Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.

The Unspoken Truth About Big Government

Posted by Michael Dickens on May 21, 2010

Protesting big government is a rather common political theme. The issue seems to be bipartisan: all of us have heard both Democrats and Republicans (not to mention Libertarians!) speak about the evils of big government. No one wants a government that’s too powerful, because that could lead to tyranny.

This may be true in theory, but reality is quite different. I seldom hear people speak of how government needs more power, and yet the talk of how government is too big seems ceaseless. Actual political philosophies, however, tend to differ. In theory we oppose big government, but when it comes down to making actual policy, the Democrats are in support of welfare and social programs while the Republicans support military spending and stricter legislation regarding abortion. Only Libertarians and anarchists truly oppose growth in government.

Why is it, then, that people’s true desires so often go unspoken? A likely reason is the clash of theory and reality. In theory (and in reality as well), a bigger government is harmful. But in reality, a bigger government is often necessary. Some things simply cannot be accomplished — or at least never have been before — without some sort of federal action. It would be wonderful if we could get along without any government, but we can’t. At least, not with the sort of society that we have now. If we lived in tribal communities, as we did twenty thousand years ago, we could get away with near-anarchy.

But do we really want to resort to tribal communities? I don’t think so. In the civilization we live in, it is often necessary to increase the size of the government. But it is never couched that way. Big government is generally understood to be a bad thing; people may want a bigger government, but they never say they do.

This issue seems to come down to simply how you phrase your opinion. People may want a bigger government, and it’s no huge secret, but they never explicitly say it. Instead, they talk about how the government needs to regulate business, or create more economic opportunity, or something like that. This is simply another way of saying that bigger government is a good thing.

Most of us do believe that, at least sometimes, big government is a good thing. All I ask is that we admit it to ourselves.

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One Response to “The Unspoken Truth About Big Government”

  1. Matt Helm said

    I suppose it’s really what part you make bigger that matters, and that you keep checks and balances in there to keep people from becoming too powerful.

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