Dan Popp
Cracked conservatives
By Dan Popp
August 13, 2013

For My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:14, NAS95)

Leftists see government as a tool for helping good people reach their full potential. Conservatives see government as a weapon for keeping bad people from reaching their full potential. When someone tries to hold both of these views, pain and confusion ensue.

To explain: Leftists see government as a tool for helping people – as they're endlessly telling us. Whether it's helping them go to school or to make important calls from their Obamaphones, the object of government is help, and the only conceivable instrument of help is government. This seems to contradict the meaning of the word "government," which surely has something to do with governing, or ruling. Maybe they should call their concept, "giverment."

The underlying fallacy is the doctrine of good people. In the mind of the leftist, everyone is basically good. If certain individuals do bad things, it's because of their environment or their upbringing – something external to them. Now, where that external evil might originate is a mystery, since everyone is good, but that's a problem for leftists to solve.

And finally, government helps good people reach their full potential. In this vision, people are perfectible – if we can only "fundamentally transform" their puzzlingly bad institutions. This is why progressives are always speechifying about reforming things, even though their reform proposals failed a hundred years ago.

In contrast, the conservative sees government as a weapon. Right away this sounds bad. What a "negative" view! (Yet it's the leftist who wants to take away the weapons from everyone but government. Hmm.) Government is force, as our first President said; it is a rod and a sword, as the Holy Spirit says. Never in the thousands of years of Bible history did God use government to feed the poor, or to pay anyone to pursue her dream of becoming an artist.

Government is a weapon against bad people. This is the Christian doctrine of original sin. "The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) In this paradigm we're generally no better than we have to be. The "have to" may come from conscience or from self-esteem needs; from family, church or community, but when all these motivations fail, the backstop is the force of law.

So, in the conservative model, government is the weapon by which bad people are restrained from reaching their full potential – of evil.

Objection: Why can't we do both? Why can't government punish criminals and house the homeless? Well, we see as a practical matter that government does not do both very well. The larger the welfare state grows, the less justice we get from it – to the point where we now "don't know what to do" with sociopaths who molest children, or invaders who break our immigration laws. Just this morning I heard of another plan by the federal government to release criminals upon us. But as a matter of philosophy, the mercy of the liberal is seen by the conservative as an injustice because it harms someone in order to help someone. A moral imperative in one worldview is a moral transgression in the other. One of these worlds is upside-down.

Despite the cries of vapid journalists, there can be no "compromise" between these views. One is built on the assumptions that God exists, humans are fallen, and God gave government to humans as a check against their warped nature. The other assumes that God is either nonexistent or irrelevant, humans are good, and one of the good things humans did was invent government to help make ourselves even better.

These two ideologies are at war. Yet I see conservatives trying to embrace both. They identify themselves as a "fiscal conservative," or "conservative with libertarian leanings." I guess "compassionate conservative" went out of style. Some propose ways to balance the budget that are "revenue neutral" – that leave untouched all the socialist, tool aspects of government. Some believe in personal responsibility, but want a government "safety net." Some cheer for private property, but accept the income tax. Some think the federal government doesn't have a duty to save unborn children, but it really should rebuild homes after a flood.

These people believe that government is here to feed us with its sword; that our pure, corrupt nature should be simultaneously enabled and squelched; that a transcendent God designed government, and that government is God. I believe the technical term for this is "psychosis."

If you're one of those many folks, I plead with you to examine your beliefs and try to integrate the clashing components of your philosophy. Because right now, it's cracked. And it won't hold water.

© Dan Popp


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