Friday, April 01, 2016

Did I Move?

I have taken 3 political surveys in recent days, and they all show the same thing: if we put American politics today on a left-right spectrum, I'm a left-leaning centrist. Trust me, I'm surprised, too. I've always been Republican. Culturally, I identify with them. I like them. I actually don't believe government is the answer to most problems. Well, what happened?

If I had to guess, I'd say that the groups of people who say, "The federal government is too big, and tries to do too much" actually have pretty different answers as to why. It may well be that in earlier days, most of those people who said that were united strongly in opposition to Soviet communism. Once the threat ended, the various philosophical fault-lines became clearer. Essentially, Reagan in 1980 was the paper over the uneasy truce between conservatism and libertarianism. That divorce was long in coming, and now it's here. Let me say it this way: If my two choices are New Deal liberalism, and libertarianism, I'm a liberal. It's the GOP that conceives of rights in ever-more individualistic ways, and in so doing, basically has embraced a libertarian philosophy of government: a grudging acceptance of its existence, either because small groups can't truly repel the greatest aggressions, or because those people don't see any benefit in violent revolution. But this isn't a fully Christian account of government. Despite whatever magnitude of waste, fraud, and abuse I may find, at the core philosophically, I believe government is a positive good, not a necessary evil. That is to say, I'm much more likely to speak of government overreach in moral, as opposed to economic, terms.

The inalienable rights spoken of in the preamble to our Constitution have a moral end; that is, they tend toward the natural common good, and then to the supernatural common good. We actually have no liberty to do that which is immoral. Insofar as the government of the United States uses its power of taxation for moral ends, it has not stolen. Indeed, it acts on behalf of the people as their instrument of justice. It may well be possible to debate prudentially about how much taxation, spending in social welfare areas, et cetera, there should be. All the more in a system of federalism, where we have government at local, state, and national levels. But I cannot embrace any philosophy of "limited government" that reduces to, "None, or as little as possible." I don't conceive of rights completely in individual terms. The dignity of the human person may well require that the government intervene to protect and aid those who cannot protect and aid themselves. If therefore I described my philosophy as "social conservatism," I must be prepared for situations where social conservatism requires economic liberalism. This is especially true if I define "social conservatism" as the preservation of the dignity of the human person in his individuality, and in his social dimension.

Practically, that means I want greater funding for the arts, but not blasphemy. It means that I want stringent environmental regulation, but not because human beings are a cancer upon the planet. It means that we shouldn't demonize people on public assistance of any kind, but we should look for ways to help everyone support themselves. It also means that the most beneficial limitation to the power of government will be to take away the power to deprive people of life. We don't need it, as a matter of law, and much of our system perpetuates injustice by sheer inertia. Insofar as injustice is structural in its causes, we need to be prepared to be progressives, and even radicals, to root it out.

I'm not a socialist, by any stretch. But we need to reset the conversation. The time is now.

1 comment:

Wes said...

You sound like Kasich during his speech to announce he was running for president. (aka highly reasonable)