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Growing government must be stopped


Jim Pinkerton, who worked in the Reagan White House, now writes columns. One of his recent missives tells us that American conservatism is in almost total shambles. It lacks coherence, he says, and is pretty much unrecognizable as offering some sort of alternative to what the liberal Democrats propose, namely a rich, expanded, sluggish and unjust welfare state.

Instead, we have George W. Bush’s muddled big-government “conservatism” that is driven by no more than the desire of Bush and company to remain in power. For example, are there recognizably conservative reasons for Bush’s foreign policy? None that make much sense. The war on terror may have some kind of rationale, but just exactly what America is doing in Iraq is akin to Wilsonian illusions, not at all like the distinctively American conservative Cold War motivation about preserving freedom in the Western world.

There are so many bad spots in the world where the United States could equally well embark on the confused goal of nation-building or liberation that the choice of Iraq looks more like a random pick to slay Saddam Hussein so as to have his head to mount as a trophy, a policy becoming of big-game hunters, not of statesmen with an honorable purpose.

Pinkerton writes, “The non-conservative world view … might be shaped, but it can’t be stopped, at least not now, any more than the great (Edmund) Burke could staunch the tides of change in his time. Instead, what’s needed is a new vision of sluicing inevitable change. And if the new response to this new age needs an ‘ism’ for a suffix, give it this one: Inevitabilism.”

So, we are told there is nothing to do about any of it. There is no reason to invest any hope in the efforts of, say, the Cato Institute, which is one of the busiest think tanks in Washington churning out advice about how to contain the government, how to reduce its scope in American social and private life, how to refocus its foreign affairs toward a defensive stance that could actually promise to be effective against terrorism and other threats. It’s all quite useless, Pinkerton argues, so simply accept that nothing can be done about where it’s all headed.

Now it may well be true that nothing much can be done about the main direction of American politics, be it local, state or federal, in the short run. Certainly no individual’s lone efforts — unless some improbable conversion to libertarianism were to occur in the mind of a Colin Powell or Condoleezza Rice (who then might mount a successful political campaign to become a national leader and forge radical change) — is likely to make an immediate impact. Even such revolutionary influences as those of the ideas of the American Founders took their sweet time to produce their concrete results in the lives of human beings, and not even on the lives of all in the country they founded. It takes centuries for good ideas to germinate, get cleared up, coordinated with related notions and, most importantly, attract the attention of enough people to make a difference, let alone overcome the innumerable bad ones that lie around.

Still, we know well enough, contrary to Pinkerton’s pessimistic prognosis, that ideas can have consequences. In our own lives, when we realize we need to start exercising, stop smoking, take up a different career, change the way we have learned to raise a child or, less seriously, to play some sport, there is a gap between the time we realize any of this and when we actually take meaningful action. It takes time to break habits, especially bad ones that centuries old varieties of statism have instilled in millions of people (millions of whom don’t even want to change for a variety of reasons).

But when something is right, it’s right, and when it’s also extremely important to human social life, it is worth the long and arduous haul to give it a chance to make it real. There is nothing inevitable about the growth or continuation of statism in our land, although there is nothing inevitable, either, about its abolition.

What is certain is that everyone has the responsibility to try to make as sure as humanly possible that this deadly cancer of growing government is arrested and reversed.

Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at

[email protected]


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