June 12, 2011

The Proper Role of Government

I’ll admit it upfront, the ideas I’m going to discuss I've borrowed heavily from Frederic Bastiat who wrote a shortish work called The Law, it would definitely be worth your time to read it.  That doesn’t mean these aren’t also my own thoughts.  No one can truly claim to be the first to come up with an idea – we are merely created beings after all.  But the ideas that we adopt and use are indeed ours – as evidenced by how we live our lives.

Government is, in its simplest conception, an institution to provide self-defense at a corporate level for a group of people. 

Think about it this way – what is the most precious gift we are given by God?  Life itself, correct?  One of the responsibilities he gives us is to look after this life to the best of our ability.  This includes defending it from mortal danger.  If a small town appoints a sheriff, that sheriff understands that he acts with the authority of the people who selected him.  His job is to prevent those who wish to cause harm to the community from doing so.  If the town is faced with their possible destruction from a neighboring town, they will raise an army of those capable of defending the town.  But at all times that army understands it is acting as an arm of the people of the town.

The reason I go with a microcosm example is to make it clear what the purpose of the law enforcement/military arms of our government should be for – to protect and defend the community.  It’s not as if the government exists independently – mysteriously drawing its power to force those under its authority to its will.

I have to make such an obvious statement because governments have existed so long; people begin to assume that they must be subjected to them.  The Founders of America understood the need for a government as well as anyone, but they further recognized the true purpose of government, and underwent a monumental effort to refute the thousands of years of top down authoritarian styled government, and instituted a government to “form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare and ensure the blessings of liberty, to ourselves and our posterity”.

I hope most of you recognized that quote.  If not, take a moment and Google the preamble to the constitution.  That statement gives us a window into the very purpose of the government that we have here in the USA.  If you don’t understand it, and it’s purpose, then you don’t understand what our government should (and should not) be doing. 

This may be too long of a digression to complete, and if so perhaps I’ll write a whole post on it next time, but naked democracy is NOT the answer to tyranny.  It seems to answer all the prerequisites on the surface, it responds to the will of the people in general, avoids the completely arbitrary nature of a tyrant, and provides the ability to change laws that hurt people more than help.  The short and simple reason a direct democracy is not a good idea is the fact that a simple majority (50.1%) has the ability to tyrannize the minority of the population.  There are other reasons, many of which were written about by our founding fathers in their discussions about forms of government.  It should be noted that our form of government started as a Constitutional Republic, but has been slowly degraded to more of a Democratic Republic, with many who would love to move it all the way to a democracy.

So how does my original example of government protecting the people fit in with modern governance, which educates, provides welfare for, and in various ways takes care of people in the fashion that we would traditionally ascribe to what a family and a church would do?

Well in many ways it does.  We have a system of laws designed to allow the ordinary man, who wishes no one else harm, the ability to live in peace, and prosperity if he is willing to work for it.  These laws allow the punishment of those who harm others in a systematic, in not perfectly just, manner.  These laws are enforced by a combination of the executive and judicial branches of our government, and are created by the legislative. 

On the flip, in many ways our current government does not accomplish its original goal, to serve by protecting.  This is reflected in laws and regulations that overly burden private enterprise, criminalize activities that don’t harm to others (Thanks EPA), and an expansive government that causes subservience by dependency.

Next time, I’m going to look at why we were not give a direct democracy by our founders, and why our slide into such has created discrepancies between what our government does today, and what it should do ideally.

1 comment:

  1. FYI, if you click on the title of this post, you will be linked to an online version of "The Law" It's short... check it out!

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