War is the one circumstance under which the government conducting it becomes an activist government, i.e. a Big Government. It is the one time, more so than any other, when it is expected that the government will enlist the daily activities of civil society in the service of fulfilling its purposes. That war is the emblem of Big Government explains why those who wish to see America’s federal government assume this activist role on the domestic scene not infrequently invoke the imagery of war (“The War on Drugs” and “The War on Poverty” are just two examples that come to mind).
But as real conservatives have always known, individual liberty and Big Government are mutually incompatible. Real conservatives have also known that it is not uncommon for the best laid plans of men—particularly when they are men holding political office—to go awry. And under no conditions is this more likely to occur than the unconditioned chaos of war.
In spite of this, most of today’s Republicans who insist upon calling themselves “conservatives” maintain that we are at war with an enemy that, because it has none of the distinctness of those governments that we’ve gone to war with in the past, promises to be intractable. Our war is a war without end.
However, a war without end requires a big military without end.
And a big military without end is Big Government without end.
To put it directly, the Republican Party is either self-delusional or deceptive, for its rhetoric of “limited government” and “individual liberty” is radically at odds with its enthusiasm for growing the military ad infinitum. A smaller, decentralized, truly federal government most definitely is compatible with liberty. In fact, the latter can’t exist without the former. Calls for Big Government, though, are nothing less than calls for a drastic diminution of liberty and, as in the case of Somers, ever greater individual suffering.
These Republican “conservatives” should bear in mind what no true conservative would ever need to be told: as long as they get their wish, the Daniel Somers of the world will only multiply.
Jack Kerwick received his doctoral degree in philosophy from Temple University. His area of specialization is ethics and political philosophy. He is a professor of philosophy at several colleges and universities in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Jack blogs at Beliefnet.com: At the Intersection of Faith & Culture. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on facebook. You can also follow him on twitter.