What Has Small Government to do with Conservatism? - Intercollegiate Studies Institute

What Has Small Government to do with Conservatism?

Much like the fact that OJ really was guilty or that Michael Jackson liked to share the wealth (Jesus Juice) with the children, Americans generally accept that conservatism and small government go hand-in-hand. After all, Reagan was a conservative and he hated taxes more than lesbian über-feminists hate the Catholic Church and shaving. We also can’t forget Barry Goldwater, the big glasses wearing, no nonsense golden calf of today’s libertarians. But I propose that maybe conservatism can exist without an emphasis on small government. That despite what all the cool-kid libertarians tell you, as much as I think the man and his sweater vests are sad products of a misguided sense of fashion and conservatism, Rick Santorum is actually a conservative. (Disclaimer: I do not like Rick Santorum. I would not have actively supported him had he gotten the nomination. He is a little creepy).

Even conservatives who have actually increased the size of government and/or government spending have couched their language in the rhetoric of small government. George W. Bush liked wars in the Middle East and partying (in college anyway), but he also loved to talk about deregulation. At the same time, most libertarians would reject his policies as Stalinist manifestations of that evil tendency toward Statism. Even Ronald Reagan, beloved murderer of taxes, the man who may be in more pictures with the American flag than any other human being in the history of the Stars and Stripes, spent tons of money on the military and thereby worked to increase this country’s economic difficulties.

So it is clear that one can be considered conservative (read old, stodgy, and most likely white) in this country even if he is willing to be pro-government at times. The question then is whether conservatives should be in favor of smaller government. Well, the answer is (and all answers I give are authoritative and correct) yes and no. On one hand, the de-evolution of powers has always been a part of the American conservative tradition. Subsidiarity is a Catholic principle and love of town and county officials over far-off, highfalutin technocrats in their enormous cities with their running water and big, brass spittoons is an American one. But the issue is, at least from my very correct perspective, that Americans have turned from subsidiarity to anarchy. Many believe that the government should not be involved in anything. But should we really not want a government that encourages religious pluralism as opposed to an atheistic public realm full of holiday trees and faux-menorahs? That might require a little bit of government involvement. It did take the federal government to end racial segregation and discrimination; it did take Washington D.C. (in the form of the judiciary) to make it so that the government (how ironic) couldn’t tell you whether or not to use condoms. So what’s with the absolute skepticism?

The fact of the matter is that government is necessary and isn’t even necessarily a necessary evil. I’m all about subsidiarity. I believe local governments can handle many local concerns better than the technocrats in their marble halls with their high-price call girls and their suits. But the fact is that the federal government can do some things best. And even more important is that local governments are still governments. The individual need not be the essence of conservatism. Individualism is all well and good until you start holding out in a stronghold in the woods, preaching racist doctrines and eating nothing but grass and uncooked deer innards. So let’s hope the future of American conservatism is less individualistic, more realistic, and less pro-deer innards. If not, well, at least we all hate the highfalutin technocrats (man, I love that word).

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