Is robust defense spending a “Big Government Program”?

Is robust defense spending a Big Government Program? Is it just another pet project favored by some politicians? Is it against conservative ideology? Is it a contravention of the Limited Government Principle? Does conservatism require defense cuts? Does conservatism require that defense be treated as just another line item in the federal budget on par with agriculture and national parks?

If you ask libertarians such as Jack Hunter and Ron Paul, the answer to all of these questions is yes. Just three days ago, in his most recent screed for the DailyCaller, Hunter claimed that “unlimited Pentagon spending is the Big Government program that many Republicans love” and that “unless conservative limited government philosophy is implemented comprehensively, conservatism will remain a mere asterisk”.

But they are completely wrong.

Defense spending is NOT a Big Government program, nor is it anyone’s pet project, nor a contravention of the Limited Government Principle. On the contrary, according to conservative ideology, defense is a Constitutionally legitimate government function and indeed the #1 Constiutional DUTY of the federal government. The #1 reason for having a federal government at all is to have it defend the country and its citizens. The Preamble to the Supreme Law of the Land explains why the federal government was established in the first place:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Constitution not only authorizes a strong national defense (and consequently, robust funding for it), it REQUIRES it. Art. IV, Sec. 4 of the Constitution says as follows:

The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion…

As you can see, the Constitution not merely authorizes, it REQUIRES a strong defense and therefore any measures necessary to build it.

A key tenet – indeed, the overriding principle – of conservative philosophy is that we must obey the Constitution as it is written. We may not cherry-pick which parts of the Constitution we’re going to obey and which ones we won’t abide by. But that’s what Ron Paul and his minions (including Jack Hunter) are doing. They cherry-pick the Constitution and abide only by those party they like, while ignoring the ones they don’t like and pretending they don’t exist.

What about the Founding Fathers? Did they all oppose standing armies and a strong defense? Did they consider defense spending to be just another Big Government program? No. Although a few of them, like Elbridge Gerry, opposed standing armies, most understood that defense was not only a legitimate government function but also the highest duty of any government. George Washington said to the Congress in 1790:

“Among the many interesting objects which will engage your attention, that of providing for the common defence will merit particular regard. (…) To be prepared for war is one of the effective means of preserving the peace.”

James Madison, for a long time an opponent of standing armies, ultimately changed his opinion and said in 1788:

“How could a readiness for war in times of peace be safely prohibited, unless we could prohibit, in like manner, the preparations and establishments of every hostile nation?”

Alexander Hamilton, the author of most of the Federalist Papers, explained in Federalist #24 why a standing army was needed even when the US seemed to be shielded by oceans:

“Though a wide ocean separates the United States from Europe, yet there are various considerations that warn us against an excess of confidence or security. On one side of us, and stretching far into our rear, are growing settlements subject to the dominion of Britain. On the other side, and extending to meet the British settlements, are colonies and establishments subject to the dominion of Spain. This situation and the vicinity of the West India Islands, belonging to these two powers create between them, in respect to their American possessions and in relation to us, a common interest. The savage tribes on our Western frontier ought to be regarded as our natural enemies, their natural allies, because they have most to fear from us, and most to hope from them. The improvements in the art of navigation have, as to the facility of communication, rendered distant nations, in a great measure, neighbors. Britain and Spain are among the principal maritime powers of Europe. A future concert of views between these nations ought not to be regarded as improbable. The increasing remoteness of consanguinity is every day diminishing the force of the family compact between France and Spain. And politicians have ever with great reason considered the ties of blood as feeble and precarious links of political connection. These circumstances combined, admonish us not to be too sanguine in considering ourselves as entirely out of the reach of danger.”

Fort his part, John Adams said one time that:

“National defense is one of the cardinal duties of a statesman.”

So according to the Founding Fathers, defense is “one of the cardinal duties of a statesman” and we must prepare for war in order to keep the peace and prevent war. In other words, Ronald Reagan did not invent the “peace through strength” philosophy – George Washington did, although he did not call it that way.

So according to the Constitution and the Founding Fathers, defense is not a big government program, but rather a Constitutionally legitimate government function and indeed the highest Constitutional DUTY of the federal government. And if that is the case, a strong military (and generous funding for it) does NOT violate the Constitution and therefore also does not violate the Limited Government Principle.

Consequently, the Limited Government Principle does NOT require any defense cuts, nor does any other tenet of conservative philosophy. Therefore, consistent application of conservatism, including the Limited Government Principle, does NOT require any defense cuts.

In fact, conservative ideology REQUIRES that a strong defense be built and generously funded, as stated by numerous conservative leaders from Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan.

No, the Pentagon is not a Big Government program, nor is it anyone’s pet project. Defense is the #1 Constitutional obligation of the federal government and, as John Adams rightly said, “one of the cardinal duties of a statesman.”

For a comprehensive examination of the “the Pentagon is just another big government project and you cant be a limited government conservative if you don’t support defense cuts” claims, and the Constitutional basis of national defense, please read my article, “Defense and the Principle of Limited Government”.


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