Answering The Critics Of Limited Government
The health of a democratic society may be measured by the quality of functions performed by private citizens.
–Alexis de Tocqueville
Several recurring objections are leveled against those who extol the virtues of liberty. Particularly for those like myself who believe strongly in both unalienable natural rights as well as traditional standards of conduct. When we espouse objective moral truths the naysayers frequently label us hypocrites. A typical objection goes, “You complain about Washington telling you what to do, but you tell others what to do and how to think.”
This obviously misses that society and state are different creatures. We are all unique individuals “endowed by [our] Creator with certain unalienable rights.” We are not blobs of collective putty to be shaped to suit the state’s ends. The problem arises not from voicing opinions in the marketplace of ideas, but that some employ government coercion to empower their theories.
Popular culture has grown so inured to government proffered solutions for every perceived problem that people attribute any stated preference as seeking an imposition of state. Those with classical liberal beliefs propose the opposite. We want less government, not for those in power to dictate according to our views.
However, freedom and morality are necessary accompaniments. That’s why the founders, even deists like Jefferson, saw biblical morality as the essential bedrock bolstering the republic. John Adams believed, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.” They thought without strong work ethics, honesty and personal responsibility that liberty would quickly slip into licentiousness incompatible with self-government.
But they did not permit Washington to mandate morality or provide charity. The Bill of Rights specifically forbids federal authorities from meddling in matters best left to local, private parties. An unfortunate symptom of the expansion of state is that it smothers private forms of governance such as families, churches, or community groups. But these are vital to societal well-being because they distill our base instincts into civilized behavior.
These voluntary associations countering the debilitating aspects of our character have been weakened by welfare, nanny-statism and America’s politically correct civic religion that treats poverty as victimhood. As people become increasingly dependent on government, those functions best left to the community lose their vitality.
Why work when the check comes anyway? Why provide for your family if taxpayers will? Why assist your neighbors in their distress if the state offers support? Why even conduct your own affairs responsibly if the state will swoop in to ameliorate your irresponsibility?
Weakened families and weakened communities result from a godless state permeating every aspect of life. Those intermediary institutions standing between the individual and government have been undermined as we’ve traded liberty for public safety-nets. Shamefully, many charities even subvert their core principles so as to qualify for federal subsistence.
Society spirals downward as the state oscillates between offering security and then, in reaction to the decadence unleashed by sponsoring prodigality, government further expands to enforce mores. Enthusiasts for government expansion parlay societal breakdown into opportunities to demand cradle to grave entitlement programs. Sure segues into still greater societal dysfunction.
Safety-nets don’t foster responsibility, but encourage recklessness because others bear the costs. And down we spiral as greater social spending begets greater social ills requiring still greater levels of spending. We’ve fallen from George Washington to Cloward-Piven.
Nor can the state effectively enforce morality. No government can successfully alter human nature. All it can do is make immorality illegal while stocking our jails with millions of prisoners including many imprisoned for victimless crimes. This is a counterproductive outrage.
It would serve society far better for governments, especially those above the local level, to desist. Rather than failing dismally to enforce morality government should stop subsidizing immorality. Too many communities have already been crippled by a do-gooder secular state’s stupidity.
Instead, let’s cut social spending, unplug the welfare state and revert these issues back to communities where they belong. Private parties are invariably superior stewards than government bureaucrats. Likewise, the breadth of public services provided is best determined locally. Should a community decide to offer handouts, it’s much more efficient holding recipients accountable than federal or even the state governments Washington bribes into obeisance. Bribes funded by money extracted from the states no less.
Should a community prohibit activities like gambling, prostitution, drugs, etc., that is well. Communities must maintain standards of decency and such cannot be unilaterally imposed by those from the outside. It’s really none of anyone else’s business. However, when Washington or state governments exact such standards, freedom is vanquished.
Draw a continuum from individual to nation state. The closer to the individual it is clearly more likely that rules reflect the community’s needs and less likely they impose significant burdens on others. Few, other than sanctimonious elitists, would deny a family’s right to establish order in their home as they choose. But when a larger, political governing body enacts its decrees, the cost and oppressiveness of compliance rises dramatically.
If this logic is too abstract, or opens up a discomfiting door, then the default should be that government minds its business at any level. Just don’t ask me to pay for the damage.
Government should protect the framework wherein citizens are free to follow their aspirations as their efforts and ability allow. Character is chiseled at the intersection of rights and responsibility. Somehow, rights have morphed into entitlements, but when the state takes care of us, growth in government shrinks the character of its citizens.
Then government expands further to fill the void.
Several more serious, but similarly spurious objections maintain that libertarians, strict constitutionalists and others are labeled heartless. The complaints often invoke images of segregation, devastated ecology pillaged by greedy capitalists or starving children denied sustenance by a de-funded welfare state.
Over the coming weeks this space will attempt to refute these objections and explore why markets and freedom suffer such unremitting criticism despite undeniable success.