The Most Important Element of Any Government

Capitol Building

Today, the U.S. government is mostly regarded as being controlled by an inscrutable coterie of people who are unresponsive to an electorate that is diffuse and powerless. The perpetual expansion of regulations; intervention in family and community life; the manufacturing of new crimes and misdemeanors, aimed at modulating how we associate and with whom; furious attempts to limit First and Second Amendment rights — these developments are viewed by Americans with alarm.

Pervasive anti-government sentiments are nevertheless not merely grumbles against government itself but a particular strain of government — one imposed from the outside. Government is woven into our fibers as social beings and starts in our local communities as a solution to problems of coordination. Rules emerge, not as harsh mandates but conventions that are spontaneously adhered to by everyone — like the conventions of proper manners. The burden of belonging is abiding by these gentle edicts which constrain our choices without necessarily coercing them.

In his masterful Reflections on the Revolution in France, Edmund Burke reiterates the importance of what he calls the “little platoon” — the place where social traditions are born. For Burke, society depends upon relations of affection and trust, and these can be built only from the bottom up, through face-to-face interaction. It is in the family, in local clubs and civic organizations, in school, church, sports leagues, and university that people learn to interact as free beings, each taking responsibility for their actions and accounting to their neighbor. Therefore, freedom is not a set of axioms but an evolving consensus, enshrined in our legal and political inheritance and in the free associations through which society recuperates its legacy of trust. Truly free relations necessitate mutual accountability. The moment this goes astray, a relationship becomes exploitative. In other words, freedom and government have but a single source — the human disposition to hold one another accountable. No free society can come to fruition without this disposition at its core.

Presumably, as a society takes on more territory, local factions alone are no longer sufficient. It is thereby in more need of a central authority by which rules and regulations are imposed for the community as a whole and enforced by an agency that has no leniency for rivals. But this is not to delegitimize reservations against the modern government, which has become too eager to impose barriers in the way of free association — going as far as to organize ferocious initiatives against the institutions that have historically limited its power, namely the church and the family. However, this abuse is not the fault of government itself but a liberal mindset of government. As discussed in my previous article, a commitment to a politics of technique underlies the growing liberal sympathy for democracy. Democracy no longer personifies the idea of incorporating ordinary people and their voices into the polity but merely giving the illusion of so. Likewise, modern liberals will quickly pledge support for an expansion of welfare — in the name of the poor — then proceed to smear the archetypical Trump supporter as a worthless, penurious, white-trash loser who lives in his mom’s basement. Their motives are conspicuous — a clear displacement of the responsibility to actually help their neighbors in need. Not all coincidentally, conservatives tend to donate more money to charity than their liberal counterparts.

This is not to imply that the libertarian conception of a minimal state is ideal in the status quo. The growth of modern societies has created social needs that antecedent patterns of free association have not the capacities to accommodate. The correct response is not to preclude the state entirely from acting but to limit its contribution to the point where citizen’s initiatives can once again assume the helm. When society is organized from above — either by the top-down government or by the impersonal commands of an enigmatic and distant bureaucracy — accountability rapidly evaporates from the political order, and from society too. Government must spring from human communities, first and foremost, as a mediation of human accountability. American patriots must channel their anger with the government to a defense of government against its abuse by liberals.

Patriot Politics is a 16-year-old paleoconservative activist, content creator, and freelance writer. He recently co-founded the advocacy organization “ConserveGenZ.”