In 1991, James Davison Hunter, Professor of Religion, Culture and Social Theory at the University of Virginia, coined the term “Culture War” to describe a polarization of American public opinion on a number of issues, including abortion, homosexuality and the role of the church in state affairs. Hunter described a clash between progressivism and orthodoxy, which has been reinterpreted by some like Bill O’Reilly as a clash between “traditional” and “secular-progressive” philosophy. Others, like Pat Buchanan, have similarly chimed in on the issue.
Whether such a war between Red and Blue exists in the United States is the subject of much debate. What should not be the subject of this debate is the role that government has to play in the struggle. Let us ask our founders what they envisioned for our county. We can begin with John Adams:
We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man. From this principle it will follow, that the form of government which communicates ease, comfort, security, or, in one word, happiness, to the greatest number of persons, and in the greatest degree, is the best.
All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius, Zo- roaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this.
If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?
Adams clearly thinks the goal of government is to pursue the greatest good to secure the maximum happiness for its citizenry. This utilitarian stance can be found throughout his writings, and in the writings of other founders. How might we best achieve this happiness? It is clear. Foremost, Jefferson believed in the right to bear arms:
Laws that forbid the carrying of arms . . . disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes . . . Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man.
The founders’ libertarian values are expressed in the nation’s Constitution, a document which declares as sacred certain freedoms from the power and control of the government. George Washington wrote:
The Citizens of America, placed in the most enviable condition, as the sole Lords and Proprietors of a vast tract of Continent, comprehending all the various soils and climates of the World, and abounding with all the necessaries and conveniences of life, are now, by the late satisfactory pacification, acknowledged to be possessed of absolute Freedom and Independency; They are from this period to be considered as the Actors on a most conspicuous Theatre, which seems to be peculiarly designated by Providence, for the display of human greatness and felicity; Here they are not only surrounded with every thing which can contribute to the completion of private and domestic enjoyment, but Heaven has crowned all its other blessings, by giving a fairer opportunity for political happiness than any other Nation has ever been favored with. Nothing can illustrate these observations more forcibly, than a recollection of the happy conjuncture of times and circumstances under which our Republic assumed its rank among the Nations. The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of Mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind after social happiness have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages, and Legislators, through a long succession [of] years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our Forms of Government, the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on Mankind and increased the blessings of Society; At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a Nation, and if their Citizens should not be compleatly Free and Happy, the fault will be entirely their own.
Liberty in the American tradition is decidedly negative; negative liberty is the freedom from compulsion from an outside source whereas positive liberty is freedom obtained through intervention. Our government has no need to inflict liberty upon us. Liberty is the state of men who are free from the interference of the government. Except in such cases as when men wish to steal liberty from each other through violence, the government has no cause to interfere. In a state in which the government restricts its powers to the enforcement of property rights and the rights of every person to live free from violence, men achieve maximum freedom and thereby the maximum capacity to pursue their own happiness.
Ron Paul, scholar of Austrian school economics and libertarian political philosophy, affirms the intent of our Founders in his campaign for the Presidency:
As election time nears, we are bombarded with political ads and speeches by candidates telling us their great plans for running the country. At the end of the recent presidential debate, for example, the Democratic nominee recited a litany of supposed cures for nearly everything that ails us, beginning each sentence with the phrase “I have a plan…”
The problem is that government is not supposed to plan our lives or run the country; we are supposed to be free. That our public discourse strays so far from this principle is an unhappy sign of our times. Those who believe in limited constitutional government should worry every time a politician says, “I have a plan.”
One thing is certain: those who worked and voted for less government, the very foot soldiers in the conservative revolution, have been deceived. Today, the ideal of limited government has been abandoned by the GOP, and real conservatives find their views no longer matter.
Our founding fathers had a clear vision when they left us a Republic at the end of the 18th century. And now, it is incumbent upon all Americans that we remember the lesson they taught over 200 years ago. Namely, the greatest gift we can give to the American people this new year is their very birthright, the gift of freedom. And, in order to do that it is imperative that we restore our government to the constitutional republic of limited federal powers it was designed to be. History has taught and retaught one clear lesson: namely, that it is impossible to reconcile a free citizenry with a concentrated and centralized government.
That we will once again see a rebirth of the spirit of our founders is my wish and prayer for our nation in this most holy of holiday seasons. Merry Christmas.
As we gather for this holiday season with our friends and family, reflect on the freedoms our Founders believed sacred. Soon after the holiday season, Republicans will gather in their caucuses to decide who will be the best champion for conservatism and limited government in the Presidential race in 2008. No one has defended freedom more ardently and with more vigor than Ron Paul, and that is why Ron Paul appeals to true conservatives.
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