Sun, Jul. 08, 2012 Posted: 02:42 PM
A few weeks ago, governor Chris Christie of New Jersey had an argument with a democratic state senator who suggested that the citizens are like children, who should be good before they are given a cookie (like a tax cut)." The senator's view of the citizenry is all too common among statist politicians, some of whom are Republicans, Like NYC mayor Bloomberg. Sadly, almost every democratic politician holds to a statist viewpoint. They see themselves as benevolent and wise parents to a childish citizenry. It is good for parents to want to provide for their children, so that they do not have to provide for themselves, or protect themselves, or take care of their own medical needs. But children do and should grow up and take care of themselves. To treat one as a child once he or she reaches adulthood is wrong.
It is bad enough to treat adults as children, but then to be foolish parents is even worse. Just as wise parents will control what their children eat, where and when they go and who with, it is also important for them to control what they do. No wise parent allows his children to act in a vicious manner, knowing that this will lead to bad character and an unsuccessful life. Similarly, why would these democratic "parents" want to legalize all sorts of vicious behavior, like abortion, homosexuality, and euthanasia? Do they believe that this kind of freedom leads to human flourishing? Somehow they seemed to forget that what is good for the family is what is equally good for society as a whole.
Aristotle looked at the nature of man, to understand the household, and the city-state. At each level, virtue is needed to achieve self- sufficiency and sovereignty. Because man is a rational creature, it is natural for him to be virtuous if he is to be happy. Among the virtues necessary for every man are justice, practical wisdom, courage and self-control. The man who acts in accordance with these virtues on a regular basis develops good character. The man with good character is naturally a happier man than one with a vicious character. According to Thomas Aquinas, the Salamanca School of Economics, and Adam Smith, the man with character is also likely to become wealthy, if there is a free market economy with a laissez faire government. Alternatively, the vicious man or the man without character is likely to end up in poverty. These ideas also line up with what we see in the biblical wisdom literature.
Because man is a pairing or marrying creature, he is naturally oriented towards a household/ family. The individual man should be virtuous if he is to attain self-sufficiency and govern his own affairs. The individual family is a community, which has a structure of the father, mother, and children. A primary function of parenthood is to provide for their children until they are old enough to provide for themselves and to teach them virtue. Both parents, the father and the mother are needed to teach virtue and character to their children so that they can become productive members of society. Like any community, the household has an economy, which requires that the father to work, generally outside of the home to provide for his family, and the mother to work inside of the home. As they get older, the children do chores and thereby learn to be good workers and good citizens. As they approach adulthood, the children should naturally strive for self-sufficiency and self- governance.
If every family unit acts virtuously, then the city state has fewer problems. Aristotle believed that after the family/ household, man is a political creature who is naturally oriented towards the city/ state. The city/ state is a community that always has a basic structure of government and citizens. Government is not an end unto itself and citizens should not be confused with children, slaves or property of the state. The purpose of the city/ state is to provide the good life. The good life is one in which the citizens can take advantages of the goods and services that are available in the city. The good life also includes protection from crime or war. The citizens also have a responsibility to pay taxes and to obey the laws of the city/ state, provided they are just.
If the politicians/ government officials of the city/ state act virtuously, then they will reward those who are virtuous and punish those who are vicious. The primary virtue that the politician/ government official needs is justice, because he should be concerned with the common good. Justice has three aspects: the distributive (giving honor to whom it is due), the rectoral (civil law, which deals with disputes between voluntary participants and criminal law, where the dispute was involuntary for one of the participants) and the reciprocal (fair and voluntary economic exchange). If the politicians are virtuous then the city will not have more debt than is absolutely necessary, if any at all. Debt, at any level is a loss of self-sufficiency and sovereignty. Today, debt arises primarily from redistribution of wealth schemes.
The just law maker will be reluctant to pass laws that increase taxes or regulation. As an economist, I know that these two things always increase market inefficiencies. Worse, they provide motivation for wise business owners to move to where there is less predation by government. Consequently, regulation should occur only when it is needed to prevent externalities (a type of market failure which is a spillover effect to a third party), like pollution. Taxation is a necessary evil, but the money earned by a worker or a business is not something to be plundered by the government, no matter how "wise or benevolent" they believe themselves to be. Unfortunately, governments always want to grow more than their citizens desire or need. Bureaucracies are expensive and are less efficient the more that they grow. Nonetheless, democratic politicians always want more of it because they believe that it is the job of the state to provide for every conceivable need of the people except for the virtuous use of their freedom.
Democratic politicians are like bad parents or nannies, who provide for their children's material needs long after it is appropriate (from cradle to grave) and who forget to teach them virtue. They seem to forget that virtue is its own reward. Freedom is a good only when it is coupled with virtue. Rather than making laws in accordance with a free and virtuous society, they make laws to encourage vice. The result is adult slaves, rather than adult citizens. In the book of Proverbs, the writer understood that God has so ordered the world that those who act in accordance with practical wisdom and virtue will develop character and are likely to have successful, happy lives. Those who act contrary to the created order will develop vicious character and live unhappy lives. The wise law maker will pass laws to strengthen the family unit, which is the basic building block of society. If the basic building block is strong, society as a whole will be stronger and happier. The wise and just law maker will also strive for religious, political and economic liberty, since these are the hallmarks which have made America a great nation. Finally, the virtuous law maker strives for an objective and biblically compatible kind of justice and righteousness.
Craig Vincent Mitchell, PhD