Been quoting a lot of Ludwig Von Mises lately, as I’m reading Liberalism in the Classical Tradition. here’s an interesting quote about the proper roles of a limited government:
But if difficulties already exist even in carrying out such indispensable functions of government as the protection of life, liberty, property, and health, one should not raise them to really monstrous proportions by extending the range of state activity to other fields in which, by their very nature, still greater latitude must be granted to arbitrary judgment. (emphasis mine)
I love this quote because it’s framing the basic provisions of government in the context of WHY it should be limited. Mises is saying it’s hard enough to fulfill these basic mandates sufficiently, so we should be wary of wider, more general mandates. Yet he is simultaneously adding health – something that today embodies government overreach to conservatives – to the standard Lockean protections.
Almost certainly he isn’t referring to some kind of national insurance scheme – but don’t get caught up in that. What seems a reasonable conclusion is that Mises supports the notion that government has a moral obligation to ensure the health of its citizens. This means that if you believe Mises – the questions you should be asking are prudential ones: “How can we meet this mandate?”
In Mises’ time, that might have only meant clean drinking water and sanitation. The real debate is where this fits in today. If the modern state CAN do something to help it’s citizens’ health, then what SHOULD it do to carry that out. But it would seem to me that paleo-Conservative debates about whether government has any duty to it’s citizens’ health at all is so anachronistic as to even predate the Austrian himself.
Then again, Mises also said ensuring peace was as important as protecting property – try selling THAT to neoconserevatives.
By the way, this fits in nicely with a lot of intellectual commentary on the current political narrative that suggests modern Conservatives misread Hayek and Friedman’s support of the social safety net as well.