As I've mentioned on this blog before, Professor George is one of my favorite philosophers of law and morality. I encourage you to read this essay if you want an excellent primer on the function of government, and in particular how we should think about how law and morality relate to abortion and marriage.
For my own benefit (and perhaps for yours as well) I thought it might be helpful to take the essay and chop it up into a multi-part interview format--inserting questions to make the presentation easier to skim. Again, please keep in mind that I've added the questions below, as well as numbers and italics. Make sure to read the whole thing for the full context.
What are the obligations and purposes of law and government?
(1) To protect (a) public health, (b) safety, and (c) morals, and (2) to advance the general welfare—including, preeminently, protecting people’s fundamental rights and basic liberties.
Wouldn't this require the granting of vast and sweeping powers to public authority?
No; the general welfare—the common good—requires that government be limited.
You distinguish between government's primary and subsidiary roles. What are the government's primary responsibilities?
Government’s responsibility is primary when the questions involve (1) defending the nation from attack and subversion, (2) protecting people from physical assaults and various other forms of depredation, and (3) maintaining public order.
What are the subsidiary roles of the government?
Its subsidiary roles include: to support the work of the families, religious communities, and other institutions of civil society that shoulder the primary burden of forming upright and decent citizens, caring for those in need, encouraging people to meet their responsibilities to one another while also discouraging them from harming themselves or others.
You've said that political morality requires (1) governmental respect for individual freedom and (2) the autonomy of nongovernmental spheres of authority. Can you explain?
Government must not try to run people’s lives or usurp the roles and responsibilities of (1) families, (2) religious bodies, and (3) other character- and culture-forming authoritative communities. The usurpation of the just authority of families, religious communities, and other institutions is unjust in principle, often seriously so, and the record of big government in the twentieth century—even when it has not degenerated into vicious totalitarianism—shows that it does little good in the long run and frequently harms those it seeks to help.
What is the relationship between limited government and classic liberalism?
Limited government is a key tenet of classic liberalism—the liberalism of people like Madison and Tocqueville—although today it is regarded as a conservative ideal.
Does belief in limited government entail libertarianism?
No. The strict libertarian position, it seems to me, goes much too far in depriving government of even its subsidiary role. (1) It underestimates the importance of maintaining a reasonably healthy moral ecology, especially for the rearing of children, and (2) it misses the legitimate role of government in supporting the nongovernmental institutions that shoulder the main burden of assisting those in need.
What truths is libertarianism responding to?
Libertarianism responds to certain truths about big government, especially in government’s bureaucratic and managerial dimensions. Economic freedom cannot guarantee (1) political liberty and (2) the just autonomy of the institutions of civil society, but, in the absence of economic liberty, other honorable personal and institutional freedoms are rarely secure. Moreover, the concentration of economic power in the hands of government is something every true friend of civil liberties should, by now, have learned to fear.
What else does libertarianism respond to?
There is an even deeper truth—one going beyond economics—to which libertarianism responds: Law and government exist to protect human persons and secure their well-being. It is not the other way round, as communist and other forms of collectivist ideology suppose. Individuals are not cogs in a social wheel. Stringent norms of political justice forbid persons to be treated as mere servants or instrumentalities of the state. These norms equally exclude the sacrificing of the dignity and rights of persons for the sake of some supposed “greater overall good.”