With the rising popularity of libertarian, ‘Leave me alone, government!’ political rhetoric, it is important to make the case that large government is not necessarily a bad thing.
Hearing the words big and government put together in the same sentence is a scary sound for most Americans. Some of us immediately think, “Oh no, looks like those Republicans and Libertarians are calling us names again!” while others lament the terrible condition they believe our country has fallen into under the leadership of the scary statists. Regardless, both of these reactions are negative. I don’t feel that being called an advocate of big government or a statist is a bad thing, and I don’t think you should either.
The advance of the state has been accompanied by advances in human rights, increased egalitarianism and material wealth. This is a truth that we often forget.
Before the rise of the modern state, minorities suffered systematic persecution, women were treated like chattel and pointless violence was endemic due to the inability of local leadership to maintain the peace. We can still observe the disparity of big government versus small government today. Some of the most advanced states in the world can be found in Scandinavia. Much to the small-government advocate’s chagrin, these countries are not only some of the most socially progressive and wealthiest in the world, but they are also consistently ranked among the happiest. In contrast to this, you can find extreme examples of small government in places like Somalia and the eastern parts of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. In the absence of the state, private interests have risen up to fill its role and the result is extreme poverty and the oppression of groups not lucky enough to have a private army to protect them. Our own country is substantially freer now than it was at our small government foundation when only privileged, white, land-owning men were allowed to vote. This is, plain and simply, the result of the growth of the federal government and the increased role in the lives of ordinary Americans we have given it. The argument is often posited that America needs to betray the progress we have made, particularly over the past century, and return to our exclusionary founding principles — a truly frightening thought.
So why do so many Americans fight so hard against the growth of the federal government? I think much of it has to do with fear of progress. After all, the loudest advocates of small government are simultaneously the loudest opponents of the LGBT community, minority and women’s rights. They shout and shout about the collapse of traditional values or how the Civil Rights Act was bad, among other things, all while citing a Constitution they’ve Googled several times, but never actually studied. The fact of the matter is that the small government extremism that is currently spreading across the country is a product of a very dangerous strain of American populism that is rooted in paranoia and fear of social progress. Don’t be fooled, these populists’ primary goal is not to reduce government waste or to make government more efficient, as is often claimed. Their primary goal is to reverse the gains we have been making for the past century in a number of fields including, but not limited to, civil rights and economic fairness. It is important to remember that anti-government dog whistles, although they can be worded to sound rather appealing, rarely produce anything positive when they become realities. The government should be seen as a tool of the people. Vote and get involved in the electoral process. Do your part to turn the government into the government you would want to see — don’t try to destroy it.