‘Neutrality is an instrumental good only’

Andrew T. Walker writes on “the myth of government neutrality” in light of the obvious fact that all governing authorities make moral judgments:

Governments have to make choices. Sure, you can be a racist and not go to jail, but if you act on racist beliefs publicly, there are limits to your liberty. And that’s good, because the government has decided it cannot be neutral where human dignity is concerned.

Government is comprised of people who are assigned to make these distinctions. Government is tasked with making critical distinctions between good and evil, and that is entirely in keeping with the purpose of government as found in the Bible. Government is “to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Peter 2:14). It seems that Florida’s legislators think the goods that Disney offers society have changed, and their value to the common good is less legitimate—or even nefarious—depending on the company’s ideological commitments. If so, it is fair to consider whether Disney deserves special tax privileges. 

Neutrality is an instrumental good only, never an ultimate good. It can only be taken so far. Government cannot be neutral on many issues. Indeed, I do not want government to be neutral about protecting children. But establishing that there are moral goods that government is designed to recognize conflicts with the so-called neutrality principle. That is expected because government is an imperfect project of balancing trade-offs weighed against competing interests. Neutrality, as pure proceduralists define it, is so utterly constraining that it leads to sanctioning moral absurdity that we know is unsustainable. Lines must be drawn. …

Government is not a nameless, faceless enterprise. It comprises people with consciences who are elected by citizens with consciences. Telling the “government” to be neutral where it cannot not be neutral is to effectively rule out the notion that citizens would elect individuals to represent them and legislate according to their values. That is at odds with our whole concept of representative democracy.

Aristotle stated that the human person’s purpose or end “is the good or the apparent good,” and Aquinas later built on this by underscoring that although our “appetite is only for the good” it is nonetheless not the case that we we pursue will “be in truth good, but [merely] that it be apprehended as good.” We will to pursue and promote the good, but we are prone to constant errors of judgment.

Yet we cannot help but to do so—we cannot help but to pursue and to promote “the good or the apparent good”—whether in our lives as citizens or elected representatives of the people.