Friday, June 10, 2016

We Have a Country

An interesting First Things article  by Peter Spiliakos We Have A Country. I was struck early on by the idea that "small government" is not only a loser as an electoral popularity issue, but has weaknesses as a governing concept anyway.

Small-government conservatives and libertarians remain focused on the bad things that bumbling, large agencies screw up because they are large, and because they like to order people around.  This is, in fact, a major danger.  They are not merely large and inefficient, but inefficient (and worse) because they are large.  But most people don't care so much about that.  They see in theory that this largeness part may be the root cause, but they are more concerned about the right-now screwups.  Focusing on reducing government sounds good to only a percentage of the citizenry.  The others want to know "But what will that mean, really?"  It's a fair question.

Those who actually follow government get nervous because such evasions such as "effective government" are often merely code for increased government.  But that's because the wolves are hiding in what is, in fact, sheep's clothing.  Effective government is indeed what we're after, and if it were delivered even libertarians would sigh and pay dearly for it.

He rightly identifies welfare reform as a real victory both politically and in practice.  It captured enough of what positive things we do want a government to do, while removing real excesses.  We actually do want good roads and bridges, we want a functioning military, we want some regulation of poisons going into the air and water, we want trade to proceed in some orderly and mostly fair fashion.


james said...

Scale is an issue. A town of 100 probably doesn't need much in the way of rules about noise or burning leaves. A city of 1,000,000 may require them.

Laws tend to be one size fits all, which makes a federated system much nicer--but then people wanting to trade want uniform rules throughout, and CA wants their rules to apply to anybody dealing with CA, and so on. That's before you add corruption and empire building and mission creep.

Nothing's going to work perfectly--we should count ourselves fortunate when a system of governments works adequately most of the time. And stay deeply suspicious.

Christopher B said...

Between you and james I'm thinking what's need might be a bit of rebranding. It isn't necessarily 'small' government that we are after. It takes a pretty big effort to provide a defense establishment equal to the risks and obligations we have ad a country, for example. It could br more accurate to talk about 'accountable' government.

Grim said...

This is the Tory approach: Labour, but competent. It wins some elections, but concedes the thing that was really the point.

Holding the government to the Constitution has real benefit. It keeps the society stable by avoiding the one size fits all problem. It also avoids common pitfalls of states we've known about since Aristotle.

Besides, I am the very next thing to an anarchist, like Tolkien. I don't want effective government outside of a few particular tasks.

Texan99 said...

"Small government" may not be very sexy, but I'm noticing in my local politics that "enough with the new regulation and taxes" plays very well. My fellow voters seem quite comfortable demanding a convincing explanation of why a new government initiative won't prove a cure that's worse than the disease.

Roy Lofquist said...

Russell Kirk:

"so long as they are kept local, and are marked by the general agreement of those affected, they constitute healthy community. But when these functions pass by default or usurpation to centralized authority, then community is in serious danger. Whatever is beneficent and prudent in modern democracy is made possible through cooperative volition. If, then, in the name of an abstract Democracy, the functions of community are transferred to distant political direction—why, real government by the consent of the governed gives way to a standardizing process hostile to freedom and human dignity."

The answer lies in a third choice, a very old one as a matter of fact, that is called subsidiarity. That is precisely the plan of The Constitution. The Federal Government is in charge of guarding the borders, dealing with foreign nations, the postal system etc. The city government is in charge of the police and fixing the potholes.

This all broke down when the Feds became the tax collectors for the states and the cities and the school districts. The Feds became the bad guys and the IRS became the muscle. The mayor became a hero because he kept the taxes down and built a new park for free. Look, the Feds paid for it.

With the money came the strings. That's why your kids are served celery and kale and something that might be a piece of fish for lunch. And there's not a damned thing you can do about it.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The Kirk comment is excellent.

Texan99 said...

Along those lines:

Roy Lofquist said...


As the man said, read the whole thing. You'll be glad you did.

Sam L. said...

AVI @ 3:14--As is said in Texas, "Bow, Howdy!"

Zachriel said...

Roy Lofquist:

Very nice article, which seems to capture many of the salient elements of conservatism.

One area where the author is somewhat off is equating conservatism with limited government. Conservatism has often advocated the use of government to achieve conservative ends, such as the support of the monarchy in Britain, or segregation in the American South; the idea being that continuation of existing institutions is essential to maintain continuity. The squire bows to the marquess who bows to the king in order to ensure his own position in society.

The article also entails the limitations of conservative philosophy, but we'll leave off there for now.

Texan99 said...

Oh, what a shame.