Government Need Not Equal Dysfunction

“About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful,” concluded President Calvin Coolidge on the 150th anniversary of its signing.

Coolidge continued, “If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions. If anyone wishes to deny their truth … the only direction in which he can proceed historically is not forward, but backward.”

I wrestle at times with the status quo nature of conservatism. How can I favor the novel, the advanced, the “progressive” in many areas of life but remain committed to “conserving” the political philosophies of generations past?

Coolidge nailed it. In the Declaration of Independence, we fundamentally have it as good as it gets this side of eternity. Sure, the practice of government can always improve in a dynamic world, but the theory needs no progress.

The beliefs bedrocked in the summer of 1776 can be summed in this: Government was made for people; people were not made for government. Conservatism stands on this truth.

Conservative principles permeate the Declaration. The colonists wanted local government; King George wanted centralized authority. The colonists wanted to limit taxation; George wanted to expand it. The colonists wanted more international trade; George wanted it stifled. The colonists wanted George’s army and bureaucrats out of their homes and lives; George wanted refrigerator rights.

No wonder George had a fight on his hands.

Today, conservatives fight in the spirit of the colonists against those who conveniently re-label modern liberalism as “progressivism.” In truth, modern liberalism is actually “statism,” the belief that an individual’s personal pursuits should be quelled in favor of the pursuit of a utopian state (see Mark Levin’s “Liberty and Tyranny”).

Authentic liberalism – advocating the liberation of the burdened – was never more at play than in July 1776. Ironically, this classical liberalism – the opposite of authoritarianism – laid the foundation for what we conservatives attempt to preserve today.

Colonial America saw an epic battle between freedom-loving people and an over-reaching government. Today, nonviolent battles over government’s proper role happen all around us. Why? Because the natural order in a fallen world is for power to expand and encroach.

May we not be among those unaware of or ill-prepared for the battles. May we not write in our diaries on the days the battles occur what King George wrote in his on July 4, 1776: “Nothing of importance this day.”


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