Give hope a chance

I was struck yesterday by a reader’s comment on David Brooks’ recent column.  Self-identified “liberal” Elizabeth Fuller of Peterborough, NH gave a defense of leftist politics that was articulate, if not persuasive.   Among other things, she said:

We love government not because it is always good, but because it is our only hope.

Really?  Government is the only thing we have to hope in?  Not our churches, our families, our neighbors, our work colleagues, our clubs and associations, ourselves?  No, just government.

Fuller’s point is basically that life is hard and unfair for many hard-working people, and government can help.  Fair enough.  But what she doesn’t seem to get is that the more government steps in to fulfill the traditions of churches, families, neighbors, colleagues, clubs and associations, the less people feel a moral obligation to others, the less they have the ability to help others because of high taxes, and the less they feel a personal responsibility to provide for themselves.   She and many other leftists see government providing hope.  I see the heavy boots of government stamping out hope, as well as faith and charity and the social bonds that connect people together and lead them to depend upon themselves and upon one another.

I was told a story a few years ago about a situation in Finland where a religious group was doing a service project that involved cleaning up some public space to make it more usable and attractive.  Some local citizens were angered because they felt that this volunteer effort might take away jobs from government workers.

Most libertarians (except for the anarchist whack-jobs) see a vital and necessary role for a strong but limited government.  We don’t hate government.  We just hate it when government stomps out our humanity.

6 thoughts on “Give hope a chance

  1. You mis-read Ms. Fuller.

    She isn’t referring to government taking over the traditional helping and nurturing functions of “churches, families, neighbors, colleagues, clubs and associations”.

    In the very next sentence, she makes clear that she’s referring to the government’s regulatory and penal functions: “Without government, without regulation, the guy with the biggest club wins.”

    Defending citizens against malefactors has been a traditional function of government, rather than churches, etc. since the end of the middle ages.

    1. I disagree. Reading that sentence in context of her whole post (most of which had little to do with regulation, per se) I think she was very much referring to government as a whole, not just its regulatory functions. I don’t think the club she was referring to is just the club held by unregulated firms.

      For further evidence, look at those sentences in context of the whole paragraph:

      “We love government not because it is always good, but because it is our only hope. Without government, without regulation, the guy with the biggest club wins. Unfortunately, the guy with the biggest campaign chest, with the most spin-doctors working for his campaign also wins, and good government is not always achieved.”

      Of course she doesn’t think government’s role is to take over for other social institutions. But I’m arguing that when government steps in to do all the things she wants it to (which is about everything), those other social bonds get broken.

  2. So, if no local group wanted to clean up a public space, do you think we are worse off if the government (possibly even the local government) stepped in and cleaned it?

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