Can the Government Do Great and Good Things?

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Pat Buchanan characterizes the progressive philosophy of government in this way: “…the fundamental progressive idea, the philosophy of the Democratic Party that government can really do great and good things and can do them well, given enough time and effort.” The part about the Democratic Party is irrelevant because the Republican Party acts the same way.

This summary of the progressive philosophy of government views government as an instrument or tool that can be used to do good. I’d add one thing, which Pat left out, which is “in the hands of progressives.” That is, they believe that government can do great and good things, with time and effort, only if government is in their hands or adopts their policies.

The libertarian philosophy of government directly opposes the progressive philosophy by pointing out that government-as-we-know-it, in the forms historically observed to predominate for thousands of years, is a “bandit gang writ large”, that taxation is theft on a grand scale, that government is a set of coercive monopolies, and that nothing done by governments cannot be done more efficiently by free individuals who organize their own activities voluntarily.

One can point out the sorry record of governments to progressives all day and all night for 365 days a year without their accepting the libertarian philosophy because they will argue that government is not in their beneficent hands and that their coercions will be beneficial ones. They will argue either that they haven’t been in control, or that their policies were improperly put into practice, or that others sabotaged their programs, or that new problems demand new government actions, or that more time and effort are needed before the good and great results become evident.

The progressive philosophy inherently divides mankind into a class of wise and knowing rulers (the progressives) who will organize the unwise and ignorant masses for their own good. In this sense of unequal rights being built into their view of government, progressives are inherently anti-democratic, no matter how much they may espouse goals of equality. However, progressives downplay, disguise and obscure their use of government force by the effective technique of publicizing “problems” and recommending simple mechanistic solutions for the “common good”. This technique gains public support and wins elections. It appeals to people who want to see problems solved and want to see visible action to solve them. The invisible hand doesn’t satisfy many people.

If there are terrorists somewhere, by all means send drones after them. If there are bad dictators somewhere — anywhere — by all means depose them. It is no accident that progressives support aggressive foreign policies. But if the results of a war are impacting Americans negatively, then by all means, withdraw from it and cut back. Progressives make every attempt to sound reasonable and to blame external circumstances for their changes in policies. Bad outcomes are never the result of any inherent problems with government. They may be the result of bad implementation or errors of judgment, but never, never, never government itself.

John Podesta of the Center for American Progress gives an example of progressive thought. The first step is to make a list of supposed ills. These will be popular memes and items made to sound very definite by use of numbers, for example, 46 million people without health insurance and college tuitions rising 3 times faster than the cost of living.

Step two is to blame them on the presence of freedom, individualism and lack of (progressive) government action. Podesta criticizes “individualism” and claims its results are things like rising rates of poverty and plunging savings rates.

Step three is to offer government solutions. It is typical of progressives to offer simple-minded explanations of and simple-minded solutions to complex phenomena, which typically involve government. If, for example, public schools are producing students with poorer and poorer educations, blame this on there being no national standards and on students not spending enough time in schools. Then support national standards and longer school years, or perhaps higher pay to teachers. If the spending of individual states on college education is falling, then call for increased federal participation.

Progressives claim that progressive policies will rectify these defects of freedom and produce a “common good”. Podesta writes

“Under a progressive vision of the common good, government must pursue policies that benefit everyone equally. It must ensure that opportunities are abundant and that even those who have been left out and left behind can get the help they need to succeed.”

This is empty rhetoric because it’s simply impossible for government to pursue policies that benefit everyone equally, and it cannot ensure abundant opportunities.

Can the government do great and good things, given enough time and effort, in the hands of progressives? It never has and it never will. However, whole libraries of studies and learned thought that show government’s failures do not deter progressives.

Their weak spot is the very thing that is at the center of their philosophy, which is government as opposed to individual action. There is no moral case for forcing people through government. The utilitarian case for the common good does not stand up to scrutiny when it regards people as so much raw material to be molded into shape by government. Treating people like herds of animals, no matter how you sugar coat it, is hardly an endearing philosophy. Any philosophy that denies the human person his individuality and freedom, even as it claims to be elevating them, is deeply flawed. Many philosophies claim to be elevating people of various groups or doing good while implicitly or explicitly making contrary suggestions. Claims of doing good need to be carefully scrutinized. Progressivism at its heart is an anti-human being political philosophy.

8:52 am on February 13, 2014
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