Sunday, May 08, 2005

Law, Liberty, Virtue, and Enterprise

What is the purpose of government? At present, government can be said to entail a multiplicity of state interference with our lives that is sometimes easily seen, but in most instances is less immediately clear. Unfortunately, many people seem to accept such "big government" as it encroaches upon them. Although in the last twenty years the arguments against state interference with the economy have gained wider acceptance, the relationship between economic liberty and individual liberty remains misunderstood, and the folly of "statecraft as soulcraft" continues to be widespread.

In this essay I will argue that a principled vision of government is vital, since ideas on the character and role of government are crucially linked to competing visions of society, freedom, and individual well-being.1 For this reason, we should ask, first, what we mean by government, and, second, why and in what form we need it. By discussing these problems, I aim to show why government must be strong but limited–why, in other words, Lord Acton was correct in writing, "There are many things the government can’t do–many good purposes it must renounce. It must leave them to the enterprise of others. It cannot feed the people. It cannot enrich the people. It cannot teach the people. It cannot convert the people."

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