In recent discussions with at least two different liberals, I have encountered variations of the following assertion after a discussion about federal individual assistance programs: “Government is you and me, not some nebulous, inherently ‘other’ thing.” Oh, really. And this supreme tidbit of insight was where, exactly, from 2000 to 2008?
John Adams once added the idea of “a government of laws, and not of men” to the Massachusetts constitution. Adams, who, along with thousands of others in his day, lived under the subjective edicts of King George, grew to realize that laws are universal, and (ideally) not at the whim of the current ruler. This idea became the very crux of our system of government. Laws must reflect the fact that all men are created equal. Preference cannot be made in the heat of the moment or based on temporary circumstances.
I think Adams’ concept has a second meaning. Government is comprised of men, yes, but only in the capacity to enforce laws that ensure liberty for all men. We drift towards dangerous waters when we think of the government as some organic, emotional creature like a human, or a group of humans. Men have a subjective bent and need constant magnetization to the truth. Has the decadence of great empires not taught us that cultures fade into complacency over time as men begin to accept gifts and subjectively-granted rights from their government? It is imperative that the federal government of America is not viewed as a collective gathering of men who seek to pool their resources for the common good.
Cliche as they are in today’s political discourse, the Constitution and its companion, the Declaration of Independence, still provide not only an excellent legal basis for our federal government, but also serve as a compass for our notion of government. What we have is a system that designates a necessary but highly dangerous entity to hold together individual and otherwise independent states. We have a system of restrictions on that entity, not empowerment of that entity for the very subjective idea of “greater good”. It’s vital to the long-term health of this republic that we do not succumb to our emotions and sympathies by consenting to an excess of “compassionate” programs.
“Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” – George Washington