April 12, 2009
Any discussion of what I think the role of government is would have to include talk of rights. I believe we have inalienable rights to life, liberty, freedom of speech, freedom to assemble, etc. Those are rights to be left alone. To not be meddled with. To live and let live. We need a system of government when our community gets too big to handle as an individual, but the role of government ought ideally to be to protect our right not to be meddled with.
My husband and I love watching the series Deadwood. You can see on this show the evolution of government: Jack McCall kills Wild Bill, and then, aw crap, now we have to have a trial instead of just stringing him up. And then maybe it would be a good idea to have a sheriff and so on. You see these people who moved West to be left alone now being forced to create a government of sorts as the community gets bigger. And they downright resent it. Seth and Saul wanted to move West to open a hardware store, so they bought land, erected a building, and started selling boots and pans. They didn't need a permit, they didn't need a building inspection, they didn't have to belong to a guild or pay union dues; they just set to work filling a need in the camp: hardware. Can you imagine what they'd think if they saw what has to be done to start a business today?
I'm not saying life was better in every way back then, but Deadwood illustrates the gradual relinquishing of complete individuality and the loaning, if you will, of some of your rights to an authority. People entrusted the sheriff with their right to life and their right to justice. In return, the sheriff mediated their disputes (most notably between Hostetler and Steve the Drunk. Which was enough to make you wish you didn't live under the rule of law, so you could choke that hooplehead Steve out and be done with it.)
I liked CaliValleyGirl's analogy of government as a home owner's association. We in the United States have entrusted our government with some of our rights. We are too big to defend ourselves individually, so we entrust them with our national defense. We needed a system of interstate roads, so we entrust our motorways to them. But I personally think that what we now entrust our government to do goes way beyond promoting the general welfare.
Broadly speaking, I think the difference between the left and right is that the left wants to entrust more things to the government. I think they see our country as one big family. In my family, I have a crappy little job where I make about $75 per week. My husband makes more than that in a day. But all our money goes into the same bank account, and I am allowed to spend whatever I think is prudent on clothes or yarn or books. My husband does not restrict my spending to only what I make, because we are a family and we love each other. And sometimes I think that the left sees our country as an extension of a family, where the person who makes $75 per week is entitled to the same equality of result as the person who makes $7500. I think that's illustrated by Lileks' Parable of the Stairs story about his tax refund:
Â“I think the money should have gone straight to those people instead of trickling down.Â” Those last two words were said with an edge.
Â“But then I wouldnÂ’t have hired them,Â” I said. Â“I wouldnÂ’t have new steps. And they wouldnÂ’t have done anything to get the money.Â”
Â“Well, what did you do?Â” she snapped.
Â“What do you mean?Â”
Â“Why should the government have given you the money in the first place?Â”
Â“They didnÂ’t give it to me. They just took less of my money.Â”
That was the last straw. Now she was angry. And the truth came out:
Â“Well, why is it your money? I think it should be their money.Â”
What I see is that James Lileks made that money and he should be able to use it to build stairs to improve his home. But this Democrat canvasser thought it should've all gone into the collective national bank account and then been doled out based on who needed it.
On the same note, after she wrote this post, CaliValleyGirl elaborated on the theme in an email. She wrote:
I mean, imagine you are walking down the street with my dad and you meet someone who asks you for money. And you say sure, and slip your hand into my fatherÂ’s pocket, take his wallet, take out a $20, give it to the guy, and now you feel good, because you helped that person. But really, YOU didnÂ’t help that person.
This, to echo back to Sis B, is the left-wing mindset that I will never understand. Why should the stair money belong to all of us? Why should anyone be entitled to the fruits of Lileks' labor? And how do people justify taking money out of CaliValleyDad's pocket and giving it away to people who didn't earn it? (A question which, sadly, CaliValleyGirl never seemed to get an answer on.) The United States is not one big collective family with a shared bank account. It was never meant to be that. I don't know why we've drifted towards that; I find it maddening. I don't need to be Deadwood, but I don't want to be what we are right now.
I have heard Sean Hannity do man-on-the-street interviews with young people, asking them what people have the right to. Most of them quite readily agree that people have the right to shelter, food, education, transportation, and health care. I firmly believe that the government should grant none of those things as a right. In order for a penniless person to have any of those things, the government has to take Lileks' stair money and give it away. The role of government should be limited to enforcing the laws that protect our inalienable rights: the laws that prevent someone from coming into Lileks' house to steal his stair money, the laws that ensure that the contractor who builds the stairs will face justice if he doesn't fulfill his contract, and the laws that protect Lileks' right to defend his family should anyone step foot onto that staircase to do them harm. The government's role, in my opinion, has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not Lileks should get to have the stairs in the first place. If he earned the money for them, he gets them; he shouldn't have to relinquish his stair money so that other families can feed their kids or have a house.
Leonard Peikoff says it well in a speech I read back in 2000, a speech that resonated with me instantly and which obviously became a part of my knowing. I didn't realize how closely I'd echoed it nine years later in the beginning of this post until I googled it to quote here:
The term "rights," note, is a moral (not just a political) term; it tells us that a certain course of behavior is right, sanctioned, proper, a prerogative to be respected by others, not interfered with -- and that anyone who violates a man's rights is: wrong, morally wrong, unsanctioned, evil.
Now our only rights, the American viewpoint continues, are the rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness. That's all. According to the Founding Fathers, we are not born with a right to a trip to Disneyland, or a meal at Mcdonald's, or a kidney dialysis (nor with the 18th-century equivalent of these things). We have certain specific rights -- and only these.
Why only these? Observe that all legitimate rights have one thing in common: they are rights to action, not to rewards from other people. The American rights impose no obligations on other people, merely the negative obligation to leave you alone. The system guarantees you the chance to work for what you want -- not to be given it without effort by somebody else.
When I talk about Our Gulch, when I reference Fight or Flee, I am talking about my people. My tribe, as Whittle would say. And the people I want in my Gulch, they all have this same definition of rights. Most people I am friends with have this definition; most of the bloggers I read share it too. It seems to me that we are numerous. So to me, the interesting part of Sis B's question is this:
I think that part of what mystifies me about it is the vast chasm between what I hear regular conservatives saying they believe and the type of government that has been established under the guise of conservativism the past 8 years.
I am equally mystified by this. If everyone I know feels like I do about rights and the role of government, why don't we ever have a government that suits us?
I think the answer lies in compromise. My tribe was mad that Pres Bush was soft on immigration and that he signed the prescription drug plan. Many in my tribe were mad about the marriage amendment as well. I also remember vividly in 2004 when Bush won and said he was going to privatize Social Security. I couldn't believe my ears and was thrilled beyond belief. But it didn't pan out. The federal government is one whopping compromise where no one ends up happy with the result.
And it's not just Republicans who embody this chasm. Remember how Pres Clinton fficial&client=firefox-a">was "the best Republican president we've had in a while"? I am sure Obama supporters are mad that he hasn't completely pulled out of Iraq and that closing Gitmo is "complicated." It's the nature of politics that all presidents are going to govern from the center and end up ticking off their constituents.
Which is why I agree with Mrs du Toit and CaliValleyGirl that politics should be local, and that we ought to live in gulches. Another fundamental belief I have about the workings of government is that it should vary by locality. There should be very few federal laws; most things should be left up to the states, and then you could live in the state that you feel best represents your worldview. It would be far easier to get one of 50 states to suit you than it is to get the entire country to. People pay far too much attention to federal elections and lawmaking.
Towards the end, Sis B adds:
But when this election was done and the Republican party had its collective ass handed to it, my first thought was, "I hope that this allows the party to get back to the fundamentals of its beliefs and that they re-emerge in four or eight years with a strong, coherent platform." Seriously. I want the conservatives to get back to their roots and come back strong.
I don't see that happening.
I think I disagree with her. I think four years of President Obama will be plenty to make people in the center lurch rightward. And I hope we see a resurgence of conservative/libertarian principles on the national stage. I want Republicans to stop their pandering and quit trying to be Democrat Lite. I want to be the party of tough love. I want to be the party of individual responsibility. I want to vote for someone who denies the Democrats their premises. But, you'll remember, I was not a McCain supporter from the beginning. I supported Fred Thompson, who was far closer to my ideal politician than what I ended up having to vote for. Not perfect, but as close as it probably gets. (I don't imagine we could ever get away with President Z.)
So, at the risk of sounding like Forrest Gump, I guess that's all I have to say about that. Sis B has now asked her Democrat readers to explain their side. If you are interested in this exchange of ideas, keep your eyes on this post and the comments.
For additional reading about the role of government from people whose brains work far better than mine, check out Mrs du Toit's The Day Liberty Died (via Amritas) and den Beste's Citizen Soldier.
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