On Wednesday’s episode of Philosophy in Action Radio, I interviewed historian Eric Daniels about “Why Small Government Isn’t the Answer.” The podcast of that episode is now available for streaming or downloading.

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Podcast: 31 July 2013

Is “big government” the fundamental problem of American politics? Historian Eric Daniels will explain why this common formulation is misleading, wrong, and even dangerous to liberty.

Dr. Eric Daniels teaches history and works on curriculum development at the LePort Schools in Irvine, California. He has previously taught at Clemson, Georgetown, and Duke Universities. He has a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Wisconsin.

Listen or Download:


  • The problem with “big government” versus “small government”
  • The proper debate: individual rights
  • The two axes of size versus rights
  • Big government like judicial activism
  • Three categories of government action
  • Violating rights versus failing to protect rights
  • The Founders’ view: not size but the proper ends of government
  • The failure of the Articles of Confederation
  • 19th century rights violations
  • The rights of women
  • Violations of rights by local governments, particularly based on race
  • The real-life effects of failing to protect rights
  • Judges riding the circuit, too small criminal justice system
  • Measuring the size of government
  • Measuring the growth of government
  • The problem of the inessential
  • Skewing the political debate toward anarchism
  • The appeal to Somalia
  • The terms “limited government” and “minarchism”
  • Advice for activists
  • Eric’s new job at LePort Schools


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  • shemsky

    I agree that the big vs small government argument is not always helpful. But I’ve always considered the term limited government to mean government limited to protecting individual rights.

    Where I part company from the speaker is his advocacy of a final arbiter and uniform law. All that means is that we have to have one set of laws that are imposed on everyone. What if the laws are unjust in the eyes of some and just in the eyes of others? What if enough people view public welfare programs and government spying programs as just, and they become the law of the land? A constitution must be interpreted by individuals, and individuals have differing views about rights and the proper role of government.

    I reject state sovereignty in favor of individual sovereignty. The individual has the right to be the final arbiter. If that’s not true, then each of us has an obligation to submit to injustice under certain circumstances.

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