This Week’s Mtg: Government’s Role In Aiding Our “Pursuit of Happiness”

Americans continue to argue the basic questions of government’s role in a modern society.  We’ve always done this – as it probably should be and the Founders no doubt intended, having used vague terms like “the pursuit of happiness” and “promote the general welfare” in the Constitution.   The way we find consensus on government’;s role is through the messy grind of interest group-led political combat.  That will never change, either.

But, is there a systematic way (a philosophy) that can help us to decide these matters?  Mike thinks so.  So do I.  I prefer the philosophy of John Rawls, who we discussed before.  Mike likes Aristotle, and will take 10-15 minutes on Thursday to outline what he thinks the man has to offer re: government’s proper role.

Below are the discussion questions I’ll use to guide the meeting after Mike is done.  As you can see, no one needs a philosophy degree to have opinions on this stuff.  Links are to Aristotle’s political philosophy, Rawls’, and a few basic commentaries on the different visions of the American Right and Left on government’s appropriate role in helping us pursue our ambitions.



  1. What was Aristotle’s political philosophy?  How is that relevant 2,500 years later?
  2. How do Aristotle’s views dovetail with other, more modern philosophies of democratic governance?
  3. How do the Left and Right view government’s proper role?
  4. What do you think?
  5. Do regular people really have such sharp and irreconcilable views on the size and reach of government?  Or, are they victims of elite polarization and competing misinformation and propaganda?
  6. Would conservatives, if they actually achieved unitary control of our national political system, actually practice what they preach?  What would most voters think of that?


  • Aristotle’s Political Philosophy, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.  Recommended.
  • My brief summary of Rawl’s preferred social contract, from our earlier meeting.  Visit the links I cite if you’re really into it.
  • Obama has made his view of government’s proper role crystal clear.  Recommended.
  • Left and Right have fundamentally different world views about government’s role.
  • A conservative argues for the welfare state, with reservations.  FYI, this guy is now estranged from the GOP and is considered an apostate.
  • Finally, here’s a clever chart that shows how incoherent the public is on the role of government.  It compares shows the percentage of people that wants to cut particular types of spending (blue bars).  Ack! First notice that few people want to cut much of anything.  The only program that even 30% of us want cut is foreign aid (and the red bar shows it is only about 1% of the federal budget).  Second, notice that the ones that the public least wants cut are all of the big ones, like Social Security and Medicare (as indicated by the red bars.  Small government is popular in the abstract but not in the concrete.

See you at the meeting.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: