By David Beilstein
OFTEN times the criticism pointed at consistent classical liberals—that is individuals who sees the function of the Federal Government to be sternly modest, and hedged in by separation of powers,—takes incoming fire from social conservatives sweating about the state of morality in America.
The moral fiber of America, some would contend, is not good. That is simply one of the main enemies facing our nation’s health. Still, America’s moral fiber has always suffered setbacks and hardships throughout our history. Slavery, far from a moral rectitude, was a big problem in America. I would confidently say slavery was just as immoral as random shootings or teenage pregnancy. It was also more dangerous, societally speaking, for it made stalwart the notion whole groups of people could have their natural rights denied them. Through an injudicious appeal to states rights, slavery laid the groundwork for the logical suppression of any group of people deemed unworthy of constitutional rights. The abomination of slavery providentially set in motion the groundwork for America’s deadliest war.
Do-Gooders have used government before. These folks have used Uncle Sam to try and cultivate more moral societies. Frankly, in most cases this did not build a more moral and perfect union. It caused division and further moral duplicity. The Volstead Act (Prohibition) did not aid America’s morality, but corrupted it. Even the Progressive Movement of the early 20th century sought to sterilise minority citizens in order to ‘build a more perfect union.’ Woodrow Wilson, a progressive heavyweight champion, thought the inalienable rights language in the U.S. Constitution was illusion. Not to forget, the Federal Government emboldened slavery through the courts and other politics. Insofar as history pertains, this type of knuckle-headed idealism is not a new or greater morality on the ascendancy.
The moral majority and religious right would have us believe that if they were given more power we would see cultural and moral renewal in America.But they have too much power as it is—and Federal power and encroachment has grown. And apparently, morality is worse … idealistis, of course, never quit but they should be rebuked when rowing the wrong direction.
America faces the same social ills in the same imperfect world. The social conservative needs to understand a few things about classical liberals. We care deeply about virtue and honour—the pertinence of civil righteousness. It is clear the Founding Father’s believed America would crumble if given to the immoral torrents that ravaged the ethical shorelines of previous nations. The need for a general civil righteousness amidst a free people was a universal necessity from the Founder’s perspectives.
Constitutionally speaking, however, the Founders did not see government—nor did they construct government, but instead erected walls against government—micromanaging and overseeing the private though necessary, cultivation of morality. A pinch was given to the states to refine by more elaborate laws (so long as they did not interfere with the Bill of Rights) and communities and churches and other private religious/civil institutions.
The separation of church and state impugned today by too many social conservatives was given in the language of James Madison to preserve religion and politics, not to assault either one. Madison, like Jefferson, clearly saw a separation between the state and the Church, harnessing a more pure form of both. Both religion and politics were deemed legitimate from the Founders perspective, but with wholly different jurisdictions. Government was seen in temporal, modest venue, the Church, spiritually, far more important to the complicated nature of human beings.
Suffice to say, conservatives do themselves a disservice when looking for government to cultivate or better society. It’s a complete rejection of what Dr Thomas Sowell calls the ‘constrained vision’ of classical liberal philosophy and its offspring, the U.S. Constitution. It would be nice for conservative politicians pounding lecterns and making donkeys of themselves and the people they represent to start singing the blues of the ‘constrained vision’ of classical liberalism. Liberty over perfection, because perfection is impossible this side of Shakespeare’s ‘Undiscovered Country.’
It would be nice to hear social congressional ‘conservative’ leaders pontificating about the importance of morality and civil righteousness churches, communities, and private institutions offer, rather than the continuous and perfidious notion all roads and solutions lead to Washington, DC.
Sadly, Republican leaders echo this centralised planning premise as much as our leftist Democratic friends. Likewise, so called conservative candidates and leaders have given to our laboured country some of our biggest government programs as well. In turn, these policies have shown to result in an encroachment upon individual, family, and community autonomy. Of course, government does a few things well. The punishment of evil and protecting our shores from invasion and defending the interests of our sovereign nation and allies abroad is a wise and necessary starting point. History matters, after all.
In history, a dramatic narrative unfolds. It has shown in an array of dramatic action that once government begins to step outside these modest tasks, not only is the quality of life depreciated for the citizenry, but also bigger problems are created—like market dislocation—and personal liberties obstructed. Worse. A government concerned with being a social manufacturer and moral reformer has abandoned its largest responsibilities. The state of our world is a good indication of this insight.
So, when the social conservative begins sweating and accuses you, the classical liberal, of not caring about the moral sinews of your country. Tell them two things confidently … tell them you do care about morality. Passionately! In fact, you care so much that it would be the most basic foolishness—the actions of a horse’s ass—to allow such an important issue to be left to the Federal Government to screw up. That’s exactly what government has done, you will say, speaking of morality, screw it up … and, specifically, tell them as a conservative, they are not supposed to be donkey’s standing on a stool reaching for the moon in utter buffoonery. As a conservative, you inform them, they are supposed to be a conservator of classical liberalism.
We classical liberals don’t use government to solve our moral problems because government cannot fix them. People, churches, private institutions, and communities, cultivate, create, and preserve morality — not government.