Conservatism and Community
American Enterprise Institute, Kristol Lecture
May 8, 2013
Cooperation, Not Coercion, Is the Source of America’s Strength
We want everyone to have a chance in life—a chance to be happy. And we’re happiest when we’re together. We want to be together. It’s in our nature. We feel it in our bones.
Now, Barney Frank once said government is the name for the things we do together. But that’s just one name. There are lots of them: the church meeting, the neighborhood watch, the food bank, the small business, the health clinic, the homeless shelter. We like to call these things “mediating institutions.” But in the end, they’re just people—people working together. And the more we work together—out of our own free will—the stronger we become.
The strongest glue isn’t fear or force. It’s friendship and love. We stick together because we share the same beliefs. That’s the source of our strength. And when government tries to do too much—when it replaces cooperation with coercion—it weakens our country. It pulls us apart. It deprives people of their purpose.
Solidarity and Subsidiarity Should Guide Policymakers
We should follow two principles: solidarity and subsidiarity. Solidarity is the belief that we’re all in this together. We share a common purpose: the pursuit of happiness. And public servants should share one goal: the common good.
Subsidiarity is like federalism. It’s the belief that each part of society adds to the whole, and that each part must be free to do its work—on its own terms. So government shouldn’t assume other people’s tasks. It shouldn’t make decisions better left with the family or the neighborhood. The people closest to the problem are the most likely to solve it—because they know the community best. And this is the opposite of progressivism, which believes Washington knows best.
The Contrast in Visions
This is a complete vision of conservatism. It’s what we’re striving for. It’s not a vision of petty materialism. It’s not one of lonely individuals overseen by a massive government. It’s one of moral nourishment, of self-fulfillment, of growth and opportunity.