In the U.S. the most important phrase in the Conservative mantra is ‘small government’. The philosopher politically conservative people depend on for their ideas about government is John Locke. Yet, Bernie Sanders would have to be Locke’s choice for President.
Locke is not only the most important philosopher for political conservatism in the U.S. Concerning government, he is the most important philosopher in modernity. He is the Godfather of philosophical liberalism. He is literally the author of it: Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689.
Philosophical liberalism is the meta-ideology that takes equality and liberty to be the twin pillars of justice. It has all but taken over the world. In the political realm, even the Islamic revolutionaries who took over Iran felt that they must describe it as a “Republic.” In the economic realm the triumph of philosophical liberalism is even more complete.
Philosophical liberalism has spawned narrower political ideologies ranging from libertarianism to democratic socialism. They are distinguished by the extent to which liberty or equality is emphasized, but both must be present to be within philosophical liberalism.
Still, that demonstrates that democratic socialism is consistent with Locke’s philosophy of government. It cannot be denied that the nations with the most fully developed forms of democratic socialism, the Scandinavian countries, enjoy at least as much liberty in their personal lives as we in the U.S. have.
If democratic socialism is consistent with Locke’s philosophy, then anything short of outright socialism in that direction must also be consistent with it. Specifically, ‘Big Government’ is justified by Locke’s philosophy.
Not only is Big Government justified by Locke’s thought, however. For Locke, circumstances can require the presence of it. Moreover, those circumstances most certainly do exist in the U.S. at this time.
Locke famously said that the proper role of government is limited to protecting persons and property, to acting as “Night Watchman.” If you were alone in a dicey part of town late at night and you were to see and Officer of the Law on the street corner, would you rather that person looked like a ballerina or an NFL linebacker?
The point is, since within Locke’s philosophy everyone is entitled to equal protection of one’s person and property, government must be big enough and strong enough to protect the weakest, least powerful individuals against the predations of the most powerful entities in society.
The most powerful entities in the U.S. are large corporations: Big Business. Large corporations have demonstrated time and again their utter disregard for people’s property, health, and even our lives. Protecting people from those behemoths requires a big, strong government.
It is true that the worst scenario is one in which Big Government is co-opted by Big Business. Getting rid of Big Government is not the solution to the problems for society that situation has created.
The simple fact is that in the current race for President there is one candidate who is for a government that would be big enough, strong enough, and independent enough to stand up to Big Business: Bernie Sanders.