Tuesday, February 27, 2007

A Moral Case Against Big Government: How Government Shapes the Character, Vision, and Virtue of Citizens

Nothing about evangelism here. And yet...

Read this Heritage paper. It is important.

The moral nature of governing and the moral implications for society of the nature, size, and scope of government are inescapable. The case for limited government will therefore inevitably need to take these moral considerations into account. A government that understands its main responsibility to be that of administering judgment in terms of justice will play an essential, and essentially limited, role in sustaining a healthy society. A good but limited government will both exercise the authority it is competent to wield—i.e., the power to use legitimate force to defend right—and provide conditions of justice in which local associations can exercise the authority that rightly belongs to them.

The moral case for good but limited government rests on the competency of other institutions to provide for the needs of citizens and to cultivate the virtues necessary to fulfill the moral obligations that sustain a free society. Not only can the fundamental institutions of family and religious congregations, as well as other communities of civil society, provide more personal, humanizing, holistic, and compassionate care, but they can better engender the trust and responsibility required for citizens to fulfill their moral obligations to each other.

Families and churches, as well as such other institutions as schools, businesses, sports teams, community orchestras, professional organizations, neighborhood watch committees, and faith-based and other nonprofit groups, bind their members not to abstract laws, but to other people. They are premised not on individual autonomy, but on the authority of knowledgeable and competent parents, pastors, teachers, coaches, conductors, and other leaders with the power to discipline. They motivate not solely by fear but by trust, and they are united not only by their opposition to unjust interference, but also by substantial positive goals, commitments, and convictions that they share in common.

It is therefore the responsibility of a modern nation-state that desires to bind its "many" into "one" to limit its power and its purse, leaving primary responsibility for moral formation in the hands of local moral communities. Only these associations and institutions can foster true justice and compassion for those in need—a fact that makes them essential for the cultivation of virtuous citizens and the prevention of governmental tyranny.



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