Libertarians such as Jack Hunter, Bruce Fein, and their boss Ron Paul frequently (and falsely) claim that “unlimited Pentagon spending is the Big Government program that Republicans love”; that “unless conservatives apply their limited government philosophy comprehensively [i.e. cut defense spending deeply along with everything else], conservatism will remain a mere asterisk”; that the Limited Government principle requires deep defense cuts; that robust defense spending would constitute a Big Government Program and a violation of that principle.
Let’s start with the definition of the Limited Government Principle and conservative ideology (of which that principle is a part). Limited Government means government limited not to a fixed dollar number or a percentage of GDP, but rather to certain functions and prerogatives, i.e. government limited in what it is allowed to do and on what issues. Specifically, in the United States, “limited government” in the meaning of American conservatism means (and is widely understood to mean) government limited to the scope authorized by the Constitution.
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.
What does the Constitution say about defense? 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.
9 of the 17 enumerated prerogatives of the Congress stated in Sec. 8 of Art. I of the Constitution, i.e. more than half, relate to defense and military issues. They authorize the full spectrum of the defense needed, from “providing for the common defense”, raising and supporting Armies, and providing and maintaining a Navy, to building arsenals, dockyards, and forts.
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 – including any amount of funding required to build it. Any amount of defense spending is Constitutionally authorized and perfectly in line with the Constitution and therefore with the Limited Government Principle.
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.
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”.