Now that President Obama has told us all the great things the federal government is going to pursue under his watch, it’s an opportune time to read the Intercollegiate Review‘s new article outlining five basic conservative truths. One in particular challenges the premises of an activist government.

As government grows more powerful, it sucks up all the air and stifles other institutions, destroying civil society.

The best thing the federal government can do most of the time is to get out of the way. Its real job is to protect us from one another by defending the rights to life, liberty, and property. Beyond that, the state is meant to do only the things that can’t be done effectively or fairly by individuals—like guarding the borders, enforcing laws, and keeping people from dumping waste in other people’s wells. Everything else is done more efficiently and effectively by private initiative, community organizations, and local government.

In socialist countries (like most of Europe), there are very few private charities, almost no religious or independent schools, and few incentives for helping one’s neighbor. Too much of the wealth is taken from people in taxes, and the responsibility for almost every activity is shunted onto the government. That stifles diversity of thought, helps dominant elites impose their values on dissenters, and turns free citizens into clients of the state. It’s interesting that the demographic group that gives the most to private charity in America is conservative churchgoers, while secular liberals give the least. Instead they vote to raise taxes—on themselves and on everyone else.

Once the state, through high taxes, has annexed half or more of a country’s wealth—and hemmed in the rest with regulations—many people can’t afford to start a business, pay private school tuition, buy what they want, build a house, or otherwise shape their own lives. Instead they must petition the government for their needs. Private organizations are starved of funds, micromanaged by the government, or suppressed.

If only more people would say to their government: “Don’t just do something — stand there!