What Government Is
At the founding of this country, a foundational idea was what conservatives refer to as limited government. I won’t quote the Declaration of Independence to you, but I’ll state the principle as being that people are to be left alone as far as can be, and that the government exists only to secure such rights as people have from God.
What the government was NOT intended to be, and should not be now, is a vehicle for general collectivist action. If you want to associate with other like-minded people to carry out whatever project you have in mind, go ahead. But the government should not be that association. Too many reflexively turn to the government for everything.
This is a problem because everything the government does is coercive. In fact, the function of government is only to coerce. It has rightly been said that the purpose of government is to hold a monopoly on violence. I’m not an anarchist – I support the idea that there needs to be a government and that it needs to enforce some non-negotiables necessary to a civilized society, as with enforcing the criminal law. But I am (and the founders of this country were) wary of power becoming centralized in the government, because government is so easily employed as an engine of tyranny, as we have seen countless times in history. Collectivist action is not ipso facto wrong. We are to a large (but not entire) extent social creatures, and it is natural for us to congregate in various forms. But government is a particularly dangerous and pernicious vehicle for collectivist expression.
There is a materialist orientation to this tendency, too. By “materialism,” I mean the philosophical point of view that there is no supernatural reality; everything is physical or an emergent property of that which is physical. I certainly recognize that not all political “progressivists” are atheists. But their perception of problems to be resolved, and the solutions they push, assume a materialist outlook on the sum of reality.
This is important for a lot of reasons, but one of them has to do with what materialists as opposed to theists think about human nature. For example, theists for the most part understand that people and institutions are not perfectible. No amount of expansion of law to govern our everyday lives is going to change human nature. At most it changes outward behavior, and only at extreme and dehumanizing loss of freedom, as in Maoist China and the USSR.
Most theist outlooks, by contrast, and certainly Christianity, assume that while people are not perfectible, if they seek to please God, they will self-govern their behavior. Not perfectly, but usually to a standard above the minimal threshold we consider criminal. That doesn’t mean that we should require a theist point of view (if such requiring were possible) because this isn’t a political principle, it’s a practical one, and it applies individually. A society of individuals who mostly draw their sense of right and wrong from a divine source, instead of within themselves, can function in a climate of greater freedom.
Loss of Freedom
The “progress” sought by many now is not the protection of individual freedom, but rather a utopian ideal of how people ought to behave. So we have more and more law, and more and more social opprobrium for “wrong” behavior. I reckon freedom to be living my life as I choose, without coercion to be or do something the collective requires.
Those with the political view dominant in the culture now never ever say we need fewer laws. Their every instinct is for greater and greater control, and that through government. It’s about power. They talk about “policies” all the time, but what they mean is law, and law is coercion. Every new law ever enacted is a restriction on someone’s freedom.