Do You Really Believe in a Limited Government?

Mr. Rader is Legislative Counsel in the office of Congressman Philip Crane.

Is a philosophy of limited government worth the worry? Last night, in an introspective moment, I was compelled to reevaluate that very question. I had just returned from an exhausting choir practice. My conscience felt a pang when my eyes fell on the unanswered letter from my parents. Lisa, my adopted black daughter, was loudly vocalizing her displeasure with the circumstances of the moment. Larke, the world’s cutest four-year-old blonde, would not wait another minute for her nightly bedtime story. The open Sunday School manual on the kitchen table was a grim reminder that my lesson was not yet prepared. When would I have time to prepare it? Tomorrow my softball team entered the all-day play-offs in the morning and the evening featured another choir rehearsal. These various demands converged on me in an instant. Just the thought of straining to reach another high A, composing letters to my parents, changing diapers, putting a new twist into the “Three Bears,” searching for elusive Bible passages, or chasing fly balls in centerfield sent me stumbling for my easy chair. A philosophy of limited government is not easy to live.

Each of these demands is an integral part of my effort to live according to principles of limited government. If an individual really shares Jefferson’s view—“That government is best that governs least” he must make provision in his own life to take responsibility for essential services that government should not be allowed to monopolize. For example, no civilized society will deny that art is necessary to inspire and uplift the human mind and spirit. Therefore, if we citizens do not devote ourselves to creativity, the government will tax everyone (force us) to set up an agency to subsidize artists. But forced government programs cannot satisfy the real need for ennobling art. Creativity cannot be forced; artists need absolute freedom to develop sensitivity (olden through personal sacrifice) to the symbols and truths they elucidate. Hence, I sing tenor several nights a week on top of a cramped schedule.

Family Obligations

No charitable society will allow the aged to suffer deprivations when they can no longer care for themselves. Therefore, if we do not care for our own parents or the elderly in our greater family units, the government will tax everyone (force us) to set up massive nursing home programs. But forced government programs cannot meet the real needs of the aged. Love cannot be forced; the elderly need the love and respect of their posterity as much as they need food and shelter. Hence, I must strengthen my ties to my own parents.

No enlightened society overlooks that counseling is necessary to train youth to accept responsibility. Therefore, if we do not see that our own children are schooled in the principles we have experienced as the basis for worthwhile living, the government will tax everyone (force us) to subsidize mandatory counseling sessions for teenage youth. But forced government programs cannot meet the real needs of youth. Will to learn and desire to develop a well-rounded attitude toward life cannot be forced; young people need the guidance of loving parents (long before they are teenagers) to instill this will far more than they need compulsory counseling. Hence, Larke gets a nightly dose of love from her father.

No self-respecting society will deny that all men are of equal worth and deserve equal respect. Therefore, if we do not openly welcome all qualified citizens regardless of race into our civic associations, schools, and clubs, the government will tax everyone (force us) to bus students and institute civil rights lawsuits. But government cannot eliminate racial discrimination at all because by taking sides in any racial conflict it is giving the force of law to, and thereby perpetuating, distinctions based on race. Respect cannot be forced. The disadvantaged and minorities want no special privileges; they want only to be welcomed as any other individual into those schools, clubs, and associations for which they qualify. Hence, Lisa gets exactly the same dose of love that Larke enjoys.

No merciful society will leave abandoned children without some means of support. Therefore, if we do not open our homes to parentless children, the government will tax everyone (force us) to create a national system of foster homes. But forced government programs cannot meet the real needs of parentless children. Parenting cannot be forced; these children need more than a bed and three meals a day. Hence, Lisa gets an affectionate kiss with every diaper change.

Moral Standards

No ethical society will refuse to accept that some moral standards are essential to its survival. Therefore, if churches and families do not teach honesty, the government must tax everyone (force us) to set up expensive crime prevention programs or juvenile correction institutions. But forced government programs cannot meet real needs of youth and mature alike for moral guidelines. Lasting respect for the property and persons of others cannot be forced; youth and mature alike need motivating clergy and friends to care enough about them to present them with constructive alternatives to destructive behavior. Hence, my duty as a Sunday School teacher cannot be taken lightly.

No humane nation wants to leave others to endure poor health, the specter of a life with pain. Therefore, if we do not eat correctly, exercise regularly, avoid harmful agents (cigarettes, narcotics, and the like) to remain healthy, the government will tax everyone (force us) to create an unwieldy national health program. But forced government programs which treat people in bulk, instead of as individuals, cannot supply universal health. Good health habits cannot be forced; an end to pain cannot be legislated. As long as men are mortal, some will experience disease and misery. Government cannot prevent that. Individuals must, however, take primary responsibility for their own health, which includes practicing good health habits. Hence, softball season will be followed by basketball for me.

Individuals within societies, and hence societies themselves, have many legitimate needs. Therefore, if we do not make provision to meet our own personal needs first and then supply service to others (itself a primary personal need), the government will tax everyone (force us) to try to satisfy those needs. Although its efforts are sincere and do apply a bandaid to deep wounds, government can never completely meet real needs. Lasting solutions are only realized when individuals learn to and acquire the strength to meet their own needs. This cannot be forced, only encouraged.

I am not suggesting that government has no role in meeting individual/societal needs. Instead it should have a very limited role. It should be a last line of defense.

If we profess a philosophy of limited government, we profess in the same breath a faith in unlimited personal responsibility. When I arrived home last night, that thought made me tired. Yet everything worth having in life must be earned: health, respect, creativity, friendship, and so forth. Government cannot meet the need because, in most instances, the need is for personal effort or activity or growth. If we do not believe in pervasive government, we must believe in pervasive individual, family, church, and community responsibility.

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