal pay (thinking they deserve more because they worked longer), Jesus points out what the owner of the vineyard says, “Take what belongs to you, and go; I choose to give to this last as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?”

    Look at those words at the end of verse 14: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?” The man who owns that home in Williamson’s story is allowed to do what he chooses with what belongs to him. Those people stayed there for a very, very long time without paying anything. Now Williamson when the life estate finally ended wants what is rightfully his. Period. He’s not under any obligation to even offer to rent the place out any more. And Jesus confirms that in the parable of the vineyard workers: “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me?”

  11. Why in the world should he have to? After the death of her husband it was Williamson’s property. I see nothing untoward about the enforcement of a legal right, especially in this case where he had no relationship to this woman.

    You and I both know that the article did not concern what he had to do. He did not offer an extended description of the population facing eviction proceedings (not exactly a cross-section of humanity) to discuss everyone’s legal obligations, but to critque them as moral agents. And it’s of a piece with what he’s had to say in other venues. (See his remarks on his immigrant lawyer and immigrant convenience store owners). You’ll notice he had nothing to say about the ethnic composition of the population facing eviction (but we get to hear about his lawyer and convenience store owners not present). You’ll also notice he misrepresented the character of this woman by introducing the marital history of his mother and one of her husbands, even though the defendant in this suit did not have a marital history like this at all (she was married twice for 52 years in toto, and never divorced; her daughter has been married once and is divorced, like Williamson himself). You change a few titles in a mosaic, and it looks like a woman asked for a courtesy to her ancient dying mother, something he refused because that’s what he does. Is this true? Who knows? I wouldn’t use his case as an example of what’s wrong with the world, unless you want to go full Ayn Rand.

    I should note that when Williamson pretends to look at the world, he’s actually looking inside himself. While he’s commending Indian convenience store proprietors, the Census Bureau is collecting the data. The share of households reporting self-employment income in the last 12 months (and among overlapping subsets) is as follows:

    Total: 10.8%
    Asian: 11.4% *
    Hispanic: 12.4% *
    Black: 6.1% *
    Ancestry type 1: 13%**
    Ancestry type 2: 10.5%***

    not including multi-racial households
    **European, North American, Antipodes
    ***Caribbean, Tropical Africa, MENA

  12. “You and I both know that the article did not concern what he had to do.”

    Yes, he chose to sell his property and that he did not want people remaining in it who were not paying any money to him. I see absolutely nothing wrong with this. As for his description of what he heard in eviction court, it jibes with what I have heard in evictions and foreclosures over the past 37 years. When my father died I chose to allow his wife, who he married after the death of my mother, to remain in the house rent free for as long as she wished, which she did until shortly before her death. That was my choice which my brother agreed with. I doubt I would have extended that courtesy to a surviving new husband who she later married, which she did not, my father’s wife remained unmarried.

  13. “Are you going to burn it down or try to rent it?”, asked my neighbor about the tenant house that came with our newly purchased farm. Her family had been in the area for generations so we should have realized she knew what she was talking about. Instead we renovated the small house for our bachelor son to live in. It was a cute place, historic with 12″ wide plank floors. Our son decided to stay in CA and start his own business and that’s when the renters saga began.
    Early on we had a nice Mexican family who liked the place so much they asked for an 8 year lease. Soon the 10 yo son said there were ghosts in the house. They moved out until the priest came over and blessed the house twice and we prayed with them in Spanish and English. It turned out a former renter and her boyfriend were coming into the house at night to scare off the family so they could move back in. Not a chance.
    Then there was a school board secretary who hooked up with a druggie. Her pre-school boys were taken to foster care. Judge Judy’s staff must have seen the 40 pictures of the abandoned house filed with the court, because we were offered a spot on her show. Instead my husband proceeded with the local court to send a message.. When the deputy found her in a trailer to serve her the wheels on the boyfriends truck were worth more than the back rent and damages. I guess we all have our priorities. The renter cleaned up her act and we received the back rent and some damages
    The worst was the woman with a 19 yo daughter and an 8 yo son whose husband was sentenced to 50 years in the pen. A shelter paid the first 3 months of rent. Though she and the daughter worked they were always behind in their rent and violated many provisions of the leaseamong which: No more than 4 related people in the house; we discovered 8. No pets. Ok, 1 dog allowed with shots. Suddenly there were 3 pit bulls running free. On and on with lies. Social services threatened to take the boy and the daughter’s baby unless the feces inside and out, and the mattresses and couch in the front yard were removed from the premises. Lies and more lies. At the 4th court appearance they were evicted. The foursome are now a mile away and are prohibited from setting foot on the property. They told the agent at their new rental that they had to move because my husband had died and his wife needed the money so she was selling the house. One month later we are still battling the fleas.
    Yes people can be temporarily down are their luck and a landlord make can accommodations for a while, but a landlord has to pay the mortgage and the taxes. Then there are the professional scammers who know how to play the system, who always have a story and feel entitled.
    I heartily agree with Don.

  14. I see leases of course when they go south, sometimes very south, with thousands of dollars of damage done. I have frequently told my clients that I would sooner burn property to the ground that I own rather than take the risk of leasing it out.

  15. Yes people can be temporarily down are their luck and a landlord make can accommodations for a while, but a landlord has to pay the mortgage and the taxes. Then there are the professional scammers who know how to play the system, who always have a story and feel entitled.

    I don’t doubt that, but you’ve misapprehended what we’re arguing about, which is whether Kevin Williamson’s account of this affair is credible and a useful example of the point he’s trying to make and the point the moderator is trying to make about social relations in this country. (Since personal responsibility is all the rage on this thread, I’m going to point out you did a lousy job of screening your prospective tenants).

    Which brings me to the frustrating aspect of this. You’re all thinking with templates and not noticing that there’s a satisfactory chance the sequence of events doesn’t fit the template (and that Kevin Williamson in his retrospective rage at his mother has manufactured a portrait of the provincial white working class that’s just a lie).

    Telling an 85 year old woman hooked up to an oxygen tank that she doesn’t work hard enough is a very peculiar thing to do; it isn’t made less peculiar by tarting it up with Biblical quotations.
    Whatever your legal rights are and are not in these circumstances, most of us would say that finding yourself in court as the plaintiff with an 85 year old woman with end-stage emphysema as the defendant is not a set of circumstances in which most people would like to be, which leads to the question of what he might have done to avoid this particular dispute. Not buying his account of the matter.
    Which brings us to the possibility you all will not acknowledge: that it isn’t business with him, it’s personal. Kevin Williamson is doing this not because there aren’t ready alternatives, but because this is the sort of thing Kevin Williamson does and these are the sort of people Kevin Williamson despises and wants to injure (as well as make use of as ‘material’ for his columns).

  16. For someone who is so into trying to get a whole idea, it’s odd that the only one here assuming the absolute worst when it makes their argument is…. you, Art.
    Even when it requires contradicting a prior assumption. Say, that the widow had no option on where to go because of her bad health, but that her daughter also had to be left living rent-free to take care of her mother.

    We’re aware that Williamson is a twit. Shockingly, that only has emotional appeal.

    Your lack of familiarity with squatter’s rights, normal complications from rental agreements and the limits of screening makes it clear you’re just on the warpath again, and nothing will satisfy you but abject surrender and people repeating what you’ve said, no matter how unsupported your arguments are.

  17. Art, Preferential Option for Personal Responsibility is the title of this post. Personal responsibility is the whole point of the post even if you want to argue for the sake of arguing about the Williamson example.
    If an apt or house is rent controlled that’s whole different set of requirements. Landlords do not run charities; their responsibilities are to fulfill their end of the lease (one that complies with state law) to rent property(ies) in good shape and maintain it that means responding in a timely fashion for fixits, e.g. such as freezing pipes. Which we’ve done above and beyond. We’ve vetted our tenants over the 19 years we’ve had the property. There have been good tenants, bad, and awful. Two of them were recommended by our church. The last by social services.
    The lack of personal responsibility is getting endemic.
    Landlords don’t have a crystal ball where they can foresee their tenants losing a good paying job or just deciding to drop out and go on the dole. The onset of drug use or alcoholism is a big one.
    ” I would sooner burn property to the ground that I own rather than take the risk of leasing it out.” We have to much invested for a fire department training fire so it’s time to sell the house and two acres on road frontage.

  18. CAM-
    one I saw was the “but this landlord is nice” effect.

    It’s why there are many sayings about not going into business with friends.

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