Utopian Statists vs. Optimistic Realists
I’ve been studying the Progressives the last few months, and I think this post will be the beginning of a series, or at least a conversation starter for another post or two. It’s struck me in my studies that the Progressives and America’s Founding Fathers are on the polar extremes of two very important issues: the nature of man and the role of government. And if you’re coming from two diametrically opposite worldviews, it of course leads to opposite conclusions. The problemswe face today are a direct result of the fact that Progressive beliefs and the Founders’ beliefs, as found in the Declaration and Constitution, are like oil and water: they will never mix.
Progressives view man as perfectable, essentially good, and see centralizing power in national government as necessary for the advancement of society. You might even say the Progressives thought the state in the hands of an educated elite was, and is, a benevolent force for good. Because of their views on man, and government, the Progressives were, and are, utopian statists. By that I mean they believe in the goodness of the state for the advancement of society; but such beliefs, and the belief that man is essentially good, are utopian: such beliefs are not rooted in reality. For empirical evidence, look no further than the 20th century, which is full of evidence as to why virtually every form of statism attempted not only did not work, but also eventually resulted in the deaths of hundreds of millions. The word “utopia” literally means “nowhere,” and utopian statism has never worked anywhere.It never will because those who hold to such ideas fail each time to understand the actual nature of man and the proper role of government.
The Founders’ views on man and government were diametrically opposed to the Progressives: they knew man is not essentially good, nor should a government made by man, and ruled by men, have great centralized powers. Why? Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Number 6 that: “Men are ambitious, vindictive and rapacious,” with James Madison writing in Federalist 51, “But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.” Nor did the Founders view centralized power, even government, in the most positive of lights: Washington would write, “Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
This is not to say the Founders were cynics. Instead, they were optimistic realists.While they believed that man is capable of great good, they also felt that he is not capable of sustained good; in their view, man is an imperfect creature in an imperfect world. So how could one realistically provide for the greatest amount of freedom and prosperity in this imperfect world? That was the challenge of the Founders when writing our founding documents. They were ultra-realistic about the nature of man and the nature of man’s governments–and yet created a form of government that was able to give America the most freedom and prosperity any nation has ever seen by limiting the role of government and providing for, and protecting, individual freedom.
One of the great tensions we are seeing today in America is that of the worldview of Progressives coming up againstthe worldview of the Founders. The American people are awakening, via tea party protests and the growth of 9.12 groups, because I believe that deeply engrained in the American people are the beliefs of the Founders with regard to human nature and government. The protests we’ve seen over the last two years are a natural reaction to the false god of statism being foisted upon them, and not just by the current administration and unpopular Congress. While the Bush administration was not as egregious as the current White House (nor was the attendant Republican Congress) both those entities were statists with a small ‘s,’ preferring to not make the truly difficult choices, and instead, growing the size and role of government in our lives. That’s why I virtually ignore party affiliations, and even find the terms “conservative” or “liberal” to be almost meaningless. I choose to evaluate candidates in light of whether they are statist or non-statist: do they believe in expanding the role, scope, and size of the state in the lives of the individual, or in limiting the power of the state (government) so as to provide for the greatest freedom within the bounds of ordered liberty?Government has a role in our society: national defense to provide for protected space within which a free people can flourish, the enforcement of the rule of law and the right of contract to provide for a just society, the protection of private property, etc. But the list of where government should be is a very short one, and the rest of society should be left to the private sphere.
Americans are seeking non-statists to govern this country, and though I think this fall’s elections will be “progress in the right direction,” but let me say that simply electing Republicans is not the solution because there are plenty of Republican statists parading about. The way toward ensuring liberty is in electing men and women who have deeply held views on the role of government, individual freedom, and the free enterprise system. Some willhappen to run as Republicans, but dare I say, even as Democrats in some locations—but it is only this originalist worldview (shared by the Founders) that will turn our country around and put us back on the path of prosperity and freedom.