Conservatism Means Replacing Big Government With Civil Society

March 19, 2013

The president's second inaugural address wasan advertisement for the biggest, most expensive government the world has ever known.

It was a pitch for new government solutions, more government programs, and the promises of government-made utopia.

Of course, no mention was made about the future cost of the president's vision for the country, how to pay for it, or the damage that will occur from increasing our debt.
Conservatives hear this message and get pulled into a debate over the proper size of government, or whether a certain policy represents good government or bad government.

We argue for a smaller or more limited government, or one that is more efficient or more affordable. Unfortunately, this is often where we lose attention of the American people because it fails to articulate a positive vision of what America looks like under the type of government we are striving to create.

It is time for conservatives to reframe the debate. It is time to focus on the principles that will lead us to the kind of country and society we want for our future and ourselves.
Here is the principle I ask conservatives to consider: The opposite of bad government is not good government. It isn't even limited government. The opposite of bad government is a Civil Society. A free and strong civil society is built on the innate desire of Americans to freely contribute to the betterment of the community.

It is not the product of bureaucratic, centralized decision-makers handing down rules and regulations for rest of us to follow.

Civil Society is the result of the relationships that connect, bind and strengthen us. It is derived from the condition in each of us to do our part to help those around us.
Civil Society is where free individuals thrive and communities flourish. The interconnection of local communities has always been at the heart of our nation. I am convinced that our future success will be found in a return to that connectedness that has driven the American dream from the beginning.

We see the bonds of civil society when a parent instills values in a child, when a doctor heals a patient, when a teacher stays late to help a student learn to read, when a neighbor stops to help a neighbor, when a pastor inspires faith in a troubled soul — these are the keys to restoring our faith in the institutions of civil society and away from dependence on an administrative state full of so-called experts.

"We, the people" does not mean a collective adherence to the agenda of the ruling class. It instead means as Americans we share basic values and principles that when viewed as a whole help form and secure a more perfect union.

Conservatives' belief in civil society is grounded in the bedrock principles of freedom, self-reliance and self-governance, and is manifest in the form of historic American institutions including the family, schools, churches, private groups and civic organizations.

These institutions of civil society teach the morals, values and behaviors that instill faith, confidence and trust between individuals, communities and even government.
The Constitution of this great nation provides the framework that ennobles the vision of the individual while enabling the value of the institutions to create an environment where people are secure, prosperous, and free.

Government cannot create a civil society, but it can kill it. Over the past 80 years the federal government has expanded well beyond its constitutional limits.

The history of progressivism demonstrates that as the power of the federal government increases, the ability to self-govern diminishes.

And as self-governance decreases, so does the influence of the institutions of civil society. Soon the ability to instill faith, confidence and trust among individuals and communities is replaced by the false promises of big government.
Today we are witnessing what happens at the end of the progressive, big government approach.

After the promises of federal solutions have eroded our faith in the institutions of family, school, church and community, and having spent our nation to the brink of bankruptcy progressives simply shrug their shoulders, throw up their hands and say, "it isn't my fault, it isn't my job and it isn't my responsibility." That is a very un-American approach to a challenge.

America is extraordinary, not because of who we are, but because of what we do. Despite the current crushing weight of our bloated federal bureaucracy, we can still see the strength of our nation's fabric through the intertwining actions of the genuine heroes around us.

They are often disguised as the daily deeds that everyday citizens perform, every day. But they are powerful reminders of the strength of the American spirit and the values that we share.

As conservatives we need to promote vigorously civil society in our public policy.
We must drive policies that strengthen our connectedness and reaffirm the role of the institutions of civil society. When we look within and to each other, instead of looking to Washington and government, we will see the greatness of our country reemerge.

Originally published in Investors Business Daily