The One Legged Stool and the Single Issue Senators that Support It

This has already been an exciting week here in South Carolina, as the 2012 GOP Presidential Primary in the Palmetto State is set for Saturday. As state officials, politicos and the people, who will ultimately decide the victor in the primary contest, scramble to make last minute endorsements and decisions, we ought to carefully consider the consequences. For example, over the past several days a number of South Carolina state senators, most of whom I respect greatly, have made the stunning decision to support Texas Congressman Ron Paul in his push for the GOP nomination. To me, this is a serious departure from the consistent conservatism I’d come to expect of these men, and a decision I must admit I do not understand.

Ron Paul is a single sphere conservative, who is left of Barack Obama on everything but the economy. By contrast, I’ve always adhered to the Reagan model of “three legged stool” conservatism. The three legged stool consists of economic (fiscal) conservatism, cultural conservatism (protection of preborn children, educational freedom and protecting the institution of the family, etc) and a belief in a strong national defense. After attending the GOP presidential debate in Myrtle Beach on Monday, I’ve come to the conclusion that Ron Paul is in every way a liberal, with the exception of the economy. That’s why I do not believe even his economic policies could ever truly work.

I’m absolutely in favor of reducing the size and scope of the Federal government (heck, state government for that matter!), and returning as much power as possible to the people. I can get behind Congressman Paul’s belief that the Federal Reserve is totally out-of-control, and that Washington is doing way too many things it was never designed to do (EPA, education, economic planning, to name a few). Nevertheless, while I believe government must be significantly limited, there is a role for some government. After all, liberty is a product of law. If we have too many laws, where the government tries to tell us what kind of health insurance to buy, what kind of car to drive and what kind of education to provide to our kids, then it destroys liberty with too much interference. This is said to be tyranny, where the people are not free to provide for their own security, their own future and their own families.

On the opposite end of the political spectrum, however, we have Ron Paul and associates. They take yet another extreme, where there are no consensus values that the nation shares and where everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes. The problem is that this doesn’t work any better than big-government tyranny.

Both big government tyranny and no-government libertarianism share the same central flaw: they fail to recognize the state of human nature.

I’m an optimist, and I have high hopes for the future and for our country, but I’m also a realist. As such, I readily accept the God-given diagnosis than the human race is in a fallen state. I believe that God created man, that man rejected God’s law and that, as a result, we are helplessly insecure.

Insecure people are given to desperation, and desperate people are given to tyranny, as they are looking for ways to elevate themselves above others. In so elevating themselves, they find temporary relief for the nagging sense of meaninglessness that torments their souls. The problem is that the “they” is really “us,” every single one of us. All people, regardless of how successful and / or powerful, have a feeling of inadequacy and insecurity somewhere deep inside. This deep-rooted sense of insecurity motivates us to do things that we wouldn’t ordinarily do, like step on other people to get ahead, lie or cheat to come out on top and take advantage of people and programs to bring prosperity to ourselves.
In such a state of fallen insecurity, men themselves are the greatest threat to the rights God gave man. As such, the founders argued, governments are instituted in human societies to govern both the people and their governors. The idea being that all people, including people in power, are fallen and that no one can be trusted with absolute authority. Several years ago, the good folks at the American Enterprise Institute, an economically conservative think tank, published a study that suggested all people have a predisposition to abuse power. The study was titled “The Totalitarian Impulse,” and was compiled from research conducted by various sociologists and psychologists across the country. The conclusion was clear: virtually all people have a lust for power and prominence that can prove destructive to themselves and others.

This sort of study ought to give us pause, not to mention a new perspective on government in our free society. The obvious conclusion for me is that, when government gets too powerful under the view of the left, it will trample the rights of free people. Additionally, if government is virtually non-existent, then the people themselves will destroy their own liberties. The first will be accomplished by politicians who abuse their positions to gain power for themselves, and people who are all-to-willing to sit back and soak up government goodies paid for by other people. The second will be accomplished by people abusing their freedom, using it instead as a license to do anything, which will lead to anarchy and, in turn, take over by a heavy handed government to regain order. Liberty is accomplished when government, otherwise known here as the law, is used cautiously. This is the view of our founders: use government to protect the rights of people from themselves, but don’t use so much that the government itself destroys the rights of the people.

This balance is precisely why I do not believe the radical liberalism of Barack Obama, or the radical libertarianism of Ron Paul, will ever secure the blessings of liberty for the next generation. We must have limited government, which efficiently executes its role of defending the natural rights of all, while protecting the nation from threats foreign and domestic. We must reject the totalitarianism of big government, while also rejecting the lawlessness of no government. True liberty must rest on three legged stool conservatism, and the SC state senators who endorsed Congressman Paul would do well to realize that they are voting for a man no better prepared to lead this nation to liberty than President Barack Obama.

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6 Responses to "The One Legged Stool and the Single Issue Senators that Support It"

  1. Matt says:


    Truly awesome article and analysis. I am a three-legged stool conservative as well – I love that Reagan metaphor. And I was very displeased to see some of our conservative reform champions in Columbia (including my own State Senator from here in Spartanburg County) endorse Ron Paul.

  2. Very good article. I assume that I don’t need to say I agree with it 100%. RP says he has been fighting hard for his entire political career for term limits, right to life, reduced spending, and smaller government. He has been in the right place (the Legislature) to conduct such a fight. What has he accomplished? He has written seven bills, none of which has passed. He cannot convince other Legislators to support his agenda. How is he going to do any better as the Chief Executive? That can happen only if he becomes our dictator.

  3. Jeff Coleman says:

    “After all, liberty is a product of law.”
    I totally reject this statement. The law (mans law) is a product of liberty. The law (man’s law) is what each of us have the right to do individually then we as a group can band together and do. Or that is what is should be. If I don’t have a right to do something such as force someone else to give to another or worship at a certain place, then 50% plus one should not be able to force it upon another. If in any way the law goes beyond what an individual has the God given right to do by themselves, protect there life, liberty and property or worship as they are lead. without bring harm to another, then the law becomes a perversion.
    I don’t understand myself the thought of a conservative saying that “This is the view of our founders: use government to protect the rights of people from themselves,”.
    While I will admit to not being as studied as I would like to be, I don’t recall the thoughts of the founders wanting to protect the people from themselves, but to protect them from government. A use of government in this manner cannot help but lead to tyranny.
    I also belive in what Ronald Reagan said
    “Well, if no one among us is capable of governing himself, then who among us has the capacity to govern someone else?”

    • Marie says:

      Can you give me a link to where the Bible moinnets this issue? I admittedly have never read anything about it in scripture.As for wealth redistribution, your past injustice point is valid, your Letting the poor suffer is worse than robbing the rich is not. The poor DO have an opportunity here. It may not be completely equal, but they have one. And the rich, somewhere along the line, earned their wealth.I think a limited amount of redistribution to equalize opportunity is reasonable, but not permanently. Welfare, in my opinion, should give the less fortunate the tools to succeed, not success itself. Anything more than that is theft.

  4. Stan says:

    Excellent analysis. Libertarian is too often transmuted into libertinian. “… they fail to recognize the state of human nature” is the key to judging any ideology, philosophy, or system of governance.

    I just had this conversation with my OWS-leaning son last night. In the debate of capitalism vs socialism I told him that both systems are doomed to failure without an underlying societal commitment to ethics and morals. But it is not government that can drive society to be ethical and moral, it is an ethical and moral society that will drive government to its proper role.

  5. Richard Cash says:

    I largely agreement with your assessment, but I would add that Ron Paul has done the Republican party a service by adding a fourth leg to the stool: along with fiscal, social, and national security conservatism, I think we would do well to consider constitutional conservatism as a fourth leg. Fiscal and constitutional conservatism are the primary drivers of the TEA party, along with social conservatism for many, but not all.

    Ron Paul’s emphasis on the Constitution should be welcomed and all three historical legs of the “conservative stool” should be reexamined in light of it.

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