Free Citizens or Tail-Wagging Pets?

The American people are not animals. We are not content merely to be fed, walked, and taken care of. Nor do we take joy in fetching sticks and sitting, heeling, and rolling over. As freedom-loving human beings, we have needs far greater than food stamps, welfare checks, unemployment benefits, and government-run health care.

But just because government cannot provide what makes people uniquely human does not mean that government cannot take away what does. If Mr. Obama truly wanted to solve problems and help people, then he would stop viewing the citizen through the prism of the almighty dollar and his physical wants and understand that the real meaning of life runs far deeper than these. Most liberals fail to understand and acknowledge that by providing for all of one's physical wants, government destroys the deeper meaning and purpose of man's life.

For over twelve months, as the economy faltered and people suffered massive job losses and falling property values, Mr. Obama took what he believed was a once-in-a-generation opportunity presented by the financial crisis and focused his gaze on the holy grail of the radical liberal agenda -- government-run health care, accompanied by cap-and-trade and environmental statism and the always-present payoffs to his union masters. The result was unemployment around ten percent, massive spending, out-of-control government deficits, and a total neglect of policies to aid individuals and businesses to begin innovating and hiring again.

Instead of lasering his focus on promoting policies that encourage free-market expansion and private employment and entrepreneurship, Mr. Obama took the opportunity to "save and create" public-sector union jobs and to pass legislation purporting to help us, but that ultimately will enslave us under the bureaucracy of more Washington. All the while, the American public has been screaming "NO!" to the government's attempt to take over health care, global warming is being debunked and its hoax is finally being exposed, and America and its companies are going bankrupt, in large part because of the massive pensions, benefits, and salaries scored by private- and public-sector unions against American industry and federal, state, and local governments.

But Mr. Obama's political life and radical ideology are tied to big government and little people. In taking the prerogative to solve our problems and to help us, all under the utilitarian guise of greatest good for the greatest number of people, Mr. Obama is robbing Americans of the most fundamental safeguard we have against the seizure of our liberties. If the diffusion of powers between federal, state, and local governments is essential to safeguard us from tyrannical rulers in Washington, then an assured, self-confident, and stubborn citizen who resists the government's helping hand and adores his freedom is even more vital. But the policies that stem from the government's so-called benevolence will only further destroy self-sufficiency and personal responsibility, and along with them, man's own dignity.

If men no longer respect themselves, if they no longer feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in solving their own problems and helping themselves, then they will feel little remorse when liberty is taken from them. Worse still for any prospect we have of regaining lost liberties, this bleeding of self-respect destroys in men even the desire to have these things. It is the case, as Wilhelm Roepke summarized it in The Social Crisis of Our Time, that

if one wishes to follow an extreme policy of social assistance (social eudaemonism), it is first of all necessary that one should point out the truism that in social matters one cannot overstep certain limits without destroying the secret spring of a healthy society, i.e., the sense of responsibility.

When government destroys the sense of responsibility within society and the dark cloud of dependency begins to fill the void, so-called benevolent bureaucrats step in to further spoil the day. "If we are to be mothered," wrote C.S. Lewis, then "mother must know best." In a nation built upon the foundation of liberty and the rights, duties, and responsibilities of the individual, the consequences of such paternalistic policies reek of our society's ongoing decay. Of this decay, Roepke went right to the point. Such policies, he wrote, "degrade men finally to a completely domesticated creature, to a tail-wagging pet." "At any rate," he went on, "paying taxes, sticking stamps and standing in line waiting for rubber stamp wielding bureaucrats, are not the activities which first come to our mind when we try to envisage a healthy solution of the social problem."   

Nevertheless, many people continue to believe that healthy solutions to our social problems can come only from a benevolent Washington. But in Washington's haste to take action and fix everything, we abandon the best and most obvious solution to most problems -- for government to get out of the way and unleash the power and innovation of the American people.

It was this that President Reagan understood best. When he once said that "the nine most terrifying words in the English language are 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help,'" it was not because he held a properly limited government in contempt, but because of what the all-powerful government had become and what it was doing to the very fabric of what America has always stood for. Unlike Obama's false promise of some bureaucratic fix from Washington, it was Reagan's faith in the exceptional nature of the American experiment that gave him his characteristic optimism. President Reagan understood better than anyone else that liberty causes men to aspire to do great things, and ultimately, to triumph and achieve them. And it was President Reagan who understood that if people are not responsible for their material well-being, then they have no spiritual well-being -- and without spiritual well-being, they are broken.

If government would simply resist the temptation inherent in power, if it would cease to act outside of its authority and instead advance the cause of freedom by preserving and protecting ordered liberty, then the American people would in ever greater numbers take the license to aspire to and achieve great things. Liberty would once again meet duty, and in so doing, personal responsibility could begin to be reborn. Government, then, would once again take its proper place: not as a necessary evil, but as a strong but limited partner in promoting and expanding liberty and unleashing the productive capacity of a nation of three hundred million free people.

As the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises put it, "Government as such is not only not an evil, but the most necessary and beneficial institution, as without it no lasting social cooperation and no civilization could be developed and preserved."

Right now, we are a long way from there.

Jeremy L. Lantz is an attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. He is finishing up the final draft of his first book, The War on Liberty.