Home/Daniel Larison/What Being The Party of “Limited Government” Means in Practice

What Being The Party of “Limited Government” Means in Practice

Greg Scoblete marvels at the contradictions in the Republican platform:

It’s a breathtaking transformation and one that is, ideologically at least, nonsensical. The national security state is the antithesis of limited government.

Scoblete doesn’t put too much importance on party platforms, but he’s right that they indicate what activist members of the party think. The contradictions of the platform are partly the product of trying to cobble together policy views of an unwieldy coalition. Despite a high degree of formal ideological uniformity inside the GOP (a huge majority of Republicans identifies as conservative), there is just as much incoherence as one would expect to find in a party that aspires to represent a major portion of a continental nation-state. For example, there is no logical reason why pro-life Christians and evangelicals support the party that is the most aggressive in its hegemonist foreign policy. For different reasons, these people or their parents joined the Republican coalition over thirty years ago, and they remain in it long after the reasons for joining disappeared or became politically irrelevant. The modern Republican coalition exists because of historical accidents dating back to the 1970s and 1980s, and it is held together today mostly by shared grievances. The platform reflects that.

As I said elsewhere today, limited government is a useful phrase for concealing a government of enormous power and intrusiveness. The national security state is the antithesis of a constitutional government of limited and enumerated powers, but that isn’t really the limited government that many contemporary advocates of limited government have in mind. Theirs is the “limited but energetic government” of David Brooks and Paul Ryan, and it includes more than enough room for the national security and warfare state. “Limited government” is the phrase that big-government conservatives use to paper over the fact that they favor a powerful and activist federal government, albeit one with different spending priorities for the benefit of different interest groups.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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