How much do we trust our government?
This is a practical question for a Christian whose answer will determine how we will answer some important questions related to government and power. We might let a good, trustworthy government have more power if the track record were good. We might not let a bad or unstable government have nearly so much latitude in action.
Here are some examples: Can government (state or federal) be trusted on racial issues? Can our government (state or federal) be trusted with the power to kill citizens without a trial? Can we trust our government with the power to torture human beings? Can our government be trusted with the death penalty? Does it need the death penalty? Can our government be trusted with deciding what is moral or immoral related to sexuality? Can our government (local, state, or federal) be trusted with power over education?
The good news? We have one of the most trustworthy and transparent governments on the planet, though that is praising us with faint damns. Still, for most Americans (though not all) it is better to be tried in American courts, be protected by American arms, and live our lives with American freedoms than almost any other place on the globe. Any other place on the globe that might be better generally has shuffled off the duty of self-protection on the USA and so has fewer chances to make errors.
Why? As our Founders knew: military power and abuse of power often go together. That Norway need not fear Russia is solely due to the United States and our power. A militarily impotent Norway has fewer chances to sin because it has less ability to sin.
The bad news? On issues of race, the federal government has proven somewhat trustworthy in the past while state governments have failed at protecting civil liberties for racial minorities. When it comes to sexual morality, our present elites are not trustworthy having embraced various forms of vice as virtuous.
Some of our behavior is a blend of good and bad. American government has a mixed record of pursuing justice during wartime . . . sometimes justifying horrific abuses of military power (the wars against Native Americans) but often acting as a liberating power in the world (much of World War II and much of the Cold War).
Secret government actions in particular have often been abused. A good case can be made that the United States of America has had more military power than any other state in human history and has abused it much less than any other state with great military power.
Presently the United States could conquer the globe, incinerating our foes, and we do not. Does anyone doubt the Romans would have done so? The Aztecs? The Imperial Japanese of 1940? Our virtue in this area makes me willing to extend trust to our military.
As always our government is a combination of proclivities…some to virtues and some to vices.
Americans citizens are reasonable to extend little trust to state governments to protect civil rights, little trust to the government on sexual moral issues, mixed trust to protect us against the abuse of power by the rich, and some trust in our ability to conduct an open war.
As a result, I would not trust most state governments to police civil liberties, leaving that role to the federal government.
What of military issues? I would not trust the government with many secret police powers (an area where abuse has flourished in the past). I think torture is always immoral (so I would always oppose it), but if I did not, I would still not trust the government with this power since torture will most often take place in secret.
Our elites have lost a Christian ethical framework on many important issues, sexual/gender issues most prominently. I would not therefore trust the federal government to decide any issues in this area or in education or trust most state or local governments with the education of Christian children.
Some actions a government should never take: Jackson’s murderous Trail of Tears stains our national honor. There is no right to vice or power given by God to do evil. Some powers the citizen can give a government only to take them back when the the society seems unable to use them well.
Issues of trust are why it is sensible to be conservative about big changes in government and culture.
My conclusions are mostly matters of prudence: good Christians certainly will disagree! No Christian as a Christian can call evil good or good evil, but the amount of power we give to a particular government to do good will depend on our judgment about the morality of the government. If you disagree with me ask: Do you trust the Obama administration to do the right thing? Do you trust a future Walker administration to do the right thing? Do you trust the Clinton administration with this power? The power I give the government I favor today will be hard to get back tomorrow.
This is why I am a conservative. I would not give a President Walker powers for good that someday would be in the hands of a moral cretin like Woodrow Wilson.
Christianity has taught me to be skeptical of the goodness of humankind in itself, but has not left me in despair either. I believe people are created in the Image of God and are good by nature, but that nature has been shattered in each of us. Power is dangerous in human hands and the fewer hands it is in the more dangerous it can be, but in some cases, even democracy is no solution.
I would not wish to live in a democratic Libya. Perhaps there is no “best” form of government for Libya. Cultures can break so badly almost nothing can help.
So we must be careful when we make big social changes, assuming that they will not corrupt us and leave us incapable of exercising moderation. Change, if change we must, should be slow. Cultures do not come with “save game features” if we are wrong. As a result, I am not in favor of ceding more power to government in a time when moral consensus on so many issues is either breaking down (there is none) or moving away from the truth, goodness, and beauty.
Let’s be conservative.