I was re-reading an old article by Dennis Prager called “The Bigger the Government, the Smaller the Individual” and I was struck at the wisdom of that phrase. It made me think of the many things which we’ve covered here over the past few months, certainly, but it also reminded me of several other items I’d recently seen and how Conservatism (both political & religious) is connected by that singular concept.
The legitimate purpose of helping the poor is probably one of the best prisms through which to illuminate clearly the separate ideas of limited government and statism. For the limited-government advocate, helping the poor is to be done at the level closest to each of the individual poor, by cities, counties, and perhaps—but not necessarily—states. It is a matter of seeing, face-to-face, who is in distress, and providing temporary relief and a helping hand. The people may legitimately tax themselves to ensure there are funds for this function, and in fact, American political entities have taxed the people for this purpose since before the Revolution. There is nothing new or modern about using public funds to provide assistance to the poor.
What is modern is the idea of systematically and perpetually “transferring” assets—the income and wealth that have been created and are owned by some citizens—to other citizens for the purpose of changing a statistical “distribution.” Implicit in this idea is the premise that if we can observe a “distribution” of some category of things, we can intervene effectively to change that distribution. There are very few things about which we make such heroic assumptions, but today it is popular to make them about the “redistribution” of the wealth and earnings other people have created.
Seeing government as the logical agent for this assignment is one thing; seeing it as the proper agent is a direct contradiction of America’s founding idea. The limited-government idea has never excluded the use of public funds to help the poor. What it does exclude is leveraging that purpose to change the relation of government to the people. The basic idea of a right to property, including the fruit of one’s labors, cannot survive as a controlling principle of law if government may overturn it arbitrarily for any multitude of purposes. Modern class politics sees this as an irrelevant objection; America’s founding idea sees it as essential to the preservation of liberty. In the latter project, the foe is not people in other economic classes but the easily-abused power of the state.
As I will always request with Dyer’s writing, you should invest the time to read it all.
Dyer’s point is aimed directly at the “social justice” aspect of modern-day liberalism, and the immorality of government-coerced wealth redistribution. A good friend of ours has been blogging about this over at BILTRIX. There, James included a video which spoke to a concept called “subsidiarity“. Although the video below speaks (at least initially) from a Catholic perspective, it is really about the relationship between the State and the Individual:
Subsidiarity simply means that nothing should be done by a larger and more complex organization which can be done as well by a smaller and simpler one. This is eminently logical and dovetails nicely with what Dyer was discussing, namely that having an all-powerful entity trying to take on issues which could (and more importantly, should) be handled more locally is not only wrong, it’s unwise, destructive and dangerous.
Our Federal Government today is attempting to do too much, and in the name of compassion robbing the populace of its energy, thrift and ingenuity in the process. Alexis de Tocqueville, the great French political thinker, was famously quoted as saying:
“For their happiness such a government willingly labors, but it chooses to be the sole agent and the only arbiter of their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances; what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?”
All of this leads me back to Prager’s column. He wrote it back in 2009 as an argument against Obamacare, but it warns against Statist control of government in general. His entire premise could best be summed up in this one statement:
“Not only does bigger government teach people not to take care of themselves, it teaches them not to take care of others. Smaller government is the primary reason Americans give more charity and volunteer more time per capita than do Europeans living in welfare states.
Why take care of your fellow citizen, or even your family, when the government will do it for you?“
It is essential, if we are to continue to be the most prosperous, most generous and most free nation in history, that our leaders espouse the ideals of both self-reliance and subsidiarity.
And it is even more important that we insist they actually govern by them.