Big Government Doesn’t Just Happen

There are many who complain that big government is the root of all our problems. If we could but rid ourselves of its intrusive presence in our lives, things would be much better. Many complain about the effects of big government but few look at its cause.

Big government does not just happen. In fact, big government, where the State enters into every facet of society, should not happen. The State exists to safeguard the general order which in turn allows the intermediary bodies of family, community and Faith to develop free from its control.

Russell Kirk (1918-1994)

Moreover, most modern States are protected by constitutions which are supposed to restrain the powers and growth of government. But everywhere we look, we see that these limits have not been respected and ballooning bureaucracies thrive.

Obviously there are other factors at work that make big government possible. And if we are to resolve the problem of unrestrained big government, we must look for and address these causes.

The well-known conservative writer Russell Kirk makes a very interesting observation that gives us a clue as to what these causes are and how we might return to limited government.

Kirk writes: “beneath any formal constitution—even beneath our Constitution…lies an unwritten constitution much more difficult to define, but really more powerful.” This unwritten constitution consists of “the body of institutions, customs, manners, conventions, and voluntary associations which may not even be mentioned in the formal constitution, but which nevertheless form the fabric of social reality and sustain the formal constitution.”[i]

In other words, we as a people have lost that vital link with the customs, manners, conventions and virtues that serve as a foundation for our Constitution. We have severed ourselves from our Christian roots, the natural institutions of family and community and the common law tradition that normally and naturally serve to temper and limit government.

It is this destruction of moral values, institutions and customs that makes big government possible. Without this “unwritten constitution,” a void is left, which allows big government to come charging in. We start losing our freedoms.

It used to be, for example, that families took care of their own. However, when the institution of the family was devastated by the sexual revolution of the sixties, it created a real problem of broken families and prepared the way for a false solution in the form of big government that rushed to fill the void and assumed responsibilities that did not belong to it.

It used to be that members of a community helped one another when problems arose. There was a sense of honor that prevailed in the community where families took pride in being honest and self-reliant. But with the decline of communities and the anonymity of the giant cities, people find no disgrace in asking big government to be the nanny of last resort and take care of their basic needs.

We once confided in God’s Divine Providence to provide for our necessities – to give us this day our daily bread. But with the secularization of society, many no longer know how to ask God to meet their daily needs even as they utilize their God-given talents, and instead look to government entitlement programs as a new kind of providence—hardly divine.

Part of the blame for the destruction of these institutions and customs can be traced to our culture of instant gratification. In my recent book, Return to Order, I use the term “frenetic intemperance” to describe a reckless and restless spirit of unrestraint that has long plagued modern economy and undermined social institutions.

Frenzied markets lead people to resent the very idea of restraint and scorn the spiritual, religious, moral and cultural values that are part of Russell Kirk’s “unwritten constitution” that normally serve to order and temper our life together in society and prevent big government.

What we need is a return to a framework of order that reconnects us with our Christian roots and our tradition of limited government. Much more than government programs, this order is truly the heart and soul of economy.

We need to rid ourselves of the now-dominant frenetic intemperance in the economy that is constantly throwing markets out of balance and replace it with a corresponding temperance.

This cannot be done by legislation, regulation or rigid planning. It is something that must be addressed personally by changing our frenzied and rushed lifestyles where instant gratification is the order of the day. It is a challenging shift in values that will put back in place the natural immunity systems of family, community and Church that will assure us of a society that is stable, healthy and prosperous once again.

Until then, big government will only get bigger.


[i] Russell Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things: Observations of Abnormity in Literature and Politics (New Rochelle, N.Y.: Arlington House, 1969), 168.

John Horvat II is a scholar, researcher, educator, international speaker, and author. His writings have appeared worldwide including in The Wall Street Journal, FOX News, The Christian Post, The Washington Times, ABC News, C-SPAN as well as other publications and websites. For more than two decades he has been researching and writing about the socio-economic crisis inside the United States that has culminated in the ground-breaking release of his new book Return to Order. Mr. Horvat lives in Spring Grove, Pennsylvania where he heads the Tradition, Family, and Property Commission on American Studies.
Articles by John:

  • Mitchell Kalpakgian

    Great article! Excellent insight! Indeed the family is the cell of society and the center of civilization. All the social pathologies and disorders of government originate in the violation of God’s plan for the family Divorce, abortion, contraception, same-sex unions, cohabitation release an explosion of evil into the world that has a root cause.

    You are absolutely right: big government is a symptom more than a cause.When Christians, nations, and governments separate themselves from the the most fundamental self-evident truths about the meaning of a family, the wisdom of the natural law, and the sacred truth of the Church, then naturally untold suffering and misery are inevitable.

  • jrj90620

    I’ve heard that people either worship God or govt.You can see what the trend is and the results.

  • Patsy Koenig

    The 1960’s sexual revolution was provoked by the government legalizing contraception. The 1960’s also usherred-in no-fault divorce, which the supposedly Christian conservative Ronald Reagan legalized as governor of California. It is obvious that state laws must be in place to preserve Christian values. These led to legalized abortion…just as “c” follows “a” and “b.” Contraception, divorce, & abortion led an increase in homosexuality. Of course, there were severe social problems before 1960, such as habitual drunkenness – which wreaks havoc on families. The year 1913 usherred-in the unconstitutional Federal Reserve Bank, which gave to a small group of greedy and immoral, international “Banksters” the power to print and control the money supply. They are called the Freemasons; and above them are the Illuminati: designed by Adam Weishaupt and financed by Mayer Amschel Rothschild – for the stated purpose of controlling the world’s money supply, nation by nation, until they control the world and every facet of business, education, media, medicine, government, etc., within it. The Illuminati and it’s various agencies are the temporal cause of the world’s problems. Sin is the spiritual cause of the world’s problems.

  • jrj90620

    I’ve read that citizens either worship God or govt.We can see the trend,in the world.Govt should be for protecting people from being harmed by other people.Shouldn’t be stealing from some and giving to others.It took me decades to figure out why people,I think are basically honest,support big govt.They actually worship govt,believing govt should have God like powers.Anyone supporting big govt and attending a church, appears to be worshipping 2 Gods.We were warned about doing that.I think they attend church out of habit and govt is their real God.

  • Paul Tran

    If “instant gratification” is the cause for the destruction of old-world values (i.e. honor, self-reliance, honesty etc.) and allows for the ushering-in of big government, it can also be said that our desire for “instant gratification” is just a symptom of a culture of death or nihilism as we have lost hope & no longer believe in the future. The 2 world wars have also played their parts in the destruction of the family & God I hasten to add.
    Moreover the perpetuation of big government is allowed to happen as the populace is constantly being bribed with a false sense of freedom – via same-sex union, control of one’s fertility, gender equality, entitlements & materialism – while real freedom is eroded and taken away by our political masters.

  • DavidMacko

    The frenetic intemperance is encouraged by the government and its prostitute media to distract the people from their continuing enslavement. Another much needed principle to return to order is that only those acts which involuntarily directly harm an individual or deprive its owner of his property should be considered as crimes. The enemy also encourages sins as means of distraction, as you portray very well.

  • Rosech Levy

    Good article but let us remember that WE, THE PEOPLE ARE THE GOVERNMENT and we have hired unworthy employees who wish to own us. They are administrations and not big nor little governments. Our Constitution allowed only 3 things for a federal administration to do: #1 common currency as each state then had it owns currency causing delays and confusion going from state to state, #2 build up international trade to sell our products, and #3 defend our country against domestic and foreign interlopers Everything else we have stupidly allowed them to do while they made big money selling us out! http://personalliberty.com/anonymous-lawmaker-reveals-how-your-congressman-really-feels/