Former Pres. James Madison pointed out that if men were like angels, then no government would be necessary. But given our fallen natures, we are not and thus we contract to government our God-given right of autonomy in exchange for certain things to protect us from ourselves that allow us to maximize our life prospects. But the mistake that often gets made in the process, codified in liberalism, is that what benefits directed to us through government intervention, at the expense of the autonomy of others, are themselves rights even as we fail to understand they are not God-given, but government-given.
In 2007, the state generously decided to award to families of members of the Louisiana National Guard killed in wartime duty $250,000, and to those permanently disabled $100,000. Unfortunately, the program among some has generated envy since it has paid only for casualties since its inception. Others want it extended all the way back to when the hostilities in essence began, Sep. 11, 2001, to award families and affected Guardsman who suffered as far back as then. State officials, recognizing the state is short on money, said they would try to allocate the roughly $8 million to accomplish this.
Notice how suddenly this all became an issue of “fairness.” By creating this extra benefit, the state created a set of beneficiaries which had the effect of allowing others to claim failure to give them the same was a kind of discrimination, confusing the concepts of “benefit” and “right.” Further, this appropriation of what is a “right” for some has mutated into the belief that the state is obligated to supply the resources to allow them to engage in expensive personal growth exercises, such as when one plaintiff says she needs the money to travel the world to attend ceremonies honoring her son and as a “way for us to get through the grieving process.”
Where does it end, this presumed mandatory largesse from government, funded by the confiscation of people’s property? What about the dead and maimed from the Gulf War? And farther back? And shouldn’t police and fire personnel killed in the performance of their duties merit the same amount of aid as a direct appropriation from government? Or what about others who have faced misfortune who didn’t even volunteer to be put into a position of danger? Just within the past two days around Baton Rouge, a stray bullet killed a teenager, a sheriff’s son was victimized in a drive-by shooting, and people gathered to honor the life of a girl also killed by senseless violence. What are these families owed (by government, not by the crimes’ perpetrators), by this logic?
And how about those whose life prospects, through no fault of their own, were radically diminished from their potential from birth? How about a woman like this, should she be given money because of her government-sponsored, legally-caused disability? Or should I get funds to help my “grieving process” when my wife, born with a mutated gene that has robbed her of most of her muscles and forces her to breathe through a machine, finishes her lifespan far shorter than that of the typical person without muscular dystrophy?
There’s a lot of sadness and misfortune in the world and to perceive government as the provider of the resources to compensate for it misunderstands the purpose of government, and places an illegitimate claim on its citizens that turns what should be a gift into an obligation. But that attitude is what happens when we forget what the real nature and purpose of government is and when we allow certain politicians to exploit that or to encourage an inappropriate idea about what government is all about.