Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Moral Role of Government

My response:
Hm. I actually think Judge Walker was correct in just about everything he said, and as uncomfortable as it makes me, there's also not a great case against the ground zero mosque except as anti-Muslim. I agree, it's extremely dangerous to have an 'elite' ignoring the desires of the people, but it's also dangerous to have a majority dictate the rights of minorities - a major reason I actually don't believe in democracy but instead believe in a republic is that I think a good system leaves everybody to their own desires as long as those desires don't directly and demonstrably harm others, and democracies suck at dealing with that. The very idea of a vote on gay marriage is repulsive to me because permissible behavior by a minority of consenting citizens amongst themselves is not something we should be allowed to vote on.
In short, I have always felt that majorities telling minorities what is morally acceptable is no better than elite governments telling the majority what is morally acceptable. There's clearly a standard we agree upon for the sake of society - no murder, no robbery, etc - but I'm gonna have a hard time with the argument if it goes beyond stability into (functionally) secular or religious proselytization. So I actually disagree with most of the op-ed because by definition, in issues concerning what is permissible for minorities that is distasteful to the majority, you in fact can't trust ordinary Americans.
Yes, because this is a limited-role-of-government stance, it does require a lot of becoming at peace with things you're uncomfortable with. If it's not the role of government to tell people what they must do beyond the minimum needed to uphold a thriving society, that means that even things like polygamy have to at least be considered as okay (something social conservatives would disagree with me on as being immoral and social liberals would largely disagree with me on as ignoring the status of women in polygamous relationships) unless there's another case (which there is - a public health case - but I'm not sure it's strong enough to hold). In short, it's a "live and let live" stance and that can't be a code for 'making government just small enough to deal with the morals I think everyone else should abide by and nothing else'
This obviously doesn't apply to what he says about the healthcare bill, where I largely agree with him. That was an entirely different type of bill (fiscal rather than social, and one that requires a degree of nuance in setting up the system instead of a simple "yes/no" answer like the others he mentions).
I highly recommend De Tocqueville's Democracy in America, or at least the sparknotes, if you're interested in this type of thinking of majority and minority rights.

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