On numerous occasions, I’ve said to friends that I see government as a necessary evil, and that I emphasize one word or the other depending on my mood. We are neither perfect nor perfectible by human action, and so government seems necessary. However, the governors come from the same pool of people as those who need governance; therefore, governments are subject to the same errors and shortcomings as individuals, amplified by the power we grant them. It’s not unlike the Aristotelian notion that vice may be found in either the lack or the overabundance of what would a virtue in moderation. Consequently, I find severely limited government to be the least unsatisfactory solution.
Those of us who hold such a position frequently are accused of advocating for a Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes (the Somalia argument) or for a world without roads (although to be fair, roads somehow came into existence before the rise of the FHWA). But even if we dismiss these ad absurdum arguments as the bad faith we know them to be, less extreme versions do warrant our consideration.
To that end, there’s a new article from the amazing Roger Scruton over at First Things. He reminds folks on my side of things of the “necessary” part of that necessary evil, an reminds us that the evil comes from the surfeit of what could be a good. A nice pull quote to consider:
The growth of modern societies has created social needs that the old patterns of free association are no longer able to satisfy. But the correct response is not to forbid the state from intruding into the areas of welfare, health care, education, and the rest, but to limit its contribution to the point where citizens’ initiatives can once again take the lead. Conservatives want a society guided by public spirit. But public spirit grows only among people who are free to act on it, and to take pleasure in the result. Public spirit is a form of private enterprise, and it is killed when the state takes over.
But read the whole thing.