Kerry on Governance

In an October 16 speech commemorating the Islamic Eid al-Adha celebration (Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in accordance with the will of God) at the State Department, Kerry blamed ISIS violence on everything from climate change to lack of proper education to government corruption -- in other words to everything but Islamic doctrine. This has been well covered. But his remarks also reveal a succinct way of differentiating the progressive/liberal approach to the role of government from the conservative approach to the role of government. Here is the key remark:

   … the underlying causes which go to this question of governance and corruption and a whole issue of how you meet the needs of people.

The key phrase here is “how [government] meets the needs of people.” The principle being: the proper role of government is to structure society to meet the needs of people.

For the progressive, the role of government is to try to meet the needs of people. That seems not only a fair but a rather innocuous truism. But government then become the arbiter of which needs are legitimate and who gets what and that in turn leads “progressively” to ensuring that people have the proper mindset to accept the government redistributionist scheme. The Orwellian Ministry of Just Deserts looms on the horizon.

If the seemingly innocuous concept of a government which meets the needs of people is contrasted with the conservative view of government -- expressed in the same terms -- then the great divide between the two becomes readily apparent.

The proper role of government is to structure society to enable people to meet their own needs.

It is a vast divide. And ne’re the twain shall meet. And they both have their demons. The progressive/collectivist model, even at its best, can lead to a stultifying, dreary and unproductive equality. The conservative/individualist model, even at its best, can lead to an extreme and entrenched inequality.

Together they form the Scylla and Charybdis of governance and therein lies the challenge.

In an October 16 speech commemorating the Islamic Eid al-Adha celebration (Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son in accordance with the will of God) at the State Department, Kerry blamed ISIS violence on everything from climate change to lack of proper education to government corruption -- in other words to everything but Islamic doctrine. This has been well covered. But his remarks also reveal a succinct way of differentiating the progressive/liberal approach to the role of government from the conservative approach to the role of government. Here is the key remark:

   … the underlying causes which go to this question of governance and corruption and a whole issue of how you meet the needs of people.

The key phrase here is “how [government] meets the needs of people.” The principle being: the proper role of government is to structure society to meet the needs of people.

For the progressive, the role of government is to try to meet the needs of people. That seems not only a fair but a rather innocuous truism. But government then become the arbiter of which needs are legitimate and who gets what and that in turn leads “progressively” to ensuring that people have the proper mindset to accept the government redistributionist scheme. The Orwellian Ministry of Just Deserts looms on the horizon.

If the seemingly innocuous concept of a government which meets the needs of people is contrasted with the conservative view of government -- expressed in the same terms -- then the great divide between the two becomes readily apparent.

The proper role of government is to structure society to enable people to meet their own needs.

It is a vast divide. And ne’re the twain shall meet. And they both have their demons. The progressive/collectivist model, even at its best, can lead to a stultifying, dreary and unproductive equality. The conservative/individualist model, even at its best, can lead to an extreme and entrenched inequality.

Together they form the Scylla and Charybdis of governance and therein lies the challenge.