Saturday, June 5, 2010

God, Faith and Limited Government

Faith is necessary to believe in limited government. For limited government means that, for significant elements of our common life together, no one is in charge. How do we know that disaster will not ensue? This is where faith comes in.

One of the traditional notions we have lost is the doctrine of Providence. Belief in Providence is the belief that, even though it appears that no one is in charge, Someone really is. Disaster will not ensue. Since we are assured through our faith in God that disaster will not ensue, or, at least, that disaster will never be quite so bad as it appears, we may safely create zones of freedom in which no one is (apparently) in charge.

When the common belief in Providence is lost the world becomes a much scarier place. Now potential catastrophes reveal themselves as possible and even probable eventualities - from global warming to collisions with asteroids. Freedom that was once the expression of a mysterious Providence working itself out through history becomes a blind stumbling in the dark that will encounter catastrophe eventually - "if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit."

It's not just the fear of catastrophic anomalies like a killer asteroid that reflects the loss of belief in Providence. It is also the belief in slow, creeping doom of the kind expressed in John Derbyshire's We Are Doomed: Reclaiming Conservative Pessimism. Derbyshire is both a (secular) conservative believer in limited government and convinced, for a variety of reasons, that our present civilization is doomed. His response is essentially Epicurean: He advises seeking "private contentment in the present as the earth-pile rises." In other words, accept your fate and enjoy yourself while you can.

It is only scholarly, detached types like Derbyshire who will be satisfied with such a counsel of despair. People will look for hope. There are two alternatives: One is to recognize that the problems Derbyshire details in his book are not all intractable. In fact, many of them, like our failure to control our southern border, are susceptible to straightforward solution. An authoritarian government could solve the problem directly. But our republican system has not yet developed the will to act decisively with respect to immigration; and it may not do so before it is too late. An obvious alternative is to sacrifice certain republican principles to do what it takes to forestall our doom. In fact, we are not doomed; we are only doomed if we maintain the commitment to limited government even in the face of predictable, but avoidable, catastrophe. We can put someone in charge to deal with the problems before it is too late. Thus Derbyshire's conservative doom is, in the end, not really different from left-wing scaremongering of the type seen in global-warming hysteria. The difference is that the left-wingers take the obvious next step that Derbyshire doesn't: If society in its freedom cannot avoid putting so much CO2 in the atmosphere that it puts civilization in danger (the left-wing case), or cannot deal with immigration or the terrorist threat (the right-wing doom case), then freedom must be curtailed to the extent necessary to ensure the survival of civilization (the left-wing solution that is nonetheless implicit in Derbyshire's right-wing doom.)

The other alternative is to recover the traditional doctrine of Providence; and find hope in the faith that Someone is already in charge, and even if things don't look rosy, as long as we remain confident in faith no disaster that we cannot survive will occur. We can support freedom because we are not "doomed"; we are only doomed in the eyes of a blinkered, worldly viewpoint that cannot live in the mystery of a Will greater than its own.

It is the doctrine of Providence that is necessary to limited government.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

A theological defence of irresponsibility.