"As long as the reason of man continues fallible, and he is at liberty to exercise it, different opinions will be formed ... The latent causes of faction are ... sown in the nature of man."
— James Madison, "Federalist No. X"
If all of us would simply lay aside our interests and our opinions about the proper ends of government, we might, as a recent writer suggested, embrace "well being for all."
And then politics and economics would not trouble us: We would live in a paradise, one in which, as the image we have long misquoted from Isaiah puts it: The lion shall lie down with the lamb.
But on this mortal coil, the lamb would be wise to continue casting a wary eye at the lion for some years to come. We mortals cannot easily divest ourselves of our opinions, no matter how schooled or unschooled they might be. Nor can we unwind the factions that grow up around differing views of what constitutes sound government and prudent policy.
As Mr. Madison reminds us these differences are sown in our fallible reason and in our very natures. They are also sown in our experience, and are essential to our duties as citizens of this federal, constitutional republic, as we make the case for what we believe is the better policy.
Our different understandings of America's situation are clear.
Leftists look at America and see greedy corporations and rich people clutching too much of the abundance, thereby aggravating hunger and want among the poor, and making for inadequate housing, jobs paying too little, health care that is too expensive, and schools and other public services starving for money.
The left's solution is higher taxes, redistribution of the plenty, more and wider government services to the many. Government becomes an ever-expanding tool to manage more of the economy, regulate more industrial and business processes and transactions and oversee more relations among people. Economic and social equality are far more important than economic freedom.
We conservatives look at all of history and see scarcity, and that America has found the formula for creating more goods, services and opportunity for more people than anywhere else in the world, more food, housing, leisure and good health care. Our solution for providing still more of these to more people is to grow the economy, to encourage the initiative and creativity of entrepreneurs and the rest of the private sector; to allow businesses to respond to people's demands for things and services they want.
Government should do only those things we cannot do for ourselves; the more it reaches beyond the essentials the bigger mess it makes, the more liberty it destroys. Economic freedom is essential to political freedom. Along with Milton Friedman, we believe that, "A society that puts equality before freedom will get neither. A society that puts freedom before equality will get a high degree of both."
We look south to Mexico and see a country that committed itself early in the 20th century to stifling economic freedom to ensure that few people would accumulate too much money; Mexico has been highly effective in this. And hence Mexico, a country rich in oil and other resources, a country that could be affluent, has a disproportionate number of poor, with far too many of its people suffering without electricity and running water, millions of whom have come to American looking for basic opportunity.
We conservatives would not exchange our beliefs about the proper aims of government for some undefined and utopian "well-being for all." Nor would leftists.
If we could somehow achieve "well being for all" could we not just as easily achieve "the general welfare" specified in the preamble to the Constitution?
Instead of well-being for all we might just as well hope for rule by philosopher kings. But all human experience says we would more likely get tyrants, those willing to ruthlessly impose their own beliefs on the rest of us.
The 20th century gave us a bad taste of proposed heavens on earth: People were compelled to submit to well-meaning authority which inevitably cited noble ends as their aim.
Heaven was not achieved in any of those places, but hell was. As the omelets were being made, 70 to 100 million eggs were broken.
Tack Cornelius is a writer and Gainesville native. His columns appear occasionally and on gainesvilletimes.com.