Dan Popp
Protector or provider -- how do you like your government?
By Dan Popp
August 31, 2009

Government is a contrivance of human wisdom to provide for human wants. People have the right to expect that these wants will be provided for by this wisdom. — Jimmy Carter

The debate over government-directed health care has given us something very valuable, if only by accident: a demonstration of the two incompatible views of government. The underlying question is this: Why does government exist — to protect us, or to provide for us? On the one hand we have the Carter view, which could be expressed as, I want, therefore government must supply. Or, even more succinctly, "Waaaaa."

And in the opposite corner we have the Founders, like Thomas Jefferson:

    A wise and frugal government... shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.

It's maddening to see that Republican "alternatives" to Obamacare are not alternatives at all — they seem to accept the socialists' premise of Government as Provider.


Let's imagine that we found ourselves on an island with 100 other people, and that none of us has ever heard of the concept of "government."

The strong and willful are going to prey on the weak, unless the weak band together. But the weak as a group can overpower and prey on the strong. What we need is a common security force to protect everyone from everyone else.

If this force can be controlled so that it doesn't itself become the aggressor, we have a primitive republic. Everyone on the island is protected, and no one is provided-for, by government.

Now think about the simple-minded Liberal mantra: Taxes are the price you pay for living in a civilized society. That's true if the taxes fund this civilizing, "Protector" kind of government, keeping individuals and their property safe from attack. But it's false if those taxes siphon off the fruits of my labor and distribute them to others. In that case taxes are un-civilizing. Under a Provider government the power and aura of the state are just making it easier for the strongest group to steal from everyone else. It might be better to have no government at all.


The Protector government model comes from a biblical view of humans as fallen; God having provided institutions like marriage, the family, church and government to constrain them from bad behavior.

Provider government doesn't restrict; it enables. As Lyndon Johnson said, "I am concerned about the whole man. I am concerned about what the people, using their government as an instrument and a tool, can do toward building the whole man, which will mean a better society and a better world." When your mayor reacts to a budget shortfall by announcing that police may be laid off — though the libraries will stay open — you know which theory he holds to be true.

Protector-style government is very limited. Provider government must be large and powerful in order to "care" for ever-expanding "needs." But there is a cost to these benefits. Since authority goes hand-in-hand with responsibility, if you want Nanny to provide for you, she will be making the decisions about how you live while under her roof. You can't have freedom to make your own choices, and government subsidy of those choices. Ask any company that's taken bailout money.

If Nanny's payin', she's sayin'.

Protector government is seen as just one institution among many for man's benefit. Other organizations more suited to their tasks provide relief to the poor. Provider government absorbs all other institutions into itself — charity, education, even religion.

The Protector sees private property as sacred. The Provider sees the Community as the real owner of everything, though a fiction of private ownership may be maintained for a while. The idea of a single individual possessing anything that the group needs is un-evolved, greedy and (eventually) criminal.

I've challenged people to show me one example where socialism has raised a society's quality of life for a sustained period of time. So far, no one has met that challenge. So our list of contrasts must include the historical fact that Protector governments can be successful, while Provider governments always fail.

And one more distinction, for the few still concerned about such things: only one of these models is constitutional.

Click here to discuss this article.

© Dan Popp


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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