The other day I saw my uncle wearing a shirt that said "'A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take away everything that you have.' - Thomas Jefferson". My super conservative family says it almost like a mantra, and I was just wondering what you thought about that quote?
I think it’s a genuine concern and something to take very seriously. I also think the way the average voter from the modern Republican Party would interpret it is a lot different than the way I would.
I think today’s conservatives would probably largely focus on the 2nd amendment or tax policy when talking about that specific quote, which is fine, but in my opinion that’s not what Jefferson meant and it’s much deeper than that. We’re already way past what Jefferson would be comfortable with. (Thanks Alexander Hamilton)…
Thomas Jefferson believed America would be best suited as a nation of self sufficient farmers spread coast to coast. He believed development of the type Alexander Hamilton wanted, namely a big central bank, foreign trade, and basic monetary policy, could very easily endanger that coast to coast farmer lifestyle (Hamilton was the OG big government technocrat tbh). I mean, Jefferson was so anti big government he didn’t believe in a standing army because he felt like it would create unnecessary institutional pressures that could lead to war or a coup. I think he was probably right about that one and if you think the war on terror is taking away our rights your family might have a point there.
A government that can read your text messages and make you take your shoes off at airports is a government big enough to take everything you have.
Personally I’ve always kind of had a soft spot for Jeffersonian democracy, but we’ve kind of passed the point that a populace not using the government seems a little farfetched to me. Even whats left of Jefferson’s rural ideals doesn’t seem to me like it could stand alone without heavy subsidization, that is basically just moving resources from cities that depend on “big government” and global trade to more rural areas who don’t have the same infrastructure.
The fact is that quote raises very real concerns and I kind of take it as a warning that big government can become incompatible with freedom when it becomes difficult for people to influence it directly. A bigger government can also do a lot of shit that it might not need to do that endangers the citizenry. The TSA or NSA being my chosen examples here, but your family probably has their own.
The world was very different when Jefferson was quoted, but I think it’s still useful. I think it was a genuinely conservative quote and to the extent modern conservatives are genuinely conservative it’s a good guide for them. To the extent that modern day conservatives are also fans of big government that does what they want (which is most republicans). I think Jefferson would be horrified.
In Jefferson’s time even the biggest corporations were basically state run enterprises. As was the church and basically anything else with any power. It was all “big government.” I think his quote was more a critique of any institution becoming too big and unaccountable to the people, not just the “government” the way we think of it today. And in my view and from that definition I think it’s something we should all keep in mind because we definitely have some institutions that do not represent the best interests of the citizenry.
I’m looking at the military industrial complex and our financial institutions but you could make the case for others as well.