In my latest reading of Clear and Present Dangers: A Conservative View of America's Government, M. Stanton Evans discusses and is critical of liberal justifications for expanding the role of the federal government, even though the Tenth Amendment limits the federal government's powers to those enumerated in the U.S. Constitution.
These liberal justifications include the
following: the argument that small government made sense in the
Founders' time but since then we have learned that small government
doesn't work because it leads to unfettered capitalism and thus the
inequality of wealth, plus we live in a more advanced time; a liberal
application of Article I, Section 8, which includes the Commerce Clause
allowing the federal government to regulate interstate commerce, the
stipulation that the legislative branch of the federal government can
collect taxes for the general welfare, and the Necessary and Proper
Clause permitting the U.S. Congress to enact whatever laws it deems
necessary to carry out its enumerated powers; the Fourteenth Amendment,
which Evans says has been abused to justify many examples of federal
intervention in state and local affairs; and the notion that the U.S.
Constitution is a living document.
In terms of Evans' critique of these liberal justifications, I'll only mention three points that Evans made:
Evans says on page 45 that conservative judges in the early 1900's
deserve some blame for the abuse of the Fourteenth Amendment, for they
appealed to that amendment to overturn "industrial regulations enacted
by the states." My guess is that, because the Fourteenth
Amendment says that states cannot deprive people of life, liberty, and
property, conservative judges maintained that states cannot impose
industrial regulations, which (in their minds) undermined liberty and
Second, Evans critiques the notion that the U.S.
Constitution is a living document by noting that it lays out a formal
process for it to be amended, which (according to Evans) would be
strange if its Framers believed that the U.S. Constitution was living
and breathing and could be "changed from age to age merely by
interpretation" (page 47).
Third, Evans says on page 44
that "Most favored by the centralizing interest from the time of
Hamilton on has been the phraseology in Article I, Section 8..."
This intrigued me because Evans was acknowledging that a liberal
interpretation of Article I, Section 8 went back to the early days of
the United States, as far back as the time of Hamilton. Would
that call into question the argument that some liberals have used that
small government worked in the early days of America but has since
become outdated, since there were some who did not care for small
government even in the early days of the United States?
I started Evans' chapter entitled "The Power of the President".
In this chapter, Evans argues that, while a number of liberals have
criticized President Richard Nixon for making the Presidency more
powerful, liberals themselves----including some of the liberals who were
criticizing Nixon----spoke highly of a strong Presidency when it came
to Presidents prior to Nixon. It's easy for ideologues to be
inconsistent, to think that a strong Presidency is all right when it
serves their ends, but not when it does not. Even today, there are
people who criticize President George W. Bush for circumventing the
legislative branch at times, even though President Barack Obama has done
the same thing.
But, if the Presidency is given the power to do
good, would it also have the power to do evil? I think that this is a
significant reason that libertarians support limited government.
Personally, I'd hope that the election process would keep leaders in
check. The danger there, however, would be that the majority could
become a tyranny, which could potentially stomp on the rights of the
minority. Should there not be limits on government power, even
if the majority wants for the government to have power that exceeds
those limits? I wrestle with this question. I do think that a
reason that government exists is to enact policies that promote the
general welfare as well to stop wrongdoing that harms people. Consequently,
I have a hard time saying that it's an abuse of power for the
government (say) to require everyone to have health insurance, and to
stop health insurance companies from dropping people who get sick. Are
we on a slippery slope when we give the government the right to make
those decisions, though? Wouldn't we be on a slippery slope if we gave
the government any power? And yet, libertarians could then
argue that this is why the government should respect the Constitution:
it legally sets limits on government power by telling the government
what it can and cannot do.
I'll stop here.
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