A Balanced Bureaucracy


I am a Liberal Republican, not an oxymoron, as one would think, but instead a pragmatic individual who feels such a mindset is the best for the American democratic system. This essay is the first of a two-part series: “The Role of Government in our Lives.” In this particular portion, we shall cover the role of government in the social structures of America. Past Republican thought held that a larger bureaucracy could help improve the lives of Americans, not adversely affect them. However, what can be said of Thomas Jefferson’s famous statement: “The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and the government to gain ground?” The founders were very fearful of tyranny in America, as were the old and more liberal Republicans. Even though they supported increased bureaucratic action in areas of our lives such as education and civil rights, they were fearful of the massive extension of the federal bureaucracy under Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal policies. This is not to say that providing citizens Social Security and Medicare, amongst other aspects of this expansion, is bad. In fact, I believe quite the opposite, but just exactly how much “ground” should we allow the government to “gain?”

By today’s standards, some of the founders were quite extreme when it came to perceptions of freedom. “Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual,” Jefferson said. It was a time where the social contracts were decided often within the aristocracy, one wealthy family to the next; a government built on property-owning white males deathly afraid of government intervention in any aspect of their lives. Luckily, these times have changed drastically.

It wasn’t until Roosevelt that the age of increased government intervention was ushered into our everyday lives. Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and education reforms all worked to create a vastly enlarged bureaucracy. We saw great advances, and though we did not completely “move not only toward the rich society and the powerful society, but upward to the Great Society,” as Johnson noted, we did make important strides. This work is not done, but the question remains to what extent must it be continued? The founders were not wrong in their fear of tyranny in America, as so many countries have succumbed to such in the name of “progress.” Therefore, I find it imperative that we take heed of their warnings.

We must continue the work to improve lives yes, but with great caution. Herein lies the rub: Jefferson was not wrong in his note “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and the government to gain ground,” but conversely, Johnson wasn’t wrong when he said America should move “upward towards the Great Society.” Therefore, I urge caution. A people completely dependent upon government are nothing but slaves to bureaucracy. The American way is to make a path for oneself, but we shall discuss that in earnest at a later date. As a Liberal Republican, following the footsteps of greats like Nelson Rockefeller, I feel it is a prerogative of the government to help sustain a healthy population in America. In this way, I agree with the multitude that the government’s increased involvement in our lives is mostly justified. However, I am very weary of the bureaucratic beast which the modern welfare state has created. I urge that we be careful of where it leads, lest we turn our backs and it morphs into something less than American. Indeed, “a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government,” as James Madison so eloquently expressed in Federalist One.