WASHINGTON, December 14, 2014—The debate over the size and role of government is about to reach a crescendo in America. The arguments are not new or unique to this country. They are the same ones that led to the American Revolution and at root every revolution. Deciding where you stand is important to our future.
The American formula is unique: big society, small government.
The formula that led to the only real free country to ever exist, hinges on checks and balances distributed among three branches of government with regularly elected representation of the people by the people. The technical form is constitutional republic. James Madison, primary author of the Constitution, explained in Federalist #51 that only this structure could preserve a free society because human nature will not change. By nature, humans are both bad and good. People that are smart enough to run government will inherently be ambitious. Ambition leads to power seeking.
Madison said, “Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place.” It is through the constitutionally created checks and balances and relative autonomy of each branch that ambition counteracts ambition.
“It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself,” Madison explained.
What is the role of government?
People cannot live in society without government. John Locke, the most quoted political theorist of the 1700s, argued this point in his Second Treatise of Government. Government is good when managed properly.
Milton Friedman, the great American economist, summarized government’s role in American society as preserving the rules of the game, “enforcing contracts, preventing coercion, and keeping markets free.”
In general, government in a free society exists to protect rights.
What rights should be protected and does government create rights?
The Declaration of Independence summed up rights appropriately in describing what free people believe: “…all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
People have an equal right to live, work, worship, have a family, etc. without fear of being hindered by individuals or the government (king, bureaucrat, etc). These are the rights assigned by the Declaration. They are the rights given to all humans by God, the Creator.
Government in a free society cannot create rights. There is no right to work, health care, recreation or anything else. Government cannot give equal things. It can only give equal protection to all in their pursuit of things.
Creating rights puts power in the hands of a few and steals freedom.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt asserted in a 1944 State of the Union Address that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution were inadequate to assure equality in the pursuit of happiness. He believed government should guarantee employment, elimination of unfair competition and monopolies, housing, medical care, education and money for retirement represented by social security. He called it a Second Bill of Rights. Many administrations following Roosevelt’s have taken up this false belief and carried it forward, including the current one.
Why do government leaders want to create new rights?
The simple answer is that if government creates rights it must fulfill them, leading to intoxicating power for the individuals who get to determine who profits from these new rights and who does not.
On the surface it appears noble to give people the “right” to things and then to provide those things with the idea that they will become better people and thus more productive members of a utopian-like society.
Unfortunately, the utopian visionaries share a flawed belief that human nature can be changed. They believe that the change can occur through government regulation and programs. This core belief underpins the ideologies of Karl Marx, Adolph Hitler, Woodrow Wilson, FDR and Barack Obama.
Society can and has improved by leaps and bounds. America has been the source of more inventions, abundance, and humanitarian aid in all forms than any other society. This did not happen because government created new rights and then used regulation and programs to reshape the flaws in human nature. It happened in spite of government’s efforts to control behavior and the flawed nature of humans.
In places where attempts have been made to reshape humankind and provide equality without the burden of checks and balances, nasty consequences result: Communist Russia, North Korea, Eastern Europe; Nazi Germany; modern-day Greece, Spain, and other European social democracies.
Striving for a better society and helping people is a good thing. The pursuit of these goals must occur in the context of balanced principles. Earl Taylor Jr., Director of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, describes this balance using the two wings of the American eagle as an analogy. One wing is compassion and represents the philosophy that government should solve all people’s problems. The other wing represents conservation of resources and the philosophy that government should do very little.
“If either of these wings fails to do its part, the eagle will soar to one direction or the other. But as long as both wings are operative and work in conjunction with each other, the American Eagle will fly straight upward,” writes Taylor.
The American Eagle will fly straight again but we must have leadership in every branch of government, beginning with the president, that yearns for integrity and is willing to put their own ideology aside and fly the eagle.
Carla Garrison follows current events with one eye on history and the other on the future. Her goal is to encourage people to know the truth and use it as a call to personal action.
This article original published Sunday, March 18, 2012 – Truth Be Told by Carla Garrison