Tradition, Government & Freedom Have a Single Source

During his first inaugural address, President Ronald Reagan announced that “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.”

The seemingly unstoppable expansion of federal regulations; the increasing control over what happens in the workplace, in the public square, and even in the family; the constant manufacturing of new crimes and misdemeanors  aimed at controlling how we associate and with whom; the attempts to limit First and Second Amendment rights – these developments are viewed by Conservatives with alarm. The left continues its agenda of taking America in a new direction, away from the free association of self-governing individuals envisaged by our founders, toward a society of obedient dependents, who exchange their freedom and their responsibilities for a perpetual lien on the public purse. And you only have to look at Europe to see the result.

European countries are governed by a political class that can escape from accountability behind the closed doors of the European institutions who deliver an unending flow of laws and regulations covering all aspects of life, from the hours of work to the rights of sexual minorities and Muslim immigrants. Everywhere in the EU a regime of political correctness makes it difficult either to maintain, or to live by, precepts that violate the state-imposed orthodoxies. Non-discrimination laws force many religious people to go against the teachings of their faith in the matters of homosexuality, public preaching, and the display of religious symbols. Activists within the EU seek to impose on all states of the Union, regardless of culture, faith or sovereignty, an unqualified right to abortion, together with forms of “sex education” calculated to prepare young people as commodities in the sexual market, rather than as responsible adults seeking commitment and love.   All of this goes with a gradual transfer of economic life from private enterprise to central government.

Many of those developments are being replicated in America. The welfare state has expanded beyond the limits envisaged in the New Deal, and the Supreme Court is now increasingly used to impose the morality of a liberal elite on the American people, whether they like it or not. America is rapidly surrendering our rights and freedoms in exchange for the false security of an all-controlling state.

The emasculated society of Europe serves as a warning that America must reverse the trend of modern politics, which has involved the increasing assumption by the state of powers and responsibilities that belong to civil society. Government is not a system of power and domination. Government is a search for order, and for power only insofar as power is required by order. Government is simply the other side of freedom, and the thing that makes freedom possible.

Only certain kinds of social networks encourage people to see themselves as individuals, shielded by their rights and bound together by their duties. Only in certain conditions are people united in society not by organic necessity but by free consent. To put it simply, the human individual is a social construct and the emergence of the individual in the course of history is part of what distinguishes our civilization from so many of the other forms of government.

People become free individuals by learning to take responsibility for their actions, by relating to others, subject to subject. The free individual to whom the founders appealed were free only because they had grown through the bonds of society, to the point of taking full responsibility for their actions and granting to each other the rights and privileges that established a kind of moral equality between them.In other words, in our tradition, government and freedom have a single source, which is the human disposition to hold each other to account for what we do. No free society can come into being without the exercise of this disposition, and the freedom that Americans rightly cherish in their heritage is simply the other side of the American habit of recognizing their accountability toward others.

When we describe America as the “Land of the Free” we don’t mean a land without government; we mean a land with the kind of government that is not imposed from the outside.  A government that grows from within the community as an expression of interests that unite it. A government that respects the individual participant and acknowledges that, in the last analysis, the authority of the people to be governed by it.

So, when Conservatives grumble against government, it isn’t against the government conceived by our founders, it is against government that seems to be imposed from outside, like the government of an occupying power. That was the kind of government that grew in Europe under communism, and which is growing again under the EU, softer, gentler perhaps, but also unaccountable. And it is easy to think that a similarly alien form of government is growing in America, as a result of the liberal policy of regimenting the American people according to beliefs that are to a certain measure alien, leading them to denounce government tout court.

It is the business of every concerned citizen to criticize the elite that are using government to their own ends; the liberal mind-set, a mind-set of a substantial and powerful elite within the nation, which has become too intrusive, too determined to impose habits, opinions, and values that are alien to many, and all too eager to place obstacles in the way of free enterprise and free association. It is this liberal mind-set that has led to a conception of government that all must view with deep suspicion.

In this liberal world, government is the art of seizing and redistributing the good things to which all citizens have a claim. But, with this view, government is no longer an expression of a preexisting social order shaped by free agreements and our natural disposition to hold our neighbor to account. It is the creator and manager of a social order framed according to its ruling doctrine of fairness and imposed on the people by a series of top-down decrees. Wherever this liberal concept prevails, government increases its power while losing its inner authority. Such a government no longer commands any loyalty beyond the loyalty sought by the average chain store.

Read “The Good of Government” by Roger Scruton, in full at this link.

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