THE EDITORIAL DIRECTION OF THE COLUMNS, AS OUTLINED BELOW, will be based on reality and experience with public policies, some of which work, some of which don’t. Some promote freedom, others do not. We will make the case for limited government, limited to a pre-Progressive-era understanding of government’s constitutional responsibilities, which allows people to pursue happiness—which we think means acting responsibly, like adults.
In determining the defense budget, we think the first order of business is assessing, honestly, the threat we face now and are likely to face in the foreseeable future. Only then should we look at numbers. We should not be reluctant to subject the Military-Industrial Complex to the rigorous scrutiny recommended by President Eisenhower in his farewell address in 1961. We recognize that a sufficient defensive capability means having too much. Even so, there are limits—to the funds, and to the support of the American people, whose interest in foreign affairs is modest.
America’s conduct of foreign affairs should be mindful of John Quincy Adams’s remark that although we are friends of liberty everywhere, we are custodians only of our own. But mindful, too, as Adams also said, that times change: we now have immense commercial and political connections with other nations, to whose fate we cannot be indifferent. However, spreading democracy, always in the name of national security of course, is anything but conservative. It invites unnecessary challenges. Conservatism insists on coming to terms with the world as it is unless it poses a clear and present danger to us.
America’s foreign policy should be, in short, to mind its own business, the two pieces of that business being: protecting the country from foreign enemies, and keeping just enough order in the world to ensure that America does not become an island nation.
The growth of government should be relentlessly opposed, even, perhaps especially, when proposed by Republicans. But that is not enough: government must be shrunk, not just to save money, though that is important enough, but to make us free. America should rediscover that: God exists; our rights come from God; the purpose of the state is to protect those rights; and, paradoxically, the state is the greatest threat to those rights.
Government should be shrunk to give space for private endeavor, both commercial and spiritual. Free-market capitalism makes us rich, and free. But it can be soulless too, without the intermediating forces of community, which big government stifles.
Adam Smith wrote not only about the free market’s invisible hand, but also, and previously, about moral sentiments: principles in man’s nature which interest him in the fortunes of others.
Edmund Burke put it this way: “To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.”
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, in Democracy in America, that through association—the coming together of people for mutual purpose, both in public and in private—Americans are able to overcome selfish desires, thus making both a self-conscious and active political society and a vibrant civil society functioning independently from the state.
The Leviathan state crowds out the opportunity to behave in the ways described by Smith, Burke, and Tocqueville. The Leviathan state must go.
We must, most especially, make no peace with the New Deal or the Great Society—certainly not now, when they are collapsing. Today, the regulatory state, FDR’s hubristic legacy, throttles the economy. Social Security teeters, requiring for its continued survival the conscript labor of the young. Medicare totters, its current out-of-control spending pushing it toward bankruptcy. And the welfare state has produced a culture of entitlement, which is not a culture conducive to freedom.
And on all matters, cultural as well as political, we must speak the truth, a strange song in a land of relativism where every man is encouraged to do that which is right in his own eyes—the sole constraint being the requirement to be nice. That requirement is not the corner stone nor any stone in the construction of the Western code, one essential statement of which remains, however necessary modern formulations may be, the Beatitudes.