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“Since the state will never really leave us alone”

“Since the state will never really leave us alone”

Matt Lewis has a very interesting take on the “culture wars,” The culture war was never a fair fight (emphasis):

Let’s take a step back for a moment first. Many prominent conservatives, like anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, argue that conservatives just want to be left alone. In fact, Norquist has dubbed conservatism the “leave us alone” coalition.

Cultural conservatives see this as naïve. The state, they reason, will never leave us alone. We either win or we lose the culture war, but you can’t opt out. In this regard, they are like Winston Churchill, who said of his predecessor: “Mr. Chamberlain can’t seem to understand that we live in a very wicked world … English people want to be left alone, and I daresay a great many other people want to be left alone too. But the world is like a tired old horse plodding down a long road. Every time it strays off and tries to graze peacefully in some nice green pasture, along comes a new master to flog it a bit further along.'”

Since the state will never really leave us alone, social conservatives reason that the state should encourage ordered liberty. That means that the state should incentivize behavior that has served Western Civilization well over the years. In other words, as Dylan said, “you’re gonna have to serve somebody,” so social conservatives reason that a virtuous society should encourage behavior deemed virtuous by traditional Judeo-Christian culture, and discourage behavior at odds with that.

This, of course, is unpopular in the modern world — not just amongst liberals, but also with libertarian-leaning conservatives, and the general public. In today’s America, there is huge value placed on people being able to do what they want and be who they want to be. Trying to deny them those “rights” has become something of a taboo in many circles.

The leave us alone political philosophy is one to which I am extremely sympathetic.  But I doubt it’s possible regardless.


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Though written in a prophetic dissent, Brandeis’s thinking was later adopted by the Supreme court. “The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings and of his intellect. They knew that only part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations. They conferred against the government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.” Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928).

If I may, that last sentence bears repeating and repeating and repeating, “[The Framers] conferred against the government, the right to be let alone — the MOST COMPREHENSIVE of rights and the right MOST VALUED by civilized men.”

The left, the always intolerant left, will never ever leaves its “subjects” alone. Subjects is what the tyranny-minded think of us.

legalizehazing | March 27, 2013 at 1:29 pm

I’ve been thinking about this exact thing. It’s a huge fallacy. Tocqueville talks about how in America it’s self-interest properly understood not “independence” that makes us successful. He claims there’s a tendency for individuals to stop cut ties with the greater community. That’s his operative definition of “independence”. If we withdraw from the conversation we automatically lose.

There’s a lot of merit in this perspective. He also argues that voluntary association is fundamental and necessary to preserving American liberties. But coalition building isn’t the same as ignoring the zombies around us.

That the government will never leave us alone is a measure of how far the federal government has exceeded it Constitutional limits. Consider: a government of limited power must, of necessity, reach the limits of that power. True that in some areas – e.g., First Amendment – that limit should be reached sooner than in others – e.g. the commerce clause power(s) – but after over 200 years, we ought to find fewer laws and rules and regulations being passed each year. In reality, of course, the number of laws and equivalents increase dramatically each year. The only practical limit on government at any level is the literally physical limits of time: how many laws can you make in a year? And that is why the GOP – or any other successful political party – will never actually really truly oppose intervention into our lives. To do otherwise would doom politicians of such a party to lose elections across the nation at all levels. Lose elections and you have no effect upon anything, least of all the power to give government money and favors to your supporters. This – the corrupting effect of government power on voters and officials – is the fatal weakness in any polity with democratic features, as the politicians learn they can buy votes with government money and the voters learn they can get government money with their votes. Human nature defeats principled governance, every time, everywhere.

As I said over at Questions & Observations today…

Statism has not seen an unbroken advance in America.
bains and shark are both right, and both wrong. After Wilson came Coolidge. After FDR came Eisenhower.

But the Collective has ALWAYS seen the Federal government as the way to impose their views on Americans. Federalism provides too many degrees of freedom, and states are good places to showcase competitive ideas. The BIG STATE is the tool they like.

And allowing people the chance to decide via the ballot is also too uncertain for them. They are, at base, anti-democratic, anti-liberty, and misanthropic. Hence, they work to impose their values via the courts and regulation, which are largely immune to democratic correction from the proles.

As power is increasingly centralized, people opposed to the imposition of Collectivist values are forced to join the blood-struggle over the bone of power, or simply cede the field.

The answer, as most of us know, is to devolve power back to the most dissipated level of our civic structures possible…including the individual. And ESPECIALLY the individual.

1. I don’t have time to fisk Lewis’s piece, but it is eminently fiskable. Many of his arguments correspond to ones made by the Left.

2. My attempts, on this site, to reach a modus vivendi with social conservatives have been frustrating. Notwithstanding the sensible people in that branch of the conservative movement, a heckler’s veto seems to hold sway there.

Maybe our host’s post will have a positive effect.

3. If a wavering leftist reads Lewis to see what the other side offers, I can readily imagine that reader deciding to stick with the devil they know.

    gs in reply to gs. | March 27, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    “Since the state will never really leave us alone”

    I suspect that Lewis wants all along to use the State to impose his views on people, so he makes this shoddy rationalization.

    Necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.

      Crawford in reply to gs. | March 27, 2013 at 4:40 pm

      Do you always argue in bad faith? That may be why you aren’t received well.

        Bruno Lesky in reply to Crawford. | March 27, 2013 at 10:08 pm

        Am I dense? I don’t at all get gs as arguing in bad faith … aka “undermining the possibility of rational discourse.”

        I think he/she often points out overlooked contradictions between philosophy and policy.

        And I recall a few months ago he/she recommended a stiff drink as an antidote to … something. I raise a glass to “not being received well.”

    legalizehazing in reply to gs. | March 27, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    We must always seek to improve our strategy. We don’t jeopardize the sovereignty of the individual through admission of interdependence. We empower the individual notably to influence others. We are our brothers keeper. That is different than claiming to operate as a collective. It’s significantly different because of the belief in limited government.

    Maybe self responsibility isn’t quiet enough. We could take a little more personal responsibility for the idiots around us.

    The end about the rights and all that I think is pretty apparent.. people should be able to do whatever they want… as long as parents and society can judge them:) with Christian values:)

I’ve always rebelled against “cultural conservatives” proscribing what other people could do, but after reading Visions of Order by Richard Weaver, I’m reassessing my position. Weaver makes an excellent case for the importance of cultural norms in civil society. Norms are the glue which holds a society together.

    snopercod in reply to snopercod. | March 28, 2013 at 6:56 am

    Sultan Knish understands what the culture war is all about: The destruction of civilization. On the issue of “gay rights”: The Deconstruction of Marriage

    The only question worth asking about gay marriage is whether anyone on the left would care about this crusade if it didn’t come with the privilege of bulldozing another civilizational institution.

    Gay marriage is not about men marrying men or women marrying women, it is about the deconstruction of marriage between men and women…

    …The left’s deconstruction of social institutions is not a quest for equality, but for destruction. As long as the institutions that preceded it exist, it will go on deconstructing them until there is nothing left but a blank canvas, an unthinking anarchy, on which it can impose its perfect and ideal conception of how everyone should live.

And now a word from C.S. Lewis:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity(greed) may at some point be satiated(temporarily satisfied); but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their consciences.”

The Democrat Political Machine is calibrated to attack “leave us alone” mentality by doing just the opposite.

What forces liberals to back up is massive push back and regaining lost constitutional land.

Take a lesson from the Israelis. The 1967 borders are borders of war.

The liberals, though powerful, are not invincible. Their power is absolutely predicated on the attack-on-command diminishing Liberal Media, a leak-springing flotilla with ever diminishing firepower.

In my view, the key is sinking their Media in a sea of self-created political corruption.

    Crawford in reply to VotingFemale. | March 27, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    “The Democrat Political Machine is calibrated to attack “leave us alone” mentality by doing just the opposite.”


    Remember the complaints from the left that all conservatives cared about were “God, guns, and gays”? Well, conservatives were being DEFENSIVE on those fronts. It was the left that kept pushing them; if they had agreed to disagree, those issues would have faded from political discourse.

    Instead they constantly push, then complain that the people they’re shoving express resentment.

gottarideduc | March 27, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Success requires a simple message. The bigger the state gets, the more people will feel overwhelmed, see the destruction government has wrought and will be open to the “leave me alone” message.

This does not mean that the culture war ends. Rather, that it is taken from the field of coercive government to the field of persuasive private action. High societal standards can still be advanced. the social conservatives can still try to persuade. But doing so with the force of government is no better than the liberals legislating their nihilistic, destructive agenda.

Henry Hawkins | March 27, 2013 at 4:26 pm

No island is a man.

I miss live and let live.

I think holding an ideal in mind while working within current reality is the most sane approach. We are being forced, shoved, pushed, driven like cattle into Marshal McLuhan’s “Global Village” tribal collective by the Federal Gov’t. And I refuse to go quietly!

Freddie Sykes | March 27, 2013 at 7:51 pm

We need to separate what goes on in private from public behavior. We have a vested interest in demanding civilized behavior in public. There is a big difference between walking down the street drinking, doing drugs and doing it in your home.

The best way to start is to take the 4th Amendment serious. It implies that warrant should only be issued after someone swears to the wrong doing going on. In some cities up to half the warrants are unfounded. If that happens, we need to start trying them for perjury.

By ‘cultural conservatives’, I take it to mean Christians? If so, the ‘Christians’ that I used to attend Revival meetings, if they are truthful about it, are more Reconstructionists and Dominionists then Constitutionalists. These are the ones who truly believe they can do a better job than Oliver Cromwell’s failed attempt at a Christian Republic. And that ‘Individual Liberty’ is a ‘worldly’ concept.

Many are in the habit of saying that America was founded on ‘Judeo Christian principles’. That may be true of the foundation of their personal moral system. But none has met my challenge to point out where in the scriptures do we derive our constitutional system of checks and balances. And where in the scriptures did we get the blueprint for our Republican electoral system?

Israel was governed by non-elected Judges before Yaweh gave into the popular request for dynastic rule (not as an act of rebellion by the populace against tyranny but a stubborn desire for it).

How can anyone say that we live in a Constitutional Republic and not acknowledge the 4th century BC republican Romans for inventing the original political failsafe against tyrants?

I doubt many have read enough scripture to spot passages like Romans 13:1 to realize that the ‘Judeo Christian’ premise of cultural conservatives doesn’t lend itself to Jefferson’s idea of Res Publica.

    Many are in the habit of saying that America was founded on ‘Judeo Christian principles’. That may be true of the foundation of their personal moral system. But none has met my challenge to point out where in the scriptures do we derive our constitutional system of checks and balances. And where in the scriptures did we get the blueprint for our Republican electoral system?

    You have exactly reversed the process. As John Adams pointed out and we have empirical observation in the real world:

    “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

    Those who would live under our Constitutional system must have a moral foundation that will lead them to certain habits of thinking e.g. refrain from such immoral behavior as requiring the government to steal from others to give to them. For 90% plus of the Founders, that moral foundation was derived from the Christian Scripture, leavened with a generous helping of Greek / Roman philosophers referred to favorably by various Christian philosophers as Augustine.

      gs in reply to SDN. | March 28, 2013 at 12:50 pm

      John Adams submitted the first Treaty of Tripoli to the Senate for ratification. Article 11 reads:

      As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

      Boldface mine.

        SDN in reply to gs. | March 29, 2013 at 11:47 pm

        Hey, when talking to a Muslim, taqiyya is always required.

        Seriously, you present one sentence, in a document written in the language of tactful diplomacy, while ignoring the dozens of quotes from multiple Founders that say the exct opposite.

        I don’t wonder at those who believe you to always argue in bad faith.

BannedbytheGuardian | March 28, 2013 at 2:23 am

Everyone missed Michelle’s comment that Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual……….

Fair warning there.

The leave us alone political philosophy is one to which I am extremely sympathetic. But I doubt it’s possible regardless.

As Rags wrote, Statism has not seen an unbroken advance in America.

I take refuge in the distinction between There is no hope and I see no hope.