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Monday, January 30, 2012

"Government and its Rivals"

A (long) while ago, in this essay, "The Story of Henry Adams's Soul:  Education and the Expression of Association(s)," I wrote: 

[W]e not only speak through associations and rely on mediating institutions for the civic space in which to engage in such expression, but we are also . . . spoken to and formed by them.  Indeed, this is one reason why associations are able to play their structural role, described above, as society’s hedgerows.  It is not only that they are concentrations or blocs of political power, which can be marshalled against that of the state; they are also the state’s competitors in the arena of education and formation.  . . . 

[T]he state competes with the mediating institutions of civil society, and its expression competes with that of associations, for the privilege of educating.  The freedom of expressive association, then, is not only the freedom enjoyed by individuals of expressing themselves through their associations, but also the freedom of associations to serve and speak as rival sources of values and loyalties.

I "heard" Ross Douthat making a similar point the other day, in the New York Times, in this piece (which I thought was very thoughtful but which quite a few commenters seemed not to like), "Government and its Rivals," which addresses the recent decision by HHS to require most religious institutions and employers to provide coverage, in their health-care plans, for contraceptives.  He noted, among other things, that:

When government expands, it’s often at the expense of alternative expressions of community, alternative groups that seek to serve the common good. Unlike most communal organizations, the government has coercive power — the power to regulate, to mandate and to tax. These advantages make it all too easy for the state to gradually crowd out its rivals. The more things we “do together” as a government, in many cases, the fewer things we’re allowed to do together in other spheres.

Sometimes this crowding out happens gradually, subtly, indirectly. Every tax dollar the government takes is a dollar that can’t go to charities and churches. Every program the government runs, from education to health care to the welfare office, can easily become a kind of taxpayer-backed monopoly.

But sometimes the state goes further. . . .

Paul Horwitz, author of the soon-to-be-groundbreaking First Amendment Institutions, and John Inazu, whose Liberty's Refuge is already out and burning up the charts, might (along with other Prawfs readers) have some helpful thoughts and reactions here. 

Posted by Rick Garnett on January 30, 2012 at 10:06 AM in Rick Garnett | Permalink

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