Over at NC Policy Watch, Rob Schofield has a short essay titled “North Carolina’s big government conservatives and the endless legislative session.” Schofield makes a few solid albeit obvious points. Many so-called conservatives are hypocrites when it comes to reigning in the regulatory state and even “love government in a wide variety of circumstances.”
One can certainly pick apart some of his selective comments when it comes to certain social issues and other points such as Second Amendment protections. The collapse of some cultural norms has unfortunately pushed many issues into the political and policy-making world that ideally should never be there.
I don’t want to nitpick some of Schofield’s overall generalizations because undoubtedly there is some truth to what he is saying about conservative hypocrisy and government growth. One of the chief arguments for Republicans in the General Assembly on education and the state budget was bragging about how much they increased spending as if that was the main problem that needed to rectified when it comes to that issue. At the federal level, particularly in the 1990s, the grand accomplishment for conservatives in Washington was merely slowing the rate of government growth. We can all offer up a plethora of examples.
Rare is the politician who is ideologically consistent. The vast majority of them are much more concerned with self-preservation and protecting their power structure.
The rampant political tribalism undoubtedly plays a role in this hypocrisy, meaning as long as one’s preferred side controls government and its vast tentacles, all is well for many.
Schofield’ s point at the end is somewhat of an odd one though:
The bottom line: Democratic government, properly constituted and overseen can be a force for enormous good and, indeed, the best hope for preserving and enhancing human freedom and wellbeing. So long, however, as the people leading the government deny this important truth, the chances for success will be greatly diminished.
It’s not on its face a radical statement. It gets to the heart of this popular post-New Deal liberalism ideal of managerial government and bureaucracy as a force for good. It’s a belief that ultimately, the bureaucratic experts know best for you and me.
To his credit, Schofield offers up some limits on government with the wording “properly constituted.” After all, according to the American Framers, the government is instituted to preserve and protect our rights and property. In the American conservative tradition, the government is a mechanism to secure inherent rights. We place limits on government power because conservatives believe the human person, the invididual, is above the state.
But I suspect by some of his wording, when it comes to the lack of placing the government in its proper sphere, is where Schofield radically departs from conservative thought.
Again, his “bottom line” is only true if the government is placed in its proper place. When the government moves into other spheres of life, whether it be the Church, the family, or other areas of civil society or the private sector, it creeps and ultimately crushes those central spheres of influence and authority. Government is not and should never be the greatest things in our life. If it is we are disordered. That is why the Framers were so intent on limiting the size and scope of government. They were students and scholars of history and they were well aware of the tyranny left in the wake of governments throughout human history.
Finally, on the hypocrisy issue, I think it’s important to point out that just viewing it through a politicized lens is wrong. It automatically assumes this notion that government is the answer before addressing first principles. Instead, he’s choosing to focus on political partisanship first over and above deeper truths. If a preacher tells you adultery is wrong but cheats on his wife, is the truthfulness of his advice and good moral counsel then made wrong by his actions?
Scholfield’s essay is important though even if there is plenty of room for nitpicking and places for disagreement. It’s a reminder that first principles are far more important than hypocritical politicians or quests for power. Particularly for organizations like Civitas that routinely wade into the policy arena. It reminds conservatives, before everything else, that we must place the government in its proper sphere if human freedom is going to be expanded.