This is the second of my two articles about the conservative vs progressive divide. In the first article (Common Ground, Common Good) I discussed the differences in economic philosophies. In this one I write of the differing attitudes about government.
In many ways this issue divides conservatives and progressives even more than economics, and it appears probable that we will never have a meeting of the minds on the subject. At least, let us try to understand one another and be prepared to make reasonable compromises in our quest for good government.
Progressives place a great deal of faith and reliance in a strong central authority. They apparently believe that the Federal government is much more concerned than local governments in protecting disadvantaged members of society and more effective in advancing the common good. On the other hand, conservatives tend to distrust a strong central government (and its attendant bureaucracy) and tend to think that the best government is the one that governs least.
Progressives have little confidence in local government. Conservatives have even less faith in a strong central government. Our forefathers who established this nation and wrote its Constitution were mostly small government men. The functions of the central government were tightly prescribed, and many of the governmental powers were left in the hands of state and local authorities. The founders also feared pure democracy, and the Constitution reflects that fear. They were aware of the volatility and fickleness of public opinion and the very real possibility of mob rule. Instead of a pure democracy, they created a representative republic wherein our legislators were to be elected by adult male members of the propertied class or, in the case of senators, appointed by the state legislators. The President was to be chosen by electors selected by the legislators of the several states.
Over the years, the voter rolls were gradually expanded to include almost all adult citizens, and the Presidential electors and senators were selected by popular vote in each state.
Even as the voter rolls were being enlarged and their responsibilities expanded, the role of our central government changed.
The powers of a government are largely dependent on its taxing and fund-raising capabilities, and with the passage of the Federal income tax amendment in 1913 the gateway to central government expansion was opened. The Great Depression and World War II contributed to the central government’s rapid and immense growth.
Today, almost every state or local cooperative endeavor of any size feeds at the Federal trough. Perhaps it’s only 10 to 15 percent of the total budget for local schools, etc., but no one is willing to give up that portion; and through these gifts and accompanying regulations the Washington bureaucracy has been able to extend its control far beyond the limits prescribed by the Constitution. And lovers of central government want more power. If progressives have their way, the Federal government will be further strengthened, and the roles of state and local governments will be curtailed.
For some reason, progressives seem to think that all political wisdom emanates from Capitol Hill; or perhaps it’s the fact that they are better organized and more effective in working through these strong central bodies. Certainly, they have far greater influence than their numerical strength would suggest.
Theoretically, an all-powerful central government could be more efficient and beneficent, but there is great danger in concentrated power. The more likely result is inefficiency, corruption and misery. We are getting some taste of that already.
Many progressives would like to make the United States a purer democracy by eliminating the electoral college and enacting other reforms such as changing the Constitutional provision whereby the vote of a senator from California now represents 68 times more people than that of a senator from Wyoming. The principle of “one man, one vote” is more important to these modern progressives than the views of those white aristocrats and slave holders who negotiated “the great compromise” giving each state equal representation in the upper chamber. That compromise ensured the Constitution’s adoption., but there are those on the left who wish to throw it out.
Our founders wished to do away with monarchy, but they also had a fear of “pure” democracy. They realized that it could easily lead to mob-rule followed by dictatorship. History provided them many examples. Progressives seem to have lost that fear.
Our founding fathers were wise men, and they would have been horrified by recent trends and developments.
As am I.
I do not oppose progress, but I would like to ensure that we progress in the right direction.