Legitimate government controls?

George Will, in a column analyzing the election as a repudiation of liberalism, includes an interesting quotation:

George Mason University economist Don Boudreaux agreed that interest-group liberalism has indeed been leavened by idea-driven liberalism. Which is the problem.

“These ideas,” Boudreaux says, “are almost exclusively about how other people should live their lives. These are ideas about how one group of people (the politically successful) should engineer everyone else’s contracts, social relations, diets, habits, and even moral sentiments.” Liberalism’s ideas are “about replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas . . . with a relatively paltry set of ‘Big Ideas’ that are politically selected, centrally imposed, and enforced by government, not by the natural give, take and compromise of the everyday interactions of millions of people.”

via George F. Will – A recoil against liberalism.

And yet, aren’t conservatives accused of much the same thing, wanting to control people’s social relations and moral sentiments, replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas?

Is the only difference that liberals want to control everyone, except when it comes to sex, while conservatives want everyone to be free, except when it comes to sex? That, I’m sure, is an overstatement. But how would you state it?

Libertarians don’t want to control anything, and yet, arguably, preventing people from controlling you will take substantial state power.

Could we agree that there are certain social goods that the government does need to promote? Like what? Whereas other areas of human life need to be unregulated? Like what?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Porcell

    And yet, aren’t conservatives accused of much the same thing, wanting to control people’s social relations and moral sentiments, replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas?

    Not really, conservatives are fine with rules from decentralized groups. Conservative Lutherans accept the rules of the catechisms, as they are voluntarily a member of the church. Ideological liberals in effect want to impose an egalitarian set of statist rules on everyone.

    The conservative who best understood all of this was Edmund Burke who came to loathe the statist French Revolution and promote the more organic small platoons of society with their more sensible and human rules.

    Conservatives understand the need for sensible rules and regulations; they need to be distinguished from the libertarians who are actually radical in some of their applications of liberty.

  • Porcell

    And yet, aren’t conservatives accused of much the same thing, wanting to control people’s social relations and moral sentiments, replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas?

    Not really, conservatives are fine with rules from decentralized groups. Conservative Lutherans accept the rules of the catechisms, as they are voluntarily a member of the church. Ideological liberals in effect want to impose an egalitarian set of statist rules on everyone.

    The conservative who best understood all of this was Edmund Burke who came to loathe the statist French Revolution and promote the more organic small platoons of society with their more sensible and human rules.

    Conservatives understand the need for sensible rules and regulations; they need to be distinguished from the libertarians who are actually radical in some of their applications of liberty.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “And yet, aren’t conservatives accused of much the same thing, wanting to control people’s social relations and moral sentiments, replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas?”

    Uh, yeah, except conservatives are pushing ideas that have been proven effective and humane over thousands of years, whereas liberals are pushing ideas that over the past 100 years have destroyed many peoples lives. So it is an apples to oranges comparison.

    There is a difference between coercing people to do what is good for society and coercing them to do what is bad for society.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “And yet, aren’t conservatives accused of much the same thing, wanting to control people’s social relations and moral sentiments, replacing an unimaginably large multitude of diverse and competing ideas?”

    Uh, yeah, except conservatives are pushing ideas that have been proven effective and humane over thousands of years, whereas liberals are pushing ideas that over the past 100 years have destroyed many peoples lives. So it is an apples to oranges comparison.

    There is a difference between coercing people to do what is good for society and coercing them to do what is bad for society.

  • Daniel Gorman

    How much regulation do Conservatives wish to remove? For example, the regulations that require nuclear utilities to spend billions to prevent a million to one chance that a nuclear meltdown might occur? Without regulation, the utility might be tempted to play the odds and increase its bottom line. That might be good for the stockholders, the ratepayers, and even the public unless the million to one event actually occurs.

    Another example would the offshore drilling industry. Is it over-regulated? Was the Gulf spill a statistical anomaly? Is the chemical industry over-regulated because thousands of people have yet not been killed by an accident release?

  • Daniel Gorman

    How much regulation do Conservatives wish to remove? For example, the regulations that require nuclear utilities to spend billions to prevent a million to one chance that a nuclear meltdown might occur? Without regulation, the utility might be tempted to play the odds and increase its bottom line. That might be good for the stockholders, the ratepayers, and even the public unless the million to one event actually occurs.

    Another example would the offshore drilling industry. Is it over-regulated? Was the Gulf spill a statistical anomaly? Is the chemical industry over-regulated because thousands of people have yet not been killed by an accident release?

  • ELB

    Conservatives think in terms of the constitution and the rule of law. The constitution defines (and limits) the degree to which those with power may impose law – including the majority, by the way. In that sense law isn’t what commands or engineers “everyone else’s contracts, social relations, diets, habits, and even moral sentiments,” rather it is a limit UNDER WHICH ALL ARE EQUAL, limiting the harm we can do as se pursue life according to our own lights. It encourages self-restraint. In fact there are those who say the conservative approach will ONLY “work” where there is a moral populace restraining itself.

    (President Obama recognized the difference when he deplored the constitution because it was a negative restraint upon government, rather than a positive direction of what government should do.)

  • ELB

    Conservatives think in terms of the constitution and the rule of law. The constitution defines (and limits) the degree to which those with power may impose law – including the majority, by the way. In that sense law isn’t what commands or engineers “everyone else’s contracts, social relations, diets, habits, and even moral sentiments,” rather it is a limit UNDER WHICH ALL ARE EQUAL, limiting the harm we can do as se pursue life according to our own lights. It encourages self-restraint. In fact there are those who say the conservative approach will ONLY “work” where there is a moral populace restraining itself.

    (President Obama recognized the difference when he deplored the constitution because it was a negative restraint upon government, rather than a positive direction of what government should do.)

  • http://www.thirduse.com fww

    elb @4

    I think you are right.

    And I think Obama put his finger on what was different between enlightenment ethics and christian ones:

    For pagans, virtue is what a christian would call mortification . Christians would agree these are virtues (eg self restraint, self control. self reliance thriftiness, industriousness), but that these are not the righteousness that God demands of all on earth, and in fact are vices and idolatry and law-less-ness masquerading as lawful “show of right”, when they do not produce the righteousness that God demands.

    What is that righteousness? the delivery of love or daily bread (cf the catechisms, 1st article and 4th petition for the definition of daily bread).

    So the foundational enlightenment principles of our government do not exactly square with our christian ideals, even though I do believe that it comes as close as any.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fww

    elb @4

    I think you are right.

    And I think Obama put his finger on what was different between enlightenment ethics and christian ones:

    For pagans, virtue is what a christian would call mortification . Christians would agree these are virtues (eg self restraint, self control. self reliance thriftiness, industriousness), but that these are not the righteousness that God demands of all on earth, and in fact are vices and idolatry and law-less-ness masquerading as lawful “show of right”, when they do not produce the righteousness that God demands.

    What is that righteousness? the delivery of love or daily bread (cf the catechisms, 1st article and 4th petition for the definition of daily bread).

    So the foundational enlightenment principles of our government do not exactly square with our christian ideals, even though I do believe that it comes as close as any.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fww

    Porcell @ 1

    I think I agree with most of what you say. But for us lutherans the concept of law is a little different:

    The law demands two things of us on earth.

    1) that we exercise the self-restraint and self discipline of aristotelean virtues: thriftiness, industry, harm-avoidance, cleanliness, fairness, equity, etc.

    2) But none of these things , in and of themselves, are the Godly righteousness he demands in the Epistle to St James, the parables of our Lord and the writings of St Paul.

    Virtue that is not intentionally bent and directed toward the production of love, that is “daily bread” as listed in the Catechisms, is the worst of all sins and is vice and idolatry and no virtue.

    So virtue is means to an end (delivery of earthly love). Turning virtue into “it´s own reward” is idolatry Lutherans would say. We exist on earth for the increase of the pleasure of others. To please them . To nurture their “pursuit of happiness” .

    Of course indulgence is not love. But then we both know that.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fww

    Porcell @ 1

    I think I agree with most of what you say. But for us lutherans the concept of law is a little different:

    The law demands two things of us on earth.

    1) that we exercise the self-restraint and self discipline of aristotelean virtues: thriftiness, industry, harm-avoidance, cleanliness, fairness, equity, etc.

    2) But none of these things , in and of themselves, are the Godly righteousness he demands in the Epistle to St James, the parables of our Lord and the writings of St Paul.

    Virtue that is not intentionally bent and directed toward the production of love, that is “daily bread” as listed in the Catechisms, is the worst of all sins and is vice and idolatry and no virtue.

    So virtue is means to an end (delivery of earthly love). Turning virtue into “it´s own reward” is idolatry Lutherans would say. We exist on earth for the increase of the pleasure of others. To please them . To nurture their “pursuit of happiness” .

    Of course indulgence is not love. But then we both know that.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Christians would agree these are virtues (eg self restraint, self control. self reliance thriftiness, industriousness), but that these are not the righteousness that God demands of all on earth, and in fact are vices and idolatry and law-less-ness masquerading as lawful “show of right”, when they do not produce the righteousness that God demands.”

    And here I thought self control was a fruit of the Spirit. Oh, yeah, it is:

    Galatians 5:
    22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    “Christians would agree these are virtues (eg self restraint, self control. self reliance thriftiness, industriousness), but that these are not the righteousness that God demands of all on earth, and in fact are vices and idolatry and law-less-ness masquerading as lawful “show of right”, when they do not produce the righteousness that God demands.”

    And here I thought self control was a fruit of the Spirit. Oh, yeah, it is:

    Galatians 5:
    22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    The problem is that there is so little agreement on what should be controlled and how. So if the left controls what it wants, and the right controls what it wants, then freaking everything is controlled and it is stifling.

  • http://www.biblegateway.com/versions/Contemporary-English-Version-CEV-Bible/ sg

    The problem is that there is so little agreement on what should be controlled and how. So if the left controls what it wants, and the right controls what it wants, then freaking everything is controlled and it is stifling.

  • Kirk

    As to regulation, the answer is simple, really. Things that I like should be allowed and things that I don’t like should be made illegal. No discussion required!

  • Kirk

    As to regulation, the answer is simple, really. Things that I like should be allowed and things that I don’t like should be made illegal. No discussion required!

  • http://www.thirduse.com fww

    SG @ 7

    That is a totally cool observation SG.

    What do you make of the fact that Lutherans teach that there is no difference between “works of the law “(stuff done by pagans) and “fruit of the spirit “(stuff done by the new man in christ)?

    “Christians would AGREE that these are virtues (eg self restraint, self control. self reliance thriftiness, industriousness), but that these are not the RIGHTEOUSNESS that God demands of all on earth.”

    What is the fulfillment of the Law, alone , on earth SG? love. Love=righteousness. Alone. Therefore…

    “…in fact are vices and idolatry and law-less-ness masquerading as lawful “show of right”, when they do not produce the righteousness that God demands.”

    ie when then do not produce love. When they are “widowed ” from love like that nagging conscience in Luke 18 dear SG!

    Why are they then idolatry? The worse Idolatry is when we think that righteousness that we can do matters to God as the sacrifice of obedience to Him, rather than understanding that He wills ALONE that our righteousness on earth should be ENTIRELY about pleasing others and making their creaturely lives happier.

    Luther explains my main point here better (ie that virtue divorced from love is the greatest sin) than I can in his preface to his 1545 translation of st Pauls epistle to the Romans:

    http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/romans/pref_romans.html

  • http://www.thirduse.com fww

    SG @ 7

    That is a totally cool observation SG.

    What do you make of the fact that Lutherans teach that there is no difference between “works of the law “(stuff done by pagans) and “fruit of the spirit “(stuff done by the new man in christ)?

    “Christians would AGREE that these are virtues (eg self restraint, self control. self reliance thriftiness, industriousness), but that these are not the RIGHTEOUSNESS that God demands of all on earth.”

    What is the fulfillment of the Law, alone , on earth SG? love. Love=righteousness. Alone. Therefore…

    “…in fact are vices and idolatry and law-less-ness masquerading as lawful “show of right”, when they do not produce the righteousness that God demands.”

    ie when then do not produce love. When they are “widowed ” from love like that nagging conscience in Luke 18 dear SG!

    Why are they then idolatry? The worse Idolatry is when we think that righteousness that we can do matters to God as the sacrifice of obedience to Him, rather than understanding that He wills ALONE that our righteousness on earth should be ENTIRELY about pleasing others and making their creaturely lives happier.

    Luther explains my main point here better (ie that virtue divorced from love is the greatest sin) than I can in his preface to his 1545 translation of st Pauls epistle to the Romans:

    http://www.ccel.org/l/luther/romans/pref_romans.html

  • Orianna Laun

    I think the difference lies in regulating. The government should regulate food to make sure it is safe (like 100 years ago store owners could stretch cornmeal with sawdust–not safe) as opposed to regulating food which people could choose to avoid (like the verboten Happy Meals in San Francisco). It’s like a parent who makes all the choices for the child, therefore the child never learns how to make a choice without being dictated to. Maybe I’m missing the point. . .

  • Orianna Laun

    I think the difference lies in regulating. The government should regulate food to make sure it is safe (like 100 years ago store owners could stretch cornmeal with sawdust–not safe) as opposed to regulating food which people could choose to avoid (like the verboten Happy Meals in San Francisco). It’s like a parent who makes all the choices for the child, therefore the child never learns how to make a choice without being dictated to. Maybe I’m missing the point. . .

  • Joe

    As one with strong libertarian leanings, I want to point out that libertarians do not mind regulation that is aimed at providing market participants access to as much information as is possible. The market works best when the actors have information upon which to base their decisions. The more information that is available to the market the less regulation is needed.

    Other types of regulation are justifiable when it is not practical or possible to give the information to the market.

  • Joe

    As one with strong libertarian leanings, I want to point out that libertarians do not mind regulation that is aimed at providing market participants access to as much information as is possible. The market works best when the actors have information upon which to base their decisions. The more information that is available to the market the less regulation is needed.

    Other types of regulation are justifiable when it is not practical or possible to give the information to the market.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fww

    Joe @ 12

    You articulated something I have thought for a long time.

    sunshine laws and ones that force transparency are the better regulations. forcing credit card companies to state what someone will end up paying if they only make the minimum payment costs just a little more in ink and paper and a one time programming change vs immeasureable benefit to everyone.

  • http://www.thirduse.com fww

    Joe @ 12

    You articulated something I have thought for a long time.

    sunshine laws and ones that force transparency are the better regulations. forcing credit card companies to state what someone will end up paying if they only make the minimum payment costs just a little more in ink and paper and a one time programming change vs immeasureable benefit to everyone.

  • DonS

    The laws and regulations which regulated sexual and moral conduct, at least those that do not directly impact other unwilling people, such as anti-sodomy laws, contraception prohibitions, etc., have been largely eradicated. I don’t see any push by conservatives to re-instate them. Similarly, I don’t believe most conservatives are as “law and order” as they once were, because they have grown over time to legitimately fear the state, and its propensity to overreach.

    So, while conservatives are often accused, by the left, of much the same kind of nanny regulation that the left loves to impose, and of which Will complains, I don’t think it is a justifiable criticism anymore. The regulatory nanny-statism is pretty much all coming from the left these days.

    As Joe points out above, even libertarian-leaning people, like myself, see the need for some regulation. The purpose of government is to establish an orderly society where people can be free to enjoy their liberties and live their lives without undue interference. Accordingly, our individual rights only extend so far as they do not unduly interfere with the enjoyment of others. It is government’s role to enforce those reasonable restrictions. Joe’s example of transparency regulations is a good one.

  • DonS

    The laws and regulations which regulated sexual and moral conduct, at least those that do not directly impact other unwilling people, such as anti-sodomy laws, contraception prohibitions, etc., have been largely eradicated. I don’t see any push by conservatives to re-instate them. Similarly, I don’t believe most conservatives are as “law and order” as they once were, because they have grown over time to legitimately fear the state, and its propensity to overreach.

    So, while conservatives are often accused, by the left, of much the same kind of nanny regulation that the left loves to impose, and of which Will complains, I don’t think it is a justifiable criticism anymore. The regulatory nanny-statism is pretty much all coming from the left these days.

    As Joe points out above, even libertarian-leaning people, like myself, see the need for some regulation. The purpose of government is to establish an orderly society where people can be free to enjoy their liberties and live their lives without undue interference. Accordingly, our individual rights only extend so far as they do not unduly interfere with the enjoyment of others. It is government’s role to enforce those reasonable restrictions. Joe’s example of transparency regulations is a good one.

  • Louis

    sg @ 7: One of the most astute, as well as funny, comments I’ve seen in a long time. Excellent!

  • Louis

    sg @ 7: One of the most astute, as well as funny, comments I’ve seen in a long time. Excellent!

  • Louis

    Sorry, I meant sg @ 8.

  • Louis

    Sorry, I meant sg @ 8.

  • helen

    Orianna #11
    We could wish that all the food adulteration was solved 100 years ago. But with kids getting sick because of melamine in their milk [can anybody tell me why the US is importing milk from China!?]; toxin in the peanut butter and all the produce scares, we badly need another Sinclair….
    And some serious regulation!
    I should think even a libertarian would agree.

  • helen

    Orianna #11
    We could wish that all the food adulteration was solved 100 years ago. But with kids getting sick because of melamine in their milk [can anybody tell me why the US is importing milk from China!?]; toxin in the peanut butter and all the produce scares, we badly need another Sinclair….
    And some serious regulation!
    I should think even a libertarian would agree.


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