Acton Institute Powerblog

The Role of Limited Government

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Our religious and political rights are uniquely bound up together. Most young Americans, and far too many older native born American citizens, have little or no idea how important this truth really is.

The central idea behind this unique relationship in American political understanding is limited government. This is really what classical liberalism understood and fervently practiced. Modern liberalism has little or nothing to do with this understanding, preferring to stress ideologies that are neither truly liberal nor limited.

The founding fathers fervently believed that we were all created equal, with inherent rights to life and liberty given to us by God. This belief was rooted in both Judeo-Christian beliefs and some elements of Enlightenment philosophy. The securing of these rights was the very basis for a limited government. And a limited government was based upon the understanding that true power arose from the governed who were willing to consent to a just government.

There were some very big differences of opinion among our founding fathers, such as two very different views of America’s future as represented by Jefferson and Hamilton. In some ways these two distinct views clashed in the Civil War, as North and South came to represent these two differing positions. But regardless of these early differences what clearly united the founders was a deep respect for individual rights and for limited government.

This is one reason why public education developed in the United States. We wanted an educated populace so that we could protect our rights and become an informed people who would protect basic liberties through a limited government. This is also why religious liberty has been such an important issue in this country. If we begin to see these basic values erode, as they are now being eroded through both federal courts and the ever expanded role of a more powerful federal government that has more freedom to control our daily lives, then we could potentially lose our most treasured freedoms.

It is generally those people who champion issues like judicial reform, the limitation of regressive taxation and a faithful straightforward reading of the Constitution, that are most likely to understand what limited government really means and why it still matters. Oddly, this was once what liberalism was all about. Times have truly changed, both in terms of what people believe today, but also in terms of how everyday words like liberal and conservative have changed their basic meanings.

When I am asked about my own views I answer: “I am committed to preserving a liberal democracy that will protect our individual rights, conserve what is truly good in our past, and remain open to dynamic changes that will improve our common lot and the public good. I believe all of these should operate under a limited government that fosters both fairness and community-based benevolence.” This is a truly liberal democracy, in very simple language. I believe this type of democracy is actually threatened in our time. We may lose it if we do not better understand it and learn how to promote it and preserve it. Nothing will destroy us faster than an ignorant populace that universally assumes the primary role of government is to promote things like tolerance, sexual freedom and opposition to the public role of religion. This is why, in the present sense of the terms that we use today, I am a conservative.

This is also why I think many leaders of the religious right do not understand the better instincts of this truer and more widely understood conservatism, a conservatism rooted in basic human rights and limited government. Any type of theocratic emphasis should never become the basis of a liberal democracy, thus such an emphasis is never consistent with the best kind of modern conservatism. The religious right has done us much good over the last twenty-five years but it has failed to grasp, at times, these important foundational points about good government. This is especially true when it stresses a litmus test of narrow religious interests as primary to America’s future. If the religious right wants to truly change America it should help us establish the first things before it advances its bigger agenda. In fact, many of the litmus test concerns of the religious right would be much better addressed by rebuilding a truly liberal democracy first and then by seeking to change people’s views on moral issues through the hard work of community service and faithful Christian teaching. The problem is the religious right has come to believe it can change culture by direct political force. This is a denial, in the end, of truly liberal democracy.

John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."

John Armstrong John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."


  • Lanny DiBartolomeo

    I think a key ingredient as well is the teaching of evolution as fact in our schools by following this teachiing our rights are being taken..

    the children come home and wonder if there is a God at all.. this teaching has a foundation of lies deceit and corruption

    they call subtle changes of kinds micro-evolution and use this as examples of Macro- evelotion (goo to you)

    the fossil record indicates a huge explosion of life fully formed no transitions in the pre-cambrian layer to this life.

    My question is how are you going to convince these students that God exists once evolution is done with them?

    I believe if you can show them God exists then it should be much easier to which God, but the point is our whole way of life was built on the foundation of God

    with this being taken from us..

    directly through evolutionary teaching, how do you or I expect to get our rights that wss given by God back

    since people are starting to think he is not real?

    if you ask children in school most believe this teaching and there are a lot of atheists now there…

    I have come up with an argument for this type of thinker but it will not work on all so I say again evolutionary teaching needs to be removed before it is too late if it is not already. evolution shows God used life then death then life trial and error to make us this is directly contradictory to the bible…

    I am sending my idea on here in hopes that someone may benifit from it if they know athiests and it may help wake them up .. I am so sorry it is this long I hope you like this and find it worth it the reading. see once they understand that even in an athiestic view there is an after life possibilty then why not God controlled ..

    my proof of an after life.

    ok some people want to say God does not exist and say prove he does and such well the argument goes on and on..

    oneside says the proof is we are his creation the other side says if God exists then evil shouldnt no God would make things this way

    (by the way we made things this way and if we all just cared about each other the way we know how I think we would see who is or was at fault here… this is another story though but lets just say we would be way way more advanced than we are ….and the ripple effect of being the way we should be would be far greater than the things I know…Also things would advance like , science and technologies, cures for things human sufferings there is so much… think about it ,you will see how… but I need to type these other thoughts out first and after I will play connect the dots with advancements in fields of science if we acted how we should lol)

    I am biased to believe in God..

    ok.. first off we came into existence from nothing…. the bigbang is the dominant belief ok (though this to me doesnt mean “nothing” it is energy) there is a dot of emence energy just sitting there and all of a sudden it magically gets more energy so it can explode (confused as to where the added much needed energy came from? you should be) bla bla bla … I am just skimming to get to where I can build a foundation)

    ok if we step back in time and keep on going we have to find a starting point or else we cannot get back to this point …see

    ok then keep going and going and going… ya I know it makes since to have no beginning because if we get there we could always say what was before?
    this is true it also makes logical sense that there has to be a beginning else were do we place our feet so to speak to begin moving up the time line to where we are?

    ok then you can see that this is something that is difficult to grasp so we continue.

    we go to the end of space… hmmm… is there an end is there some magical ending or beginning… man.. another difficult thing to understand … ya know God doesnt seem out of the question.. I mean compared to just these 2 things and yes there are plenty more to drive yourself nuts over..

    so lets not try to back track we shall except that we are here

    ….lets say like some do “we have no soul” (I believe some people dont.. lol but that is in a different context )

    ok what of self awareness then? it means it has to originate in the brain right? seems to make sense…

    a percentage of our brain contains our awareness then… we will say 5 percent just for kicks….

    ok then this would mean our awareness is made up of a specific configuration or neurons each of us having our own unique configuration else we wouldnt be indivduals

    ..well this seems to be logical so far

    ..ok now when we pass on (die) our brains rot and if we have no soul we go nowhere just shut off..

    hmmm.. ok however there is a factor missing here it is called the human race.. see now after many years a child is born and yep he or she has your self awareness brain configuration sorry… then eyes open and you say I am awake.. no memories because obviously it isnt memories that is the
    self awareness, it is the thought that says “I am here” this is what I mean…

    ok so we somehow have popped back in the picture again…

    now of course if we do have a soul we will not need to wait so long… ay??

    ok how do we know we have a soul..well I find that “senses” come into play a little that help lead to proof I mean how do we “feel” pain? or taste “taste”, smell ..smells.. seems weird if we were just electrical impuses like a complex organic machine, I would think oh my leg is cut because my brain sent a signal… not the pain by product… if we were just organic machines you wouldnt “feel it” right? (no kicking your computer or it may cry!)

    yes this is not proof for a soul but it is part of a bigger picture we are getting to.. we need to gather lots of information that will build to a point that says “I can bet the house we have a soul…”

    ok next we leave all the physical senses out (though I still feel physical senses are not all that physical… taste touch smell tickles and others) now laughing crying enjoyment things like these are other examples again not proof but you see we are so used to having all these feelings every day that we do not even consider the fact that they are part of the proofs ….

    ok next step.. on to harder issues

    I am sure you or someone close to you has experienced dejavu or some other freaky things that science will have to believe in eventually and then say “it is an event that is perfectly natural and bla bla bla..” though never be able to know how it actually happens lol..

    again not absolute proofs but part of the picture. now it takes us to healings. documented miracle cures are also happening …

    yes miracles and physical miracles …. how about that brazilian lady who was shot by a .32 caliber gun 6 times in the head and lived most people will say wow how is that possible others may say well it didnt hit any part of the brain that could kill her very very lucky right? well the punch line is NONE OF THE BULLETS PENETRATED !! this is totally amazing..

    any way you can find plenty more of extraordinary documented things and after looking you will have a hard time thinking there isnt something else see i’d bet that the soul exists.. and a place were souls are that we cannot see exists….again it isnt absolute proof but I will bet the house that souls exist.

  • Brandon jewett (Lanny’s Son

    This is a well thought out and enthusiastic piece of work keep it up dad and they might not lock you up(LOL).

  • Brandon Jewett Lann’ys son

    Does anyone ever read these things

  • Lanny

    Maybe Brandon hehehe may as well place a little more thought evidence for the soul down ..:)

    I was thinking one day and started realizing that all our thoughts are
    suppose to come from impulses in the brain, neurons firing back and
    forth.. so I says every thought we have is a series of impulses

    yet we choose what thoughts to say out of the many
    thoughts we have and this choosing is brought on by impulses we think,
    to pick a thought..

    if our subconscious mind picks and brings it
    to our conscious mind then it is using impulses, so no matter ..I then
    was wondering how this is…

    we obviously at some point control
    electrical impulses through our minds …..the very thing that produces
    our thoughts is being controlled by our thoughts ..which it is

    since I would figure an electrical impulse does not
    have the ability to pick and choose which thought it produces, then the only thing that makes sense to me is that we are controlling these impulses…

    this does not make any sense either…. because we have now a paradox …. we cannot choose to produce a thought without
    first having electrical impulses to allow a choice….

    So I
    finally figured it out and it fit in with other strange things here on
    earth.. the only thing that solves this paradox is a soul..

    if our souls
    use electrical impulses to communicate through our minds
    then it makes sense ..

    our soul reacts on neurons they fire and we think and speak..

    someone has brain damage the soul cannot
    communicate through the mind properly, also..if you think about, it
    other influential forces react on the physical to produce an outcome
    that would not of otherwise been possible, cases where someone is
    healed “miraculously”..

    science does not like to use the word miracle because a physical thing (of course) took place.. !!

    the miracle is an unseen force that worked to produce the healing
    outcome of the physical.thing which took place..