The greatest dangers to freedom today come from unlimited government. And communists and fascists do not have a monopoly on this. Western democratic nations are becoming just about as oppressive as the state keeps growing and growing in scope and power.
Back in 1987 political economist Robert Higgs penned an important volume entitled Crisis and Leviathan. He began his book this way: “We must have government. Only government can perform certain tasks successfully. Without government to defend us from external aggression, preserve domestic order, define and enforce private property rights, few of us could achieve much. Unfortunately a government strong enough to protect us may be strong enough to crush us.”
We see this happening throughout history. Unfortunately we do not seem to have learned the lessons from history, or from this volume. Governments continue to grow and expand, and at the same time individual liberties continue to lessen and shrink.
The main protections individuals have against the state are what have been called mediating structures, such as churches, voluntary organisations, corporations, and so on. The fundamental and primary mediating structure is of course the family. As long as healthy families exist, states cannot have unlimited power. This explains why statists have always declared war on the family.
In their brand new book Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late (FaithWords, 2012), James Robison and Jay Richards make the case for limiting government, and for protecting and promoting the institutions of marriage and family.
Simply favouring free markets and small government, while ignoring the family, or relegating it into the private sphere, is counterproductive. Thus the libertarians need to get the bigger picture here: “Without strong families, however, we won’t have freedom and limited government for long. Remember, a limited government recognizes but does not control the social spheres outside it.”
They continue, “By recognizing the perennial nature of the family in its laws, the government limits its jurisdiction over individuals and the family. If the government can’t manage to acknowledge something as basic as the family, it won’t acknowledge individual rights for long.
“The destruction of families leads to a larger, more intrusive nanny state. Research by David Popenoe and Alan Wolfe shows a link between the breakdown of marriage and the growth in government spending in Scandinavia. This isn’t surprising. The family is a huge check on government power. . . . The better a family functions, the less you need from local, state, and federal governments.”
That is why socialists have always sought to destroy the family. “The socialist would much prefer a mass of isolated individuals all dependent on the state from the beginning, rather than having to work through a complicated thicket of family ties. Socialist states don’t like other sources of authority that limit their power.”
But as I mentioned, all over the Western world we see the same attacks on family, and the same growth of Leviathan. Consider two quite recent examples of this from the US. The first case comes from New York. Cal Thomas discusses it as follows:
“Are there no limits on government’s power, no place where it cannot go? New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a former (thankfully) Republican, but in name only, has decided to limit food donations to city charities, including homeless shelters, because the government is unable to measure the nutritional value of the food.
“Who in city government believes that a homeless person with no access to money other than what he or she might panhandle cares about the nutritional content of food? If they are able to scrounge up a few bucks on the streets, does anyone seriously think they’re headed to a grocery store to buy carrots and arugula? Any food, including ‘unhealthy’ fast food would be their preferred choice.”
He continues, “Will the government permit ketchup on fries? Maybe it will allow ketchup, which liberals mocked Ronald Reagan for correctly calling a vegetable, but not fries, unless they are unsalted, and then just a few. No super sizing it.
“Who will police this? If a homeless man wants salt on his food, will a city official wrestle the shaker from his hands? Will he be arrested by the salt police if he rebels? Will a woman who has not eaten in days be told she can’t have a second helping because the government won’t allow it under its new portion-control regulation? Will she be fined if she eats more? How will the government collect the fine if she has no money?
“What effect will this new requirement have on restaurants, some of which have donated surplus food to local food banks and charities for years? Will they have to first comply with government dietary regulations before they donate anything? Mire the process in red tape and bureaucracy and the restaurants won’t think it’s worth the trouble to donate at all. It takes the notion of ‘food police’ to a new level.”
He concludes, “I know the rationale. If the homeless eat nutritional food, it could reduce the number of health problems and presumably lower the cost of health care. But more than the issue of salt and portion size is the greater issue of liberty, which is being slowly but steadily eroded by big government that wants to save us from ourselves. The freedom to choose what to eat, drink, smoke and a lot of other things — and to accept the benefits and consequences that go with these choices — are the wedge issues that government uses to snake its way into new areas of our lives.
“Our Founding Fathers issued many warnings about the dangers of growing and intrusive government, which they sought to control with the Constitution. Among the best was from Thomas Jefferson: ‘Most bad government has grown out of too much government.’ No better example of that can be found than in what Mayor Bloomberg has forced on the hungry of New York City.”
A similar issue is covered by Rebecca Hagelin: “Food is in the news. Specifically, the food that Big Government wants you – or your children – to eat. It started with Michelle Obama’s headline grab: in 2010, she launched a new initiative to combat childhood obesity. It’s a worthwhile campaign – childhood obesity is something parents ought to be concerned about, for their children’s sakes. According to official reports, one in three children is obese or overweight. And the resulting medical costs of obesity-related medical problems adds up to a nearly $150 billion problem each year.
“But as childhood obesity has become the First Lady’s signature issue, it’s assumed the air of ‘government knows best,’ rather than empowering parents to make informed decisions about what’s best for their families. When she launched the effort, Mrs. Obama declared, ‘We want to eliminate this problem of childhood obesity in a generation. We want to get that done.’
“Who, exactly, is ‘we’? The government. From its inception, Mrs. Obama’s campaign has left government fingerprints suggesting a pattern of reaching as far into children’s lives as possible, with typical government tools: money, regulations, and bureaucracy.”
She concludes: “Don’t get me wrong – I strongly support healthy eating and exercise programs. And physicians’ groups have been emphasizing better nutrition and more exercise for years. But as every parent knows, simply putting vegetables on a child’s plate doesn’t ensure they will end up in the right stomach. (Did you know dogs love vegetables?) The solution to the problem of childhood obesity is the same as the solution to many of the problems ailing our nation: strong families.
“The epidemic of childhood obesity has developed alongside the fragmentation and destruction of the nuclear family. According to the Task Force on Childhood Obesity, children’s obesity rates began trending upwards in the late 1970’s. Not so coincidentally, obesity rates rose as more moms entered the workforce, screens (TV, computer, and hand-held) became babysitters, and more children than ever were born into single-parent families. Children can’t raise themselves. Left to their own devices, children will often make poor food choices, eat too much, and watch TV rather than run laps. Common sense tells us that. We don’t need twelve federal agencies opining on the problem.
“It’s not the government’s problem that children are overweight or suffering (yes, suffering!) from obesity. And government won’t provide the solution, no matter how many millions of dollars the Obama presidency throws around. The solution to childhood obesity must come from parents and the other adults in children’s lives (aunts, uncles, grandparents, friends, and teachers.)
“One study found that parents and caregivers can play a significant role in reducing childhood obesity with a few consistent behaviors: Parents should encourage and model good eating habits and exercise; take the time to plan meals and resist the plea to buy junk food; and reduce the child’s screen time. But perhaps most importantly, parents who want to prevent obesity or help a child lose weight should spend time with their children, strengthening the relationship in a positive, loving way. Be there to guide, encourage – and provide limits as needed. Children don’t need a government campaign to end childhood obesity. They need parents.”
Tyranny can creep in even by means of innocuous, even good, things. Eating right is a good thing. But governments usurping the role of parents and families is a bad thing. And it is getting worse each passing day. Tyranny seldom appears overnight. It usually comes about incrementally – step by step.
All the more reason to be vigilant now before it is too late.