…to surrender. Yet that’s what Peter Berkowitz advocates Conservatives do in a recent Wall Street Journal op-ed [emphasis added].
Conservatives should…come to grips with two entrenched realities that pose genuine challenges to liberty, and whose prudent management is critical to the nation’s well-being.
The first entrenched reality is that big government is here to stay. This is particularly important for libertarians to absorb. Over the last two hundred years, society and the economy in advanced industrial nations have undergone dramatic transformations. And for three-quarters of a century, the New Deal settlement has been reshaping Americans’ expectations about the nation-state’s reach and role.
In these circumstances, conservatives must redouble their efforts to reform sloppy and incompetent government and resist government’s inherent expansionist tendencies and progressivism’s reflexive leveling proclivities. But to reform sloppy and incompetent government and resist government’s inherent expansionist tendencies and progressivism’s reflexive leveling proclivities reflects a distinctly unconservative refusal to ground political goals in political realities.
Conservatives can and should focus on restraining spending, reducing regulation, reforming the tax code, and generally reining in our sprawling federal government. But conservatives should retire misleading talk of small government. Instead, they should think and speak in terms of limited government.
Yet the only way to “reform sloppy and incompetent government and resist government’s inherent expansionist tendencies and progressivism’s reflexive leveling proclivities” is to shrink the government back to a manageable size—to regain the small, limited government we used to have and that is created in the documents of our social compact. Limited government and small government are inseparable; they are two sides of the same coin. Yes, yes, monarchies can be small governments, too. But they’re not limited.
Accepting the status quo and declining to seek to “reform sloppy and incompetent government and resist government’s inherent expansionist tendencies and progressivism’s reflexive leveling proclivities” by shrinking—limiting—that over-large and out of control government is most assuredly an unconservative thing to do; it is to accede to the modern Liberal’s goal.
Berkowitz seems not recognize the role reversal that has occurred. The modern Conservative is the 18th Century Liberal—the champion of limited government that protects and enhances individual liberty, individual responsibility, and the resulting national prosperity. The modern Liberal is the 18th Century Conservative, a man who favored government control over men’s lives on the theory that both the common man was too stupid to see to his own ends and that Government—the King—Knows Better. The only difference between the modern Liberal and that 18th Century monarchist is the accepted superficial structure of the Big Government that Knows Better.
Berkowitz’ second entrenched reality,
…this one testing social conservatives, is the sexual revolution, perhaps the greatest social revolution in human history
is wholly irrelevant without the individual freedom and responsibility available only with small, limited government. With government determining what our lives should be like and how we should live them, things like the sexual revolution and our responses to them also are for governments to determine.
Even under the shadow of big government and in the wake of the sexual revolution, both libertarians and social conservatives, consistent with their most deeply held beliefs, can and should affirm the dignity of the person and the inseparability of human dignity from individual freedom and self-government. They can and should affirm the dependence of individual freedom and self-government on a thriving civil society, and the paramount importance the Constitution places on maintaining a political framework that secures liberty by limiting government.
Indeed, but a modern Conservative is not a libertarian—and he never was. Moreover, the “social conservative” is a modern invention, defined less by social mores than by opposition to the mores of the modern Liberal. And the affirmation of the need of civil society as one means of guaranteeing “individual freedom and self-government” and that “political framework that secures liberty by limiting government” separately and together demand an actual limiting of government—its size and the reach of its powers.