"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Free Markets, Free Minds–What Is The Role Of Government?

So much is made of the principle of separation of church and state that one easily forgets how there was no such thing in the early days of the Republic. In the early days of the colonies, both in Virginia and New England, the church was the arbiter of contractual and civil suits; responsible for the levying of taxes, the repair and maintenance of roads and carriageways, the education of children as well as for overseeing the spiritual evolution and moral rectitude of all residents.

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The development of the Old Southwest, what is now the Florida Panhandle and portions of Alabama and Louisiana, was not an affair of government, but of private entrepreneurs.  It was these businessmen who decided whether Apalachicola or Mobile was to be the principal port of the Gulf Coast.  It was they who oversaw the dredging of the rivers into the interior to facilitate trade; and it was they who laid out Gulfport, Biloxi, and Pass Christian so that titling, sale, and land management could be facilitated.

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These entrepreneurs built ports, railways, and thoroughfares, collected tolls and tariffs, bought and sold land and property rights. 

Government as a separate public entity was created to serve the purposes of economic developers, to provide for needed public utilities and services as towns grew, and eventually to adjudicate differences between monied interests and to assure a reasonable defense of individual and civil rights.
Fyodor Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov lays out a strong argument for the integration of church and state; but with an important condition.  The state would be subsumed within the church, not vice-versa.

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What better way to keep the peace, Ivan Karamazov asks, than for moral principle to be the foundation for civil order?  The law of God is far more compelling than the law of man.  There are no better socio-moral injunctions than the Ten Commandments.

Because of the erroneous interpretation of the First Amendment of the Constitution, not only the profession of established religion (specifically outlawed by the Constitution) but any and all references to religious-based moral principles and precepts have been forbidden in public schools on the grounds that they might favor one religion over another.

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As a result, the Judeo-Christian moral code which has been the bedrock of American culture since its founding, has no official home.  Children are excluded from a discussion of everything from the role of Christianity in the founding of the nation to the ideas that have governed principled behavior since the Greeks and Romans.

At the same time no amount of exposure to Biblical history and the evolution of the Church; nor any careful parsing of Biblical laws and admonishments can possibly replace the same teaching in a religious context.  According to Jewish and Christian believers let alone scholars and theologians, the Ten Commandments are not simply part of religious history; but solemn, spiritual injunctions, the dismissal of which can only result in exclusion from the church.

Moreover, Christian fundamentalism has moved far from Puritanism.  No longer are charismatics and Pentecostals concerned with moral behavior but the acceptance of Jesus Christ as a personal savior.   Inner city churches with a long history of civil rights activism, also ignore the fundamental moral precepts of Christianity in favor of secular movements, resulting in a moral free-for-all and persistent culture of entitlement and ignorance of personal responsibility.

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Something is missing; and in the name of multiculturalism and inclusivity America has been loosened from its Judeo-Christian moorings.  To acknowledge the primacy of Christian moral authority is to dismiss the legitimacy of all other religions practiced in America.

Yet these Judeo-Christian principles are not new, for they date back to Greco-Roman times.  The Roman philosopher-educator Cato the Elder developed a curriculum for the future leaders of the Empire which focused not only on the practical affairs of governance and warfare, but on moral principle.  No leader of Rome could possibly govern without a firm commitment to courage, honesty, compassion, discipline, honor, and allegiance.

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In other words, promoting Judeo-Christian values is to promote universal values. There has been no advanced civilization in human history which has not adhered to them.

Therefore a re-integration of church and state in America may be a good thing, not a bad or dangerous one.

Critics of such integration argue on many fronts.  Opening the school doors to religion invites bigotry, discrimination, and favoritism; and worse invites the abuses of radical Islam which has made no excuses for its desires for a militant religious caliphate.

Yet these fears are unfounded.  What wrong or shame is there in teaching children the obvious – America was and still is a Christian country with Christian values, prohibitions, and philosophical principles at its core?  One need not teach about the Resurrection to convey these universal ideas to children.

The intrusion of government in individual private lives has never been more prevalent nor insidious than it is now.  If ‘government’ is taken to mean all three branches of the Federal Government plus state, regional, and local authorities, then its reach is complete.  There are few aspects of behavior which are not regulated by government.  There has been over the years a gradual but persistent arrogation of power to government at the expense of individual rights.

Why, for example, should the Supreme Court have ruled in favor of abortion when a significant proportion of the electorate is morally and religiously concerned about such a ruling? Questions of the origins of life, the viability of the fetus, and its value relative to that of the mother surely do not belong within the narrow jurisdiction of nine Supreme Court Justices but in the electorate.

Religious rights – i.e. that individual rights regarding moral and religious principle have equal or higher standing to those adjudicated by the courts – have been eroded because of faulty concepts of democratic inclusivity.  If individuals disagree with an institution’s stance on homosexuality, LGBT issues, or abortion they do not have to patronize it.  Change – either in favor of liberal civil rights or more conservative religious values –should happen according to the laws of supply and demand, not government intervention.

Government has also assumed authority over debated issues such as income equality, economic development, and social welfare.  It has once again arrogated to itself responsibility for fixing all of America’s social problems. 

How to fix dysfunctional inner cities? Guarantee more entitlement, more benefits, and more money. What to do about crime? Pass restrictive gun laws but ignore punitive police action in the name of civil rights. How to protect the environment? Pass laws to ‘protect the ecosystem’ with little regard to cost benefit, i.e. jobs gained and lost, economic feasibility, and practicability.

Many have argued that in a complex society with increasingly pluralistic and competing interests only government can resolve disputes and settle arguments.  The case of the Chesapeake Bay is an often-cited case in point.   Without federal intervention, the argument goes, the three interested jurisdictions – Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware – would never agree on reasonable environmental protections.  The poultry farmers in Delaware have inordinate political power, so the interests of Virginia watermen would be ignored.

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Yet, under our Constitutional system, states have equal rights and authority and so do individuals and private institutions within them.  The law of countervailing forces applies universally and equally.  If Perdue has sway now and his effluents pollute the bay, degrade its wildlife viability and make recreation and tourism unappealing, they will be stopped.  No one powerful interest group can maintain its influence for long.

States relying on Colorado River water have competing claims to resources; and Sacramento Valley farmers, Bel Air residents, and American consumers all have their say.  One way or another, there will be a winner – if only temporary – to the problem.

There is and always will be a contest between the rulers and the ruled, the wealthy and the less-advantaged, the capitalist financiers and entrepreneurs and the consumers of their products.  This is a healthy competition, one which requires little regulation.  The energy and creativity of private markets is derived from competition and opposing forces.

Why is it that we turn so quickly to government for solutions to problems which could be sorted out otherwise?  How have we become so dependent on the State for protection, adjudication, and support?

When all is said and done, is this argument nothing more than one of practical political philosophy helping to delimit the role of government; i.e. finding its proper and most appropriate role? Or is there something more fundamental at stake?

The concept of individual liberty as envisaged by the Founding Fathers had nothing to do with a willy-nilly satisfying expression of personal wishes.  It was based on religious principle.  The individual must be free to pursue his spiritual evolution; and the role of the state is to, in any way possible, facilitate this evolution.

The pursuit of happiness as envisaged by Jefferson was by no means an open ticket to self-gratification.  One should only pursue one’s individual happiness within the context of community well-being.  He never envisaged the State as playing the principal role in this contract.

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The debate about the role of government should not be confined to the adjudication of secular disputes but the integrity of the individual.  Some say that this integrity is sacred for it is rooted in spirituality.  Others say that it is the finest expression of John Locke and the Enlightenment.
Whatever the intellectual conclusion, more attention should be paid to individual sanctity and less on secular community interests.