Liberty Defense League Timothy Baldwin Romans 13

You Are Here: Articles Sunday, March 15, 2015

by Tim Baldwin

Part 4 addresses A Conservative Vision of Government section, Law and Character. I will refer to A Conservative Vision of Government  as “the article,” not to be confused with the article I am writing, which I do not refer to herein as “the article.”

The article contrasts the difference in philosophy between libertarians and Republicans and shows why all conservatives should work together to defeat the greater enemy destroying the basic principles of limited government. The article states the fact, but according to, this should make conservative blood boil, showing that passion and politics do not mix because it leads to irrational responses to what is political reality and creates factions that sacrifice the greater for the lesser.

Law and Character

This section of the article begins with this theme: “Public policy designed without regard to its moral implications is not neutral but destructive of society's moral architecture.” In short, it states that “laws have a moral component” and “by definition, laws shape habits, values, and sensibilities.” This general statement of law’s character comports to the Founders’ and Enlightenment philosopher’s description—and to many TEA Partiers’ description as well—but it is not a libertarian or anarchist philosophy.

Enlightenment philosopher, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui described law in his The Principles of Natural and Politic Law the way the article describes. He said,

The end of law in regard to the subject [i.e. citizen] is…[to] acquire happiness…[and] for [his] preservation…[I]t is the happiness of the subject that forms the satisfaction and glory of the sovereign [i.e. legislature]…With this view the sovereign is willing to direct his people better than they could themselves, and gives a check on their liberty, lest they should make a bad use of it contrary to their own and the public good. (Part I, Chapter 10, Parts II, III.)[1]

James Madison recited the same idea, stating,

[T]he safety and happiness of society are the objects at which all political institutions aim (FP 43). A good government implies two things: first, fidelity to the object of government, which is the happiness of the people; secondly, a knowledge of the means by which that object can be best attained (FP 62).

And Hamilton said similarly, “[the] federal government [should be] capable of regulating the common concerns and preserving the general tranquility” (FP 16).

While some TEA Partiers describe government’s purpose as only protecting individual rights of “life, liberty and property,” this Lockean description was not the prevalent view that led to the Constitution’s formation and application. Notable founders acknowledged that government’s purpose was to regulate the “common concerns,” preserve the “general tranquility,” “check liberty,” and enable a “happy society.”

With this in mind, the article shows that the Republican Party is not libertarian and sees laws’ legitimacy to regulate “civil rights, crime and incarceration, welfare, marriage, religious liberty…hard drugs, exploit[ation of] other men and women,” etc. It admits that “the state [is not] always wise or successful in influencing the values and habits of the nation” and points to the “nation’s experiment with the prohibition of alcohol” as a clear example of “counterproductive outcomes.” But “these examples illustrate…not the legitimacy of government action but the need for modest expectations and for getting policies right.”

Burlamaqui stated a similar philosophy of laws’ object. He said,

the object of laws in general is to correct bad inclinations, to prevent vicious habits, to hinder their effects, and to eradicate the passions; or at least to contain them within their proper limits” (The Principles of Natural and Politic Law, Part II, Chapter II, Part V).

The Federalists likewise thought that determining the “proper limits” of regulation requires experience to reveal social errors and benefits; and that politicians must consider what is “evident from the state of the country, from the  habits of the people, from the experience we have had on the point itself, that it is impracticable” to do this or that (FP 12).

In truth, the delegates to the 1787 Constitutional Convention did not draft a constitution they deemed was the best constitution based on principles alone. Rather, they drafted a constitution on very practical grounds to save the union and on principles they thought would be acceptable to the people at that time. So Pierce Butler said,

Supposing such an establishment [of Congress having a direct veto power over State laws] to be useful, we must not venture on it. We must follow the example of Solon who gave the Athenians not the best government…but the best they would receive. (Debates in the Federal Convention, June 5, 1787.)

So, yes, the formula for good government considers constitutional interpretation; but it also considers the common needs and desires of the nation along with the current conditions.

On this ground, the article states that the true “conservative political philosophy cannot be reduced to untrammeled libertarianism.” That is, “government has a necessary (if limited) role in reinforcing social norms and expectations,” which include “moral and cultural [and] economic” concerns. This is the “essence of opportunity: a traditionally conservative…goal,” so the article states.

The article notes that for “many in the libertarian and Tea Party wings of the GOP, however, such concessions are at best made grudgingly;” that “these conservatives, if left to their own devices, would say almost nothing about these matters;” and that these conservatives see government’s obligation as only “protect[ing] individual liberty…while concepts such as the common good…are regarded as so much liberal claptrap.”

This is not a moral judgment against those “conservatives” but is a real distinction in political philosophy. Clearly, the article sees a difference between mainstream TEA Partiers[2] and other types that have a far different political worldview. But this has always been the case with the Republican agenda, and it can be seen throughout history, most recently in 1994 with the Contract With America movement led by then-called “far right Republicans.”

Since the TEA Party is not really a party, it enables a sort of melting pot of political groups and types to self-identify with a movement they perceive as a political alternative that will supposedly help their chances of gaining political power. As such, the TEA Party is comprised of libertarians, self-described constitutionalists, anarchists, conservative Republicans, among others. The article simply observes that TEA Party fringes are not helping the conservative movement and liberty by constantly tearing down other conservatives, and that all conservatives should work together to defeat the greater enemy.

After comparing the article’s content with historical concepts of the law’s character, an objective person can hardly walk away with boiling blood unless he finds the Age of Reason and Federalists (the philosophy of America’s founding) reprehensible. If that is the case, let those people say so and be honest with the origins of their political philosophy. At least that would be a start to identifying an actual party platform to which people can ascribe and potentially advance in an organized manner. But as it is, the TEA Party helps neither liberty nor themselves by injecting irrational passion into politics.


[1] Samuel Pufendorf said similarly in his The Whole Duty of Man According to the Law of Nature, “Laws…are necessary for the Safety and common Benefit of Mankind.” (Chapter III, Section I.)

[2] There is a “considerable overlap between [the Tea Party] and the official Republican agenda.” See also Tea Party Platform—a small replica of the Republican Party platform.


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