For the last day of MAGA Week 2018, I’m dedicating this post not to any specific historic individual, but instead to a facet of political (conservative) philosophy: limited government.
It’s easy to take limited government for granted, or even to fail to recognize it: it doesn’t seem to occur organically, although modern-day economic libertarians will claim as such (never mind that this ignores most of the last 6000 years of recorded history). Limited government is rooted in self-government, which did flourish once given a chance, but it certainly required the fertile soil of 550 years of English political history.
Limited government is not quite the same as small government. A government can be “small” in terms of its expenditures, but still not “limited”—imagine a lean, efficiently-run dictatorship in a very small country.
Limited government, on the other hand, suggests a “smallness” of scale, but also carefully delineates the scope of the government’s purview. The “checks and balances” and “separation of powers” of the Constitution are key ingredients, not just between the different branches of the federal government, but between the federal and State governments as well.
The whole point of our system—beautifully laid out by the Framers, but particularly James Madison—is to defuse and counterbalance power, and to submit all authority to rule of law. The Constitution, then, is the limiting of what government can do. Everything else is left to the people.
Unfortunately, our nation has given up our old attitude—“ask forgiveness, not permission”—for “assume you’re not allowed to do something without getting it sanctioned by some authority first.” That’s a shocking change from the Framers’ attitude, and to our century of “salutary neglect” prior to 1763.
Recall that Americans didn’t declare independence in 1776 because taxes were too high, but that they were being taxed without their consent—without representation in Parliament. The whole theory was that government ruled with the consent of the governed, a notion dating back to the feudal privileges of the barons at the signing of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215.
Similarly, the Boston Tea Party was a response to the monopolization of tea entering the colonies—a corporatist scheme cooked up by the British government to bail out the failing, government-subsidized British East India Company. The colonists rightly reasoned that, should the importation of tea be monopolized, any product could be subject to monopolization—potentially destroying the colonial economy under the thumb of an exploitative British government.
Americans believed—correctly—that their rights as Englishmen were being trampled, and that the British government was overstepping its bounds. In essence, Parliament and King George III failed to apply the traditional limits of English government to their colonial possessions in British North America.
As such, our Framers put together a written Constitution (unlike Britain’s unwritten constitution, which can essentially be changed at the majoritarian whim of Parliament; thus, people arrested in Britain for posting controversial topics on Facebook—and the persecution of Tommy Robinson), one that clearly delineates the roles of the three branches of government. The Bill of Rights prudently added the Tenth Amendment, which devolves power down to the States and the people.
As for why limited government is great, I will close with this recommendation: watch the video below from Prager University. Adam Corolla lays out the best case for limited government I’ve ever heard.
Enjoy—and thanks for making America great again!