Either/or. This or that. Only this or only that. Government or individuals — and only government (Leviathan) or only individuals. Laws or markets — and only laws or only markets. Anarchy or tyranny.
What a weird, unreal and inhuman way of looking at the world.
Yet strangely popular.
I just don't get it. The real world, of course, doesn't look anything like this. Yet when adherents of this strange binary outlook encounter the real world, they never consider adapting their theory. Instead, they set about to change the world to make it more compatible with their theoretical construct.
So they get up in the morning and take their kids to school and there it is, this thing called a "school," and it must be regarded as either a thing of the market or a thing of the state. It is a "public" school, and "public" is a troublesome word for these folks. All that is not private belongs to the Leviathan and threatens all that is private. And so this "public school" is a creature of the state, a threat. It's got to go.
And they drive from the school to work, paying no heed to the public infrastructure that makes such a trip possible. They get off work at 5:00 without being forced to stay longer or to work unpaid hours, while simultaneously viewing the laws that guarantee such protections to be the corrupt, market-hobbling, freedom-limiting tools of the Leviathan.
And then they go to pick up their kids — and God forbid they should ever begin to consider that obligation through the either/or prism of their inhuman theory.
In an earlier post — "Who is you?" — I criticized this either/or outlook for failing to recognize the existence of multiple actors and agencies, with differentiated responsibilities, in society:
These differing responsibilities are complementary. They are not — despite the popular American confusion — exclusive.
In Christian thought, we talk about these different roles and responsibilities in terms of the principles of "subsidiarity" or "sphere sovereignty." These principles help us to avoid the either/or foolishness of thinking that one actor's particular responsibility precludes any responsibility on the part of other agents or agencies.
Regarding the state, this helps us to avoid bizarre and irrelevant arguments about the size of government by keeping our focus on the actual question — what is the proper role of government?
(Is it wrong to suggest you go read the whole thing when it's something I wrote?)
A primary role and responsibility of government, of course, is to secure and protect the rights of individuals. It seems counterproductive, then, to insist in the name of freedom that government be whittled down to something too "small" to be able to fulfill this role.
Stephen Colbert had a great crack about this view during this weekend's White House Correspondents Dinner:
I believe the government that governs best is the government that governs least. And by these standards, we have set up a fabulous government in Iraq.