Can Government Save Us?
by Mary Wakefield Buxton
Urbanna, Va.— This column recently discussed the role of government, pointing out that some citizens want less government because they want to take responsibility of planning and caring for themselves. Yet others, sometimes through no fault of their own, need government to plan and care for them. I questioned whether it is possible for government to respond to the needs of both groups without infringing on the needs of others.
I also wrote my worst fear for America—concern that dependency might become contagious and numbers of citizens that need government handouts to survive might grow in future years (along with the size of government). If one man gets a check from government, then wouldn’t his working neighbors want to quit work and receive their checks too? Wouldn’t this eventually weaken the nation along with the fiber of its citizens?
My premise in the past has been that man is innately strong, smart, loves freedom, and wants to work hard and take care of himself. Yet, suppose my premise is wrong? Suppose man is innately weak, foolish, and lazy? Suppose he can’t handle freedom because he lacks inner-discipline and, without this trait, freedom will eventually destroy him? Suppose he needs government to direct his every move, keep him working, saving money and making wise health choices throughout his life more or less as a steel track keeps a train going in the right direction?
For this discussion let’s look at what I believe brings man down—the “seven deadly sins” of sloth, gluttony, anger, greed, lust, envy and pride. If it is true that a man’s own behavior can destroy him, could government eliminate such negative behaviors?
Take sloth. I once noticed while touring Lion Country Safari that lions slept all day long, which was a shock to me as I had always thought of the lion as “king of the jungle” and never imagined him asleep. Apparently, if lions are fed and cared for, lions do nothing but sleep. Would man do the same?
I’ve noticed that when I’ve nothing to do in a day, I waste my day. I get up late, doddle here and there, and sometimes I don’t even bother to dress until noon. By lunch, I haven’t accomplished anything. I need a schedule or . . . as the poem says . . . “things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”
Could government protect me from sloth? Could they assign me work and require me to perform some service every day? We have seen communist systems where everyone in society is required to work. The state provides jobs and people who want to eat, show up for work. Would this put an end to sloth?
What about gluttony? I know what I should eat to stay thin and healthy. I know I can’t smoke, consume but so much alcohol, caffeine, red meat and sugar each day, be wary of addictive drugs, and get exercise each day.
But what if I cannot stick to rules for healthy living and allow myself to become addicted and overweight? Can the government enforce change? Well, yes. The government can place high taxes on substances that are harmful to me and the extra expense might stop my indulgence.
Can the government get me off the sofa each night and walking on the streets of Urbanna for my own good? The government might “nudge” (nudge is the preferred word, not “force”) me to walk each day simply by requiring the doctor to report my waist size each year to the IRS and taxing me accordingly. If I had to pay more taxes for being fat, I might get up and walk.
What about envy? Some call envy the most dangerous of all the seven deadly sins as it works inside a man’s brain to destroy him just like poison. Can the government eradicate envy?
The government might try to enforce absolute equality in every part of life so that everyone makes the same salary regardless of work, dress the same, be required to walk or take mass transit, live in the same housing, attend the same schools, eat the same food and even vacation at the same resort. Would that put a stop to envy?
Or can man save himself? Can he develop inner-discipline and self-control to save him from destruction that too much freedom might deliver? Is he smart enough, strong enough, willing to work hard enough and does he cherish personal freedom so much that he is willing to overcome the seven deadly sins?
Have we reached a point in America where man is standing at a fork in the woods? One path maintains personal freedom but comes with a requirement that man must accept responsibility to control his own inner weaknesses.
History teaches us well where the other path leads—a totalitarian government that will do it all for us.