The month of August 2014 came near to producing the libertarian ideal -- next-to-no government. Some might argue that August favored the anarchist ideal -- no government at all; nothing going on at the highest levels, what with Congress out of town and the President on the golf course.
Ah, good, somnolent days reminiscent of Augusts in the Taft era: fireflies, lemonade, front porches, the distant scritch-scratch of a Victor phonograph emitting "Alexander's Ragtime Band." There being just one problem: During August 2014, much of the world appeared to be falling apart -- Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria and Christians getting run out of their historic homelands, Americans getting their heads cut off; the country's borders conspicuously unsecured; stuff like that. And no one was doing much about it. Certainly not the President, who clearly had other things on his mind, such as raising money for fellow Democrats and, naturally, turning up for his tee time.
The virtual disappearance of the Obama administration during the awful weeks just past is a summons to deeper thinking, in the political science mode, than most of us have gone in for in a very, very long while.
The question of what we want from government, and what government should logically do for us, could use the intelligent airing it likely won't get in the age of talk radio, Twitter and tossed-off slogans.
Government is a thing we too often praise or denounce without reflecting on what we're saying when we praise or denounce it. The habit into which we have fallen -- that of excoriating or ridiculing our political adversaries -- rarely invites reflection on what kind of government we want and what kind we shouldn't want at all.
"Progressives," as liberals nowadays call themselves, see government as a device for enforcing their cultural and economic preferences: redistribution of income, same-sex marriage, a spirit of laissez faire toward all other countries, including enemies. Libertarians agree on letting just about everybody alone, here as well as abroad. Conservatives find it hard to communicate exactly what they're trying to conserve, apart from a spirit of reverence for the deeds of the Reagan administration.
Politicians of all persuasions, once elected, discover supreme importance lies in their own reelection. They need to continue doing what they're doing. Whatever it is.