Liberals often mock conservatives for supposedly having no answers to modern problems. To hear liberals explain it, the conservative response to everything is “get the government out of it.” And while it is most definitely true that this is a foundational plank of the conservative message, liberals are only giving half of the story when they say this.
The primary reason why “getting the government out” does not sound like a credible solution to most liberals is because most liberals don’t trust the free market. Despite their loud and obnoxious verbiage to the contrary, most liberals really do not believe in the “goodness” of mankind. They do not believe that people will voluntarily help other people; they do not believe in altruism; they do not believe that private relief organizations are capable of meeting the “great need.” How do I know this? Because they consistently vote and promote legislation that makes economic relief mandatory in the form of taxes on wage earners. If liberals actually believed in the “power of the individual” as they claim they do, they would be the biggest cheerleaders of free market and free enterprise solutions. Instead, they force certain individuals to care for, feed, clothe, and house certain other individuals by using the power of government.
In reality, real conservatism walks the middle ground between two opposing views: the individual as ultimate on one end and the state as ultimate on the other; in other words, between the age-old philosophical dilemma of the one or the many. Conservatives acknowledge that civil government is necessary—as both the Declaration of Independence and the Bible in Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 make clear—so they are not willing to go as far as full-fledged libertarians would like, nor are they willing to follow modern liberals down the path of massive intervention as it is currently being foisted on us by civil government. It is true that classical conservatism leaned more to the libertarian side of the equation, while modern conservatism leans more to the liberal side (although “big-government liberals” is a complete non sequitur if the word liberty means anything). Groups like the Tea Party did not rise by accident, but by necessity. Republicans claiming to be conservatives were acting more like liberal Democrats, which simply meant that they bought into the left-wing mantra of the omniscient and all-powerful government.
All of this, of course, hinges on integrity. It is one thing to say what you believe, but it is another thing entirely to live it. Most so-called conservatives don’t trust in the free market and free enterprise any more than do most liberals. Both have come to believe that it is incumbent upon the federal government to “do something.” And in an effort to “do something” they end up restricting the freedoms and finances of one group and enslaving and ensnaring the other.
Herein lies the rub. Integrity—in principle and practice—is required to advance the desired disciplines of honesty, generosity, and compassion, but government is not, and cannot, be the means of advancing such ideals. Why not? Leonard Read tells us why: “Integrity cannot be taught, at best, it can only be caught. And, then, only by those who devoutly wish to be so graced!” Integrity is not a lesson; it is a lifestyle. Are you disturbed and depressed by all of the back-stabbing and double-dealing going on in Washington? Good. Are you also as concerned about them when they happen in your workplace, your friendships, your family? Does integrity define you in all of your dealings, or only in the ones that “matter”? Caleb Colton puts it plainly: “No man can purchase his virtue too dear, for it is the only thing whose value must ever increase with the price it has cost us. Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with all to keep it.” In agreement and in reply, Leonard Read writes:
Those who are truly virtuous are few in number. Keep in mind that scarcity raises the price of everything. Thus the ONE in a thousand is more likely to be disdained than esteemed—a high price! Yet, is it too dear? The few devoted to righteousness have no price that is too dear for this Heavenly aspiration. This virtue is integrity and the few so graced will, more or less, contribute to future generations the enlightenment—superior thinking—that Colton has shared with us.
Do you want to see integrity and honesty in Washington? Do you want to see more believers in free enterprise in leadership positions? Begin with yourself. Begin with your house. Remember, integrity is not taught, it is caught; and it can only be caught when it is seen, and it can only be seen when it is exemplified. Getting government “out” depends upon the very thing government cannot “give”: integrity.