Freedom or Free-for-all ? By Kelly -Feb 20, 2021
Imagine playing a game—baseball, cards, “Monopoly,” or whatever—in which there was only one rule: anything goes.
You could discard the “instruction book” from the start and make things up as you go. If it “works,” do it. If it “feels good,” why not? If opposing players have a disagreement (an obvious inevitability)—well, you can just figure that out later.
What kind of a game would this be? Chaotic, frustrating, unpredictable, impossible. Sooner or later, the whole thing would degenerate into a mad free-for-all. Somebody would have to knock heads together and bring order to the mess.
Simple games would be intolerable played this way, but for many deadly serious things humans engage in, from driving on the highways to waging war, the consequences of throwing away the instruction book can be almost too frightful to imagine.
The business of government is one of those deadly serious things, and like a game run amok, it’s showing signs that the players don’t care much for the rules any more, if they even know them at all.
Don’t think for a moment that by use of the term “players” I’m pointing fingers at politicians and somehow absolving everyone else of responsibility. In a sense, all of us are players; it’s just that some are more actively so than others, and of those who are active, some are more destructively so than the rest. At the very least, every citizen has a stake in the outcome.
The most profound political and philosophical trend of our time is a serious erosion of any consensus about what government is supposed to do and what it’s not supposed to do. The “instruction books” on this matter are America’s founding documents, namely the Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution with its Bill of Rights. In the spirit of those great works, most Americans once shared a common view of the proper role of government—the protection of life and property.
Jefferson himself phrased it with typical eloquence: “Still one thing more, fellow citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.”
Today, there is no common view of the proper role of government or, if there is one, it is light-years from Jefferson’s. Far too many people think that government exists to do anything for anybody any time they ask for it, from day care for their children to handouts for artists.