When I first saw the headline last week, “FDA to ban trans fats” I was typically disgusted, as any good conservative should be. What right does the federal government have to tell me what the hell I can eat! I thought indignantly. Nanny state progressivism is getting out of hand. Can’t I decide if I want to eat foods that are allegedly bad for my health? But as I mulled it over during the day some other thoughts began to intrude on my indignation.
Doesn’t government, at every level, tell us what we can and can’t do, ostensibly for our own good, all the time? And do not some of these regulations and laws actually protect us from harm and encourage good? If we allow that some laws and/or regulations are good, which no doubt they are, by what principal do we limit said laws or regulations? Isn’t it really just about drawing lines? Progressives seem to practically want to regulate all of life via government action, whereas some libertarians seem to claim we can live without any government regulation at all.
Those of us on the right say we stand for limited government, which assumes less is better than more, but which doesn’t tell us what is optimal. Is utilitarianism the basic principle, so that if a government regulation or law brings good results no matter how unlimited or limited it is good, or is the principle by which we limit government more a metaphysical consideration? As someone once said and as Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting, the government that governs least governs best. So is least always best? Is always maximizing liberty ideal even if people can get hurt using that liberty?
I’m not sure I know the answers to these questions, but I do know that America’s founders put together a constitution to limit the power of government. These men understood human nature, and that the ruling class would always seek to aggrandize power to itself if it were not kept from doing so by constitutional limitations. Progressivism began to chafe against these limitations in the late 19th Century as industrialism transformed American culture, and Woodrow Wilson boldly proclaimed that the Constitution was an archaic document and not useful for modern times.
There is no doubt that a government for an agrarian population of five million people will look considerably different than a government for an information/industrial society of over 300 million. Yet that Constitution ratified by America’s founders is capable of being the governing document for America today every bit as it was in 1787. The Founders knew very well that American society would change over the years, and created a constitution that could be the governing document regardless of the economic structure or population. So the importance of the Constitution as the rubric under which the above questions can best be answered cannot be overstated, even if those who profess fealty to it come up with different answers. And a “living” Constitution that is malleable to the every whim of progressive desire to “transform” society is no constitution at all.
Which brings me to the ultimate point of these musings: It’s the culture, stupid! The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written for a self-governing people. Thus the importance the Founders placed on religion regardless of their personal faith or lack thereof; a virtuous citizenry was the greatest bulwark against the encroachment of state tyranny.
America was born into a culture of liberty, a culture awash in classical and Biblical learning among the elites, and of independence and proud personal responsibility among everyone else. You think life is hard in 2013? Try the late 18th Century. Government wasn’t coming to the rescue with a check if you lost your job, and nobody thought they should. Government didn’t exist to protect you from the vicissitudes of life, but to provide an environment where anyone could live their lives, enjoy liberty and pursue their own version of happiness.
Unfortunately, professions that determine in large part how Americans view the role of government in their lives, Hollywood, media, and education are dominated by progressives who believe they know better what our happiness should be, and that government power should be used to inflict it upon us. As important as elections are, America will never recapture its culture of liberty as long as these professions are dominated by progressives and their worldview. Billionaires and millionaires on the right might want to consider that before they write their next check to a political campaign. Those dollars will only have a limited effect on the fundamental direction of our country, and that direction has been only one way for 50 plus years, and not one the Founders would recognize.
Today it’s trans fats; what will they protect us from next?