In the Orwellian world of 1984, the government used newspeak to simplify and thereby control inherently complex or socially impactful concepts to mitigate the emotive and intellectual reactions that these concepts might invoke in the populace. While not as purposefully malicious in nature, newspeak nonetheless exists today and often meets with similar results.
Big Government is one of these subjects. We have all heard the term used in the media but what concept does it describe exactly?
Contrary to what would seem to be the intuitive case, Big Government is not about size. Big Government is not defined by how many people it employs or even how much money it costs necessarily. These are simply measurable symptoms that could exist under a number of different situations and contexts. The truth is that at its root, Big Government is about power – and whether that power is wielded justly, legitimately, and appropriately.
A government that is just does not persecute or oppress one segment of its citizenry in favor of another for any reason. A legitimate government follows this principle faithfully as its power is ceded to it by this citizenry in its entirety – not through the majority- or even plurality-wins electoral process but through the mutual social compact represented by the Constitution. In this compact, the citizenry willingly transfers some its individual power to the government in exchange for the recognition and security of their natural rights. This is why the protection of individual rights is so crucial to a just society because society itself is nothing more than a voluntary collection of individuals.
American Big Government seeks to undermine this concept by appealing to the masses under the disingenuous auspices of democracy. But democracies, as with any other form of government from monarchies to dictatorships, can be easily wielded to the detriment of the individual’s or a minority group’s natural rights if those rights are not healthily revered and properly safeguarded. As Nobel laureate Friedrich von Hayek once pointed out, “there is no justification for the widespread belief that, so long as power is conferred by democratic procedure, it cannot be arbitrary; it is not the source of the power which prevents it from being arbitrary; to be free from dictatorial qualities, the power must also be limited.”
But Big Government is about more than violating individual rights for the expressed purpose of the “greater good” (if such a thing can truly exist and be universally agreed upon). Modern Big Government seeks also to redistribute wealth from one person or group to another. The rise of the special interest is a natural result of the people’s original willingness to allow Big Government to grow. This, itself, is an outgrowth of the American people’s enthusiasm in accepting advantages that are not rightfully theirs and that were themselves gained and doled out not by a just or natural process, but by force wielded by a strong central government. The vicious cycle is self-nourishing and government is now devolving from a just and legitimate experiment in personal liberty to merely an authoritarian mechanism of imposed will available for one person or group to wield against another if the political price is right.
Big Government seeks to artificially create social “equality” at the inherent expense of private property rights. Big Government seeks to legislate morality and behavioral norms at the expense of individual self-determinism. Big Government seeks to control our economic capabilities and freedom by controlling our market and monetary means. Inevitably, Big Government encompasses the power to control all aspects of our lives that are by right only ours to control, and were not traded to the government in exchange for the security of individual liberty.
The devious genius behind Big Government today is that it often succeeds without resulting to the use of force as was so often the case with Big Governments in the past. Big Government today recognizes our vices and weaknesses as a people and preys marvelously upon them to achieve its ends. It fosters our most basic emotions such as fear and envy, encourages social division in various forms, endorses harmful mindsets such as collectivism and dependence, and lends authority to our prejudices and designs. In short, Big Government is the mechanism that the modern aristocracy, or oligarchy, uses to consolidate their hold on power over the individual by establishing an electoral and lobbying base within subgroups of the citizenry at large and convincing us that the Constitution is “elastic” and “adaptable.”
Any discussion about Big Government must eventually come to this fundamental question: why does government exist among men in the first place? Is it to provide for all our wants and needs, to make us all equal in terms of material things or success, or to placate our envious designs on others’ property and achievements? Or is it to protect the natural right to live our lives as we see fit – for better or worse – so long as we do not infringe upon that same right of others? Notwithstanding the historical fact that our nation was indeed founded, and our Constitution framed explicitly to support, the latter, it seems that many modern Americans have completely ignored this reality.
Perhaps the protection of individual rights and freedom is an archaic notion but if that is indeed the case, should we not openly have that discussion and re-forge the fundamental compact between government and the only real source of its power – the people? This would be the correct and legitimate way to ethically empower the government to engage in said conduct if this is what we truly want. In any event, the government cannot continue to ignore the Constitution when it limits its power and consider it sovereign where it grants its authority, just as the people cannot hope to retain all of their documented rights and freedoms while simultaneously surrendering more of them every day.
“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” And a house that allows its governance to pick and choose who is special, who succeeds or fails, and which natural rights are secure and which are not cannot hope but to grow more divided. The only just way to reverse the current trends of social unrest, contentious faction, and political upheaval is to once again embrace the supreme notion that government exists for the sole purpose of safeguarding the rights and freedom of the individual – a notion that naturally limits Big Government and the tyrannical power it necessarily and inevitably wields.