Strong-government conservatism is, in my view, about strengthening citizens and communities. Unleashing the potential of the most hard-working among us is a good and worthwhile thing to do. The trouble is that the republic doesn’t rise and fall on the backs of Enterprisers alone. Tax-cutting is not enough, particularly for those who pay no taxes but live in broken communities filled with broken families, communities that can be found in the Great Plains, in the inner suburbs, and in the inner cities. ~Reihan Salam, Cato Unbound

Goodness knows no one would confuse me with a libertarian (though libertarians do not have the monopoly on hostility to “strong government”), but when I see something like this I am baffled. How, pray, does a “strong” government “strengthen” citizens, much less communities? By getting the citizens to eat their Wheaties? Perhaps it is a counterintuitive approach: the more invasive and intrusive the state becomes, the stronger the citizens have to become simply to keep their heads above water? I doubt this is the image Mr. Salam wants to conjure up. It reminds me of the Dutch film Character, where Katadreuffe’s nasty, brutish father justifies his oppression of the young man as an exercise in adversity that will toughen him up (briefly entertaining the option of squeezing the life out of him all together).

There is nothing that a government can actively do that will “strengthen” the citizenry. (Note that there seems to be no acknowledgement of where these “broken communities” across the country came from, as if they simply broke down of their own accord without any external pressure from one or the other federal policy.) I am with our libertarian friends in recognising the state for what it is: a crude, blunt instrument of force, and these days it is mostly a parasite draining the life from the body politic. This isn’t a new thing–read Bill Kauffman’s Look Homeward, America for some memorable examples of how the parasite has sapped our country’s vitality for a very long time. When the leech gets stronger, we citizens are diminished.

It was bad enough when the man from the government was here to “help” you. Now that he is also coming, in Mr. Salam’s vision, to “strengthen” you, you had best make sure your affairs are in order before you have to endure the process of “strengthening.”