Just a brief thought for the day. A couple weeks ago in class, Oliver O’Donovan said, “The more you make the government responsible for everything, the more you call on the government to fix everything.” This profound remark has stuck with me since, and will probably continue to haunt me for a long time.
In this statement, he was playing on the two meanings of the word “responsible”: “guilty” and “in charge of.” In other words, the more you try to make the government responsible for everything in the sense of blaming them for everything, the more you implicitly make them responsible for everything in the sense of being in charge of it all, and so invite them to own up to that responsibility and take it upon themselves to fix everything.
This exposes the danger of the attitude on the far right and particularly among Christian conservatives and libertarians that the best way to fight the idolatry of statism is to almost obsessively decry the state’s sins, demonize the state, and try to prove that all of society’s ills (or at least a large chunk of them) are the state’s fault. In the end, if O’Donovan is right, this attitude shares the left’s idolatry of the state even while claiming to oppose it.
The left looks at society, sees a bunch of problems and says, “Aha! The problem is that the state isn’t doing enough about this--they’re responsible for this injustice--they should fix it by getting more involved” The right looks at society, sees a bunch of problems and says, “Aha! The problem is that the state is doing too much about this--they’re responsible for this injustice--they should fix it by getting less involved!” Now, the problem is that, whatever the goals of the latter stance, it has still functionally made the state an idol, by building it up in its mind into this huge all-powerful entity, which must be obsessed about and engaged with every day. It is still calling upon the state to fix whatever problems it sees in society, and thus still making the state a saviour--although one that saves by self-denial, and so I suppose a more Christian saviour.
Wouldn’t the truly anti-statist stance be one that focuses responsibility for the ills of society on the whole society, rather than on this abstract entity that has achieved quasi-mythical status, “the government”? Or even better, one that focuses responsibility on the Church, which is called upon to bear the sins of society and purge them?