For much of our history, the Jeffersonian hostility to an energetic federal government served us well. But with the end of the frontier and the shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy, the expanding role of government in protecting and assuring our “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness” has become utterly essential. All the major problems now befuddling us — the destructive excesses of finance capitalism, a profit-based healthcare system, an increasingly contaminated atmosphere — are only soluble if we regard government as the chosen representative of our collective interests as a people and a nation.
No less an American hero than George Washington put it rather defiantly in 1785: “We are either a united people, or we are not. If the former, let us, in all matters of general concern act as a nation. … If we are not, let us no longer act a farce by pretending it.” And even Jefferson acknowledged that his anti-government vision would become irrelevant once we ceased being an agricultural society and that future generations — meaning us — would at some point need to throw off what he called “the dead hand of the past.”