For too long the commentariat has assumed it is an oxymoron for someone to be both an advocate for limited government and concerned about the well-being of their fellow man. A classically liberal philosophy is too often equated with a form of individualism so brutish that it is scarcely recognizable as human. For many classical liberals, it is precisely because they care deeply for the welfare of humanity, and religious liberty, that they advocate for limiting the role of government at all levels.
In fact, Americans should be seeking less action from Capitol Hill and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue if they want to answer the call to be our brother's keeper and uphold the First Amendment. The tumult surrounding President Obama's HHS mandate only serves to reinforce this. Instead of looking to elected officials for satisfaction on contraception or any other issue, Americans should be asking government to take a step back instead of simply stepping in the direction they'd like.
What is worse than any argument against the many abuses of crony capitalism is the simple fact that government action to help the most vulnerable absolves individuals of the higher calling to serve others. The true, and right, desire to help others is easily replaced with a belief that government will take care of it.
It is far easier to step over that homeless man on the way to work knowing that a government funded homeless shelter is right around the corner. If, instead, the only help that man can rely on is found through the generosity of individuals then a new obligation exists. Suddenly, the businessman on his way to work is responsible for his welfare and must act appropriately.
However, by the many names they are known, a vast majority of believers in freedom and liberty would not simply offer a pocket of change and move on. They act to help these least amongst us in soup kitchens, English language centers, and career training all in an effort to teach the man to fish. This is the tradition of charity and social responsibility that de Tocqueville would have found in America. Unfortunately, an ever-more intrusive government threatens to blot it out.
Who is better at feeding the hungry, extending a hand to an unemployed member of the community, or mentoring young people: government, the local church or synagogue, Big Brothers Big Sisters? Arguing that Catholic Charities, or any other entity, receives government grants misses the point. Private charities, both secular and religious, existed long before Leviathan rose and will exist long after Leviathan goes bankrupt.
The institutions integral to the social fabric of America are better left to individuals than ham-handed bureaucrats. Do the contents of a textbook matter as much if parents are teaching their children the lessons of their faith or conscience at home? The small town community held up for its virtue did not come together because of a Community Development Block Grant or a presidential speech. It came together through shared experience and a true sense of brotherhood.
This culminates in one simple and historically proven truth: Government that takes action which John Q. Citizen supports today will, inevitably, become a government that takes action he does not support tomorrow. A government that spends hundreds of billions on a prescription drug benefit under a compassionate conservative administration yesterday will spend hundreds of billions on individual health insurance mandates and trample on religious liberty under a social justice administration tomorrow.
The only logical response is a government without the authority to do either - a constitutionally-limited government which leaves individuals free to pursue their form of happiness. Of course, constitutions are a product of men and, therefore, fallible. In their wisdom, America's Founding Fathers realized this. Three co-equal branches of government, the Tenth Amendment's demand for balanced powers between the federal and state governments, and a process by which to amend the very document they authored serve as a reminder of humanity's inherent shortcomings. James Madison said in Federalist 51, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary.
However, looking to Washington or the statehouse to right social wrongs means they will almost certainly wrong social rights. Classically liberal thought is an acknowledgement of both the best and worst of mankind. Precisely because governments are instituted amongst people, political efforts at ensuring the best often lead to the worst.
Jesus admonished the Pharisees and Herodians to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and God the things that are God's." Given that, the need to limit Caesar as much as possible should be obvious. This can only be done through an adherence to the principles of limited government and personal freedom.
James Franko is a former Capitol Hill staffer who currently lives in Wichita, KS with his wife and their new son.
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