‘The Bigger the Government, the Smaller the Citizen’

For the last six months, I’ve parked near a Toyota 4Runner with this bumper sticker. And for all six of those months, I scoffed at it.

A different medium of political art, this bumper sticker’s phrase was coined by Dennis Prager, an American conservative talk show host, columnist, and author. In his argument, Prager asserts that big government takes away liberty, individuality, and character from the citizen.

I mean, honestly: “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.” It sounds like a conservative party tagline. Consequently, I labeled it (and the car’s driver) as being radically right-wing—someone who believes no government is the best government.

But today, after sticking by my conviction for this long, I decided to look into the phrase, and…maybe I jumped the gun a bit too much with my assumptions.

The phrase was coined by Dennis Prager, a nationally syndicated radio talk show host, columnist, and best-selling author who has been broadcasting shows five days a week from his Los Angeles base since 1982. He is noted for his conservative political and social views on almost every topic.

Prager filmed a five-minute explanation of his phrase (video available below), and unlike the majority of talk show hosts I’ve encountered—who are nothing less than frightening in their sense of self-righteousness and would rather YELL than talk—Prager is reasonable, calm, and actually possesses common sense.

He first asserts that America has always realized that its citizens needs to be “big, important, individual, autonomous, and strong.” It follows, then, that America’s success as a democracy is directly derived from granting its citizens the most power in society. Prager continues with the assertion that “the land of the free, the home of the brave” is impossible to achieve as the state gets bigger. A government which has too much power and control, Prager says, limits liberty and individuality and lessens the citizen’s importance.

A political graphic used in Prager’s video showing a big government diminishing the Statue of Liberty, and symbolically, citizens’ liberty.

Prager also makes a more dramatic argument that human character actually diminishes as the size of government increases. When a population depends on its state, Prager argues, citizens begin assuming that the government will take care of them and naturally begin neglecting to care for themselves. In other words, big government takes away citizens’ self-reliance and makes them dependent.

As a big government continues over time, its citizens gradually become more preoccupied with trivial things—Prager notes countless European strikes over vacation time—and become less concerned with work, which in turn hinders their character development.

The notion of citizens lacking character, Prager says, is not an ideal on which this country was founded.

I can’t say I entirely agree with all of Prager’s ideas because for some countries, the existence of a big government has proven to work quite well—take Switzerland, for example: perhaps the most peaceful country in the world, but under a very large and regulatory government.

I can, however, agree with the notion that ‘big government,’ which Prager means more in reference to regulatory powers of government than size of government, is not something cut-out for America. Our very independent ideals and historical notions of freedom and democracy by the people would make the achievement of such a state unlikely.

In any case, I’ll stop scoffing at the bumper sticker.

Watch the Dennis Prager video, “The Bigger the Government, the Smaller the Citizen”: 

To read some of Prager’s latest columns, click here.

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