One of the most brilliant and famous allegories in the history of Western literature is J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Whole books have been written on its multiple layers of allegorical subtext. One of my favorites is the ring of power itself.
Symbolic of fallen human nature, the ring of power corrupts everything it touches. The evil Sauron, inspired by Lucifer, seeks to possess the ring so that he can subdue all of Middle Earth with it. Mankind seeks the ring believing that if “good people” possess it they will use its power for good, but alas these “good people” are unable on their own to rise above their base fallen nature, and thus the ring of power corrupts them as well. “Good people” end up becoming monsters. Only by casting the ring of power into the fire, which is a Biblical metaphor for purifying/refining, can Middle Earth be saved.
Such is also the case with government.
During the George W. Bush years, Republicans gained total control of the federal government for the first time in half a century. While this was obviously better than the alternative, it was still fraught with peril because the temptation was to believe that “big government” becomes “compassionate conservativism” and thus becomes our friend when “our guys” are in control of it. Instead of dismantling the statist monstrosity threatening liberty, we just tried to manage it better.
In other words, we put the corrupt ring of power on our finger believing we’d do good with it, rather than casting it into the fire for the sake of real freedom.
And now as we see what truly committed statists are capable of with a government this big – whether it’s the IRS scandal, NDAA, American citizens placed on a drone “kill list” without due process of law, or the now emerging NSA surveillance story – our partisan naiveté about the nature of big government is coming home to roost.
We conservatives would’ve been wise to listen to our libertarian friends about the potential danger of setting a precedent that government can become the good guy provided the good guys are running the joint. We forgot that government is neither good nor bad, but what George Washington once famously compared to a dangerous tool like fire. Both government and fire are necessary to a point of limitation, but left on their own they can quickly rage to the point of diminishing returns.