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A Superfluous Man: Government: Stay out of social debate

By Anthony Hennen

The only difference between a conservative and a liberal is how they spell their label.

The supposed disconnect between liberalism and conservatism evaporates when one point is recognized: Both take for granted the use of the political means to achieve their ends.

Sure, conservatism focuses on tradition as a guide for society to achieve virtue, while liberalism relies on rationality, reason and expert control to promote equality. However, rather than persuade and illustrate the merits of their respective philosophies, they presume their opinions superior enough to implement their ideas through the law.

The left/right spectrum presents a deceiving dichotomy that ignores philosophies that reject the idea that societal improvement comes through the political system.

By limiting popular and recognized choices to only those which advocate a stronger government, discussion has a tendency to gloss over any prospect of change through individual or communal action that is not encompassed within the law.

The libertarian idea that personal and economic liberties are indivisible or the socialist ideal that rejects private property cannot neatly fit in the traditional spectrum.

A concerning dependency inculcates itself when accepted and expected social change results only through the political system: Individuals are less likely to address a social problem themselves or within a local group when the government is expected to ameliorate the issue.

Localized groups that tighten communal bonds and aggregate intimate knowledge about an issue hardly spring up as much as they did in the 20th and 19th centuries. An increasingly globalized economy partly explains the shift to a centralized, national response rather than decentralized, local responses.

But the larger culprit remains the ever-expanding role of government in society.

When Ohio’s government acquires the responsibility of welfare, individual responsibility for the welfare of others disappears.

In addition, the role of government as problem-solver obscures the inherent nature of social change. Social change causes legislation; legislation does not cause social change.

Legislation and government action is inherently retroactive as public attitude spurs political action. When this reverse causation stands, it overlooks the importance of spontaneous human action to improve societal constructions.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t improve the lives of black Americans and end racism; the spontaneous and concerted efforts of millions of Americans shifted a societal understanding of race and equality, symbolized in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

In fact, because the political system intervened, it might have retarded racial advancement throughout society by crowding-out the effort and effectiveness of grassroots organization and effort. The government took action, what else must be done?

But I don’t want to be misunderstood. Government does not cause all problems, just as the market and society do not solve all problems. Simply, the government is not a terribly effective social construction to address social problems.

Its centralized, bureaucratic nature fails to address social problems in an experimental, constantly changing and decentralized way.

Using the political system to address social problems is akin to using a fork for tomato soup: It might look innovative at the first glance, but on closer inspection it’s incredibly silly.

Anthony Hennen is a junior studying journalism and a columnist for The Post. Do you think government should effect social change?

Email Anthony at


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