[Confusing legislation with government]
DUNN LORING, VA — Are you trapped in an abusive relationship
with your government? Does it do all the taking and none of the giving?
Has it become increasingly demanding and dependent? Does it refuse
to admit being at fault? Does it always insist on being the dominant
partner, while refusing to accept its own responsibilities? Does it
run up huge bills and stick you with the payments? Is it secretive
and evasive about its activities, while denying you your own space
and privacy? Does it demand your undivided love, while remaining emotionally
distant from you and indifferent to your basic needs?
If you answered yes to all these questions, you have a problem. In
fact, you have the same problem every American taxpayer has.
What’s more, there’s no solution. If you had a spouse
that behaved like your government, you could not only break free of
the relationship, you might be able to collect damages or even have
the offender jailed, or at least ordered to stay away from you. But
the cost and inconvenience of divorcing your government is prohibitive.
You have to leave your home, move far away, and start a completely
For many people, the problem is aggravated by denial — the need
to pretend that everything is all right because many other governments
are even worse. They feel guilty if they criticize their own government,
which constantly tells them how lucky they are not to be living elsewhere.
It’s as if an alcoholic, adulterous wife-beater were to keep
reminding his wife that she’s fortunate he’s not O.J. Simpson.
The modern state stands ready to release you from all your duties
to your own family, while constantly increasing your political obligations.
You can divorce your spouse, neglect your parents, abandon or abort
your children. But you’d better pay your taxes, most of which
will be spent for the benefit of people you’ve never met and
have never agreed to support.
This system of forcing some to pay others’ way is justified
as “compassion,” but it’s an inversion of the natural
order of love, the family-centered affections that modern liberalism
despises as narrow and selfish. It’s typical of the champions
of the all-absorbing state that even as they treat the family as something
a child must be protected from, they try to clothe the state itself
in the warm metaphors of “family,” “community,” and “village.”
Our public discussion seems to assume that it’s the destiny
of the state to keep getting bigger, without limit. We are told that
we’re not being governed unless Congress is continually passing
new laws. But this confuses governing with legislating. We have more
than enough laws, while the most basic ones are being enforced less
and less. The disparity between the number of laws on the books and
the will to punish violent crime ought to tell us something, but it
doesn’t seem to. We complain about “partisan bickering” and “gridlock” and
demand that Congress get back to passing more laws, any laws.
The current scandals have almost nothing to do with the central problem:
defining the proper role of government. Neither party has anything
worth calling a philosophy; both talk vaguely about reducing government’s
size without specifying its nature, purpose, and limits. But it’s
obtuse to discuss political questions exclusively in terms of quantity,
in an inane dialectic of empty uplift and equally empty cynicism.
In reality, both parties seem to feel we’re stuck with the
kind of government we have. It’s instructive to contrast their
vacuous debates with the real debates this country witnessed before
the Civil War. Not only was the rhetoric grander; the substance was
solid. From Jefferson and Hamilton to Lincoln and Douglas, people argued
about the principles of government, on the assumption that they could
still shape their destiny.
We can’t assume that anymore. A sense of dull doom hangs over
our politics, as if the fateful decisions have already been made for
us, and all that’s left is a little wiggle room. The awful part
is the suspicion that we may be getting the kind of government we deserve.
Copyright © 2010 by Joe Sobran and the
Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. A version of this column
was published by the Universal Press Syndicate on January 28, 1997.
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