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Limited Government Explained

Updated on November 16, 2017


Recently, in discussion on various hub topics, I realized many people have a misunderstanding of conservatives when it comes to limited government. In this hub, I will try to explain what "limited government" means to a conservative.

-July 2015

The Constitution

Every discussion of government policies should begin with the Constitution. It is a guide as to what is allowed or permitted. Sometimes, a grey zone is reached and that's where the courts get involved. Their role, under the Constitution, is to "interpret" the intent of the Constitution and rule on the "Constitutionality" of a given law. However, they are not there to re-write the law.

Some Misconceptions...

The main misconception I hear from liberals regarding conservatives is that conservatives want to keep the status quo. Conservatives wants government to do as little as possible. We want unfettered Capitalism.

These are all untrue. Conservatives want our government to follow the Constitution.

What Are Some Guidelines?

Government actions can take on many forms. There are some power enumerated by the Constitution reserved for the Federal Government. The rest, Federalism, assigned them to each State to implement as they see fit. Some guidelines are sweeping such as Interstate Commerce or "promote the general welfare..."

The question for all of us is - what is the proper role of government?

A Real Example

The solar energy market is one example where the government over step its reach and power. As a conservative, I also disagree with other government interventions in the oil and gas business and in the farming business.

I get the government's interest in combating climate change. I have no problem with funding the NSF to study and improve solar cell technologies. That is part of "basic science" and we should all be interested in enhancing all sciences.

Where I disagree with the government involvement in encouraging the development of solar power, is the funding of Corporations such as Solyndra and SolarCity.

These private companies should not be getting government funding, even loans, or tax breaks, to tryout a new technology. They and their shareholders or private investors are the ones that should take on that risk. If they succeed, great, the investors reap the benefit. If they fail, too bad, they also lose. It is not the federal government's role to pick winners and losers in the energy business.

Government's role should only be in making sure the competition is fair (no monopolies to control prices). The companies should follow SEC regulations.

An Analogy

To state it another way, let me use an analogy. The Federal Government is like a Casino Owner. He sets the rules of the game. The games have various probabilities of winnings. The house takes its cut (taxes). The house provides for security and oversight to insure the games are conducted fairly and with no criminal elements (federal agencies SEC, DOJ, FBI...). This is good common sense and good for business. The gamblers (entrepreneurs and businesses) are free to play or gamble within the confines of the casino. There are no favoritism. The Casino may provide some small incentives such as free drinks, meal tickets and even free room upgrades to entice the big rollers but they cannot influence the game tables to favor one gambler over another.


In this hub, I tried to explain what conservatives believe the proper roll of government is. It is based on our understanding of the Constitution. If someone wish to change it, they can use the Amendment process. That is the proper way to institute changes to our government. Conservatives don't believe unelected judges have the power to legislate laws or interpret the Constitution to imply powers that does not exist.


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    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      5 years ago from Yorktown NY

      My esoteric, thanks for the encouragement. I found joining a writing workshop is a great motivator. I was able to finish my memoir in 6 months. The support and constructive criticism was really helpful. Also, getting a different perspective from a group of talented people also helped me a lot. Good luck with finishing your book. I would like to read it when it is finished. Even though we disagree on many issues, I found your comments constructive and help me sharpen my own thinking.

    • My Esoteric profile image

      Scott Belford 

      5 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      I wish you good luck with your book, don't stop like I have. I am 94% done with one on recessions, and have been 94% done for three years now. My procrastination is pissing me off.

      Reagan is a flaming liberal turned conservative. In the end, he was of the Burke-Kirk mold.

      While labels like Democrat and Republican change a lot with time, those for philosophical systems do not. The conservative principles of Burke;s day are pretty much the same as when Kirk laid down his beliefs; in fact, he simply updated Burke.

      A conservative is a conservative no matter what time period you look at. A liberal is a liberal regardless of the year as well.

      What changes are modifications around the edges. but the core beliefs remain constant. Back in the day, being a liberal was much like being a libertarian but with a belief in a strong central gov't, relative to the Articles of Confederation. A libertarian would prefer the Continental Congress over what we have today.

      In either case, the core value of a liberal is individual liberty - by definition. Over time, when liberty extend from just landed white men to include all men and women, the role of government changed. Those who believe, like I do, that the gov't must actively guarantee individual liberty, we are called by some academics "active-state liberals". Those liberals who think the gov't does not have a role, and that social Darwinism is a better path, are called "limited" or "minimal-state" liberals. In either case, by philosophical commonality, they are nevertheless liberal.

      And please don't believe that conservationism is individual-based, it is not. That lack of individual orientation is what Hobbes, Locke, and others rebelled against when they created the age of enlightenment or the age of liberalism.

      'Dems da facts, my friend.

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      5 years ago from Yorktown NY

      I am working on the book now and I've been thinking about how to qualify my form of conservatism. There is no law that say, I need to adopt all previous conservative views to be a conservative. In my mind, as long as I adhere to general conservative principles, I am in good company.

      I've decided to label it "Reagan Constitutional Conservatism". It combines the three items that are dear to me. Ronald Reagan and his successful administration, the Constitution which is the basis for our success as the most prosperous and exceptional nation, and conservatism which is a philosophy of governing and living that is in tune with our human nature as created by God. I hope that helps you understand. By the way, no labels, conservative, liberal, progressive or libertarian is absolute. They are just that, a short cut to describe a general concept and usually needs to be explained in context. Whether we are discussing politics, religion or social behavior, I believe conservatism is the best approach. I am not claiming it is perfect. No system is perfect at this time on earth. I do believe we will get there when Christ returns and setup his new kingdom.

    • My Esoteric profile image

      Scott Belford 

      5 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      Then it would help a lot if you start calling yourself a conservative. That label describes a certain set of philosophies as described first by Edmund Burke, expanded upon by Russell Kirk, and exposed by William F. Buckley Jr.

      Famous political conservatives:

      John C. Calhoun

      Barry Goldwater

      Joe McCarthy

      George Wallace

      Jefferson Davis

      David Pryor

      Dale Bumpers

      Richard Shelby

      J. Strom Thurmond

      Lester Maddox

      and so on and so on

      Each followed most of the principles that define conservatism.

      Tell me, when you read Kirk's 10 conservative principles, do you agree with each one. If so, you are a traditional conservative, if you don't, then you are probably a liberal of some flavor; most probably a libertarian.

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      5 years ago from Yorktown NY

      My esoteric, I am actually working on a book on Conservatism. Please don't mistake conservatism with the definition of Conservative. It is not to maintain the status quo. It is to keep government from over reach. There is a difference. Also, please don't refer to me as one of those on the right...I am a conservative but also an individual. I am not one of those on the right in the way you seems to perceive. You have read too much into the term conservative and you need to listen to what I'm actually saying.

      Would it help if I say I am Purple... And I believe in the Constitution...?

    • jackclee lm profile imageAUTHOR

      Jack Lee 

      5 years ago from Yorktown NY

      My esoteric, I thought I was pretty clear about limited govenment but I am glad you raised the issue here. The limited govenment is what is stated in the Constitution. The Constitution, which I'm sure you've read, has enumerated powers for a very good reason. It is to prevent the federal government of over reach. Why stipulate specific powers if the intent was otherwise? What was intended is for the States to cover the rest because most things are better handled at the local level and because they are more invested in the solution. The other factor is for states to experiment with various policies and if they succeed, other states could imitate, where they fail, other states may try something else. Your statement regarding the Supreme Court does not make sense to me. Are you saying the Courts does have the right to make laws? I totally disagree. They are to interpret the law. When they fail to do so such as with Row vs. Wade, they step over the bound. That decision change the law regarding abortion and guess what, even today, 40 years later, half of all Americans still disagree with that decision.

      Over the years, the courts have over stepped its bound and in most cases, for the worst. In my opinion, the ACA was another glaring example of a failed decision. It is the court's duty to determine if a law is constitional or not, not to determine the intent of the law and then rule based on that. In which case, what's the point of writing any law? If the court can just determine what was intented by Congress? Do you see what I mean?

    • My Esoteric profile image

      Scott Belford 

      5 years ago from Keystone Heights, FL

      When you say "Their role, under the Constitution, is to "interpret" the intent of the Constitution and rule on the "Constitutionality" of a given law. " - I couldn't agree more.

      But when you follow with the standard conservative mantra - "However, they are not there to re-write the law." - you lose me. The fact is that anytime the SC "interprets" a law passed by Congress, then the losing side will ALWAYS claim the Court has re-written the law; it is a definition thing.

      Worse for you, almost all of the controversial decisions by the SC in the history of the US was done by a conservative Court. Why can I make that claim? Because conservatives have controlled the Court for 80% of its existence. Once Chief Justice John Marshall left the Court, it turned decidedly conservative. It wasn't until about 1937 did the Court become solidly non-conservative. It because liberal in the 1960s before switching direction again with Chief Justice Rehnquist in the 1980s. All of the decisions that neutered the laws passed to implement the 14th and 15th amendments were conservative decisions to re-write the intention of those two seminal Amendments.

      The common dictionary definition of "conservative" is "a person who is averse to change and holds to traditional values and attitudes, typically in relation to politics." How is that NOT - "conservatives want to keep the status quo. Conservatives wants government to do as little as possible."

      Although your title suggest the Hub was going to explore the definition of "limited", a catch-phrase of the Right. Unfortunately, without context has zero meaning, none, nill, zilch, nada. "Limited" is in the eye of the beholder and with 300 million + people in America, there are 300 million plus definitions people hold about the concept of limited.

      Limited in what regard? Power or size or both, or something else. Is having only one power, say the power to tax exports, and all other powers are guaranteed to the State what you are talking about "limited". Or, on the other hand, is the States having only one power, say to appoint officers to the militia, an valid example of "limited". Of course it is because there is one power the Federal government does not have and is reserved specifically to the state in the Constitution.

      So, the question is, who determines what "limited" means within the boundaries of the Constitution? You certain don't and I certainly don't. Nor do all those on the Right who loudly proclaim that the government to day is not "limited"; it is a factious proclamation.

      There is only one body, the Supreme Court, which has the power and authority to declare this law exceeds the power granted by the Constitution and which law does not. Sometimes they make politically and philosophically driven bad decisions, e.g., Dred Scott, Hobby House, and Citizens United, and it will take many years to overturn them; in the case of the three mentioned, it will probably require a Constitutional Amendment (in Scott, it took the 14th Amendment)

      Consequently, I have to chuckle each time someone on the Right tries to make the case that this or that violates the theory of "limited" government, because they haven't a clue as to what it really means.


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