Jonah Goldberg
Recommend this article

The Progressives won on Tuesday.

I don't mean the people who voted Democrat who call themselves "progressive." Though they won, too.

I mean the Progressives who've been waging a century-long effort to transform our American-style government into a European-style state.

The words "government" and "state" are often used interchangeably, but they are really different things. According to the founders' vision, the people are sovereign and the government belongs to us. Under the European notion of the state, the people are creatures of the state, significant only as parts of the whole.

This European version of the state can be nice. One can live comfortably under it. Many decent and smart people sincerely believe this is the intellectually and morally superior way to organize society. And, to be fair, it's not a binary thing. The line between the European and American models is blurry. France is not a Huxleyan dystopia, and America is not and has never been an anarchist's utopia, nor do conservatives want it to be one.

The distinction between the two worldviews is mostly a disagreement over first assumptions, about which institutions should take the lead in our lives. It is an argument about what the habits of the American heart should be. Should we live in a country where the first recourse is to appeal to the government, or should government interventions be reserved as a last resort?

These assumptions are formed and informed by political rhetoric. President Obama ran a campaign insisting that Democrats believe "we're all in it together" and that Republicans think you should be "on your own" no matter what hardships you face. We are our brothers' and sisters' "keepers," according to Obama, and the state is how we "keep" each other. The introductory video at the Democratic National Convention proclaimed, "Government is the one thing we all belong to."

Exactly 100 years before Barack Obama's re-election victory, Woodrow Wilson was elected president for the first time. It was Wilson's belief that the old American understanding of government needed to be Europeanized. The key to this transformation was convincing Americans that we all must "marry our interests to the state."

The chief obstacle for this mission is the family. The family, rightly understood, is an autonomous source of meaning in our lives and the chief place where we sacrifice for, and cooperate with, others. It is also the foundation for local communities and social engagement. As social scientist Charles Murray likes to say, unmarried men rarely volunteer to coach kids' soccer teams.

Recommend this article

Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Jonah Goldberg's column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.