Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A judicious view of government

David Brooks of The New York Times, a moderate conservative, is right on the money with this column (September 14). He makes a great metaphor:

Throughout American history, in other words, there have been leaders who regarded government like fire (emphasis added)— a useful tool when used judiciously and a dangerous menace when it gets out of control. They didn’t build their political philosophy on whether government was big or not. Government is a means, not an end. They built their philosophy on making America virtuous, dynamic and great. They supported government action when it furthered those ends and opposed it when it didn’t.

(Brooks may not be aware of this, but George Washington used the government as fire metaphor, so he's in good company).

This is exactly my viewpoint, which is why I can't support the tea party movement. The libertarian right considers government inherently bad. Like Brooks, I do not share this view. Government can do good things (e.g. protect the environment, kill terrorists,etc..) and it can do bad things.

This inherent neutrality is not only true for government, but for other institutions, such as religion. Whle I am a nonbeliever, I do not share the Richard Dawkins/Christopher Hitchens negative view of religion. (Hitchens, accurately, refers to himself as an "antitheist.") There are good and bad outcomes from religious belief— Mother Theresa and Osama bin Laden are both "religious." The anthropologist Scott Atran, who has studied religion for many years, has described religion as a "neutral vessel, with nothing intrinsic for the good or bad." See this video at about 3:10 for his thoughts on this subject.

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