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Day September 22, 2004

Restoring a true American vision of government (DCV, Part 4)

In my previous post in this series, I examined the premises that lay behind the conservative/libertarian “small government” vision. That vision has proved quite potent as a rallying point for conservative attacks against New Deal liberalism. Surrounding the core vision, iconic metaphors related to heroic self-reliance and personal responsibility help provide a consistent worldview (see George Lakoff’s Moral Politics) and thus the “values” so prized in conservative political discourse.

I finished the last post by claiming that the “small government” vision is a mirage — a philosophy which rests upon several fallacies. First among these fallacies is the apparent conflict between “negative” rights and “positive” entitlements. This dichotomy creates a cleavage point between an apparent “true” tradition of liberal natural rights, and a “false” and illiberal addition of entitlements, and allows modern conservatives to claim to be the heirs of the true Founding liberal tradition, and depict the New Deal as a regrettable (and unconstitutional) expansion of state power to create the modern regulatory welfare state. Not only is the dichotomy false (as amply documented by Holmes and Sunstein in The Cost of Rights), but it rests upon a second, more damaging fallacy.