The only way for conservatives to protect themselves from government is to be libertarians. And no, that’s not contradictory. If the government can regulate victimless behavior, what behavior it regulates is just a matter of who’s in power.
One of the distinctions of conservatives is their emphasis on morality. This is commendable, and even necessary for civilization, but if you give the government the power to regulate your conduct, it will. And that’s a much bigger threat than someone else’s victimless conduct.
Regulation of Victimless Conduct
The government should regulate conduct that harms others, but not conduct that harms only the actor — “victimless” conduct. For instance, smoking dope is a foolish waste of brain and productivity, but so is watching TV. If you ban dope-smoking because of the harm done to families and the economy, there’s no reason not to ban TV-watching for the same reason. Or maybe you want to ban dope-smoking because it’s a gateway to other drugs. Well, TV is a gateway to pornography and sex crimes, so why don’t we ban it?
Gambling is a waste of money, but if you give the government the power to regulate it (or even hold a monopoly on it), there’s no reason not to ban wasteful spending on luxury vacations, or even charitable giving to an “unworthy” recipient who will only waste the gift.
Prostitution is morally reprehensible, but if you’re going to ban it, why not ban adultery? I mean, why ban extramarital sex for money, which at least will limit it to market demand, and yet allow it when it’s free?
Regulation of Social Conduct
When you allow the government to get into the business of charity, it actually winds up doing the opposite of what charity accomplishes. Welfare subsidizes the dysfunctional conduct that led to the recipient’s condition. For instance, if a family receives welfare benefits because they have no wage-earner in the household, welfare subsidizes illegitimacy, divorce, drunkenness, unemployment, or whatever condition led to the lack of a wage-earner. And since you always get more of whatever you subsidize, welfare causes more poverty and dysfunction. It has a decivilizing effect on society.
Charity has a key ingredient that is entirely lacking in wealth-transfer welfare programs: accountability. Charities compete for donors, and so they must perform well. They have to actually improve the condition of the recipient, and to do this they must alleviate the dysfunctional condition that led to poverty in the first place. Charities thrive by improving conditions around them. If they don’t, people won’t give to those charities. Since the state can simply take your money by force, it has no competition; its only economic incentive is to take more and more.
Another important aspect of social conduct is education. In a civilized society, education is a parental responsibility. If you give the government the power to regulate the education of your children, it will teach them whatever they need to know not for their own benefit, but for the benefit of the ruling class. Parents teach children what they need in order to thrive in society. States teach children what it needs them to know about being a good subject of the ruling class.
How To Regulate Conduct Without The Power Of Government
In a free society, there are plenty of tools available to enforce a code of conduct without the dangerous power of government. Just as one example out of many, you can enforce a code of conduct by banning it from your property. If you object to gambling, you can ban gamblers from your property, you can refuse to do business with them, and you can refuse to associate with them at the church picnic. And if he objects to your prudishness, he can do the same.
Conservatives have a commendable focus on morality, but they have hurt themselves by using the power of government to regulate conduct they object to. To preserve civilization they must preserve liberty first, and then use the power of family, church, and community to encourage and reward good moral conduct.