What is a tyrannical government? Have you ever wondered that?
Would would be a good working definition of “tyranny”? The 1828 Noah Webster Dictionary defines tyranny, in part, as the “Arbitrary or despotic exercise of power; the exercise of power over subjects and others with a rigor not authorized by law or justice, or not requisite for the purposes of government.”
What, as the lowest common denominator, is the attribute or quality of a tyrannical government? In fact, what is the proper role and purpose of governments at all?
The Declaration of Independence states that:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
From this segment above, we not only learn from about the source and attributes of fundamental rights, or rights natural to us as a part of our humanity, but we also learn about government’s relation to them. Government’s sole purpose is to secure and protect rights; rights which are natural to the people themselves in the first place, before any government even existed! Interestingly enough, those rights will be the the cause, if you will, of the symptom in mankind we see as the universal desire for freedom.
So, if government’s sole purpose is to secure and protect fundamental human rights, and if those very individual rights are being infringed upon via the government itself, than that government has become the tool of which its entire purpose it was to protect against! If our rights are the very reason we can come together to form governments in the first place, and to better exercise those very rights are the basis of all legitimate benefits that come from forming them at all, then how, from any angle, could those very rights not naturally be antecedent and superior to governments themselves?! How can an institution leave the entire basis and foundation of its’ purpose, without also leaving behind the integrity and any deserved respect that came as its original natural result?
So, with that in mind, the question still stands: what is a tyrannical government? What are the attributes that determine whether or not a government is tyrannical?
The common attribute of any tyrannical government is that it is a government which violates peoples’ natural rights. Anything else would be voluntary, and thus, the negative effects would merely be the result of consequence, regardless of the unfortunate and/or unwise circumstances surrounding them. A tyrannical government violates rights, and is, therefore, a government acting contrary to the whole purpose of its creation. And since people’s rights are antecedent to and superior to whatever government that may be, it is the RIGHT of the people to alter or abolish a tyrannical government!
But is this a complete analysis? As valid as that is; is there not a large missing piece to this observation? Sure, the violation of your rights involves you, but does it only involve yourself?
Yes, people do have the right to throw off tyranny. That is definitely not being disputed in the least. But notice how that right only concerns one’s self? Isn’t there another legitimate, and even potentially enforceable reason, that would concern other people? If every right is bound by the equal rights of other people, then there must be a term that indicates more than just how that individual right relates to tyrannical government, and merely deals with one’s self. There must be a term that also deals with how that right relates to other people.
If you continue reading, you should notice that the Declaration of Independence states that there is more than just a right to alter or abolish a tyrannical government:
“…when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
Did you catch that? Not only do you have a right to alter or abolish a government which infringes on your rights, but you have a DUTY “to throw off such government.” Why is that??
Well, think about it. You have a right to alter or abolish a government that is infringing on your rights; the very rights of which that government’s sole purpose it is to protect. But notice how that is only about YOU?! So why did Thomas Jefferson add in the fact that you also have a DUTY to do so?
If you, being one of the creators of a government that is tyrannical in form or has become tyrannical over time, or even a “creator” by a default renewal in your situational circumstance by even merely allowing the actions to take place, (whatever the case may be), and are, therefore, supporting a government, actively or passively, that is infringing on the rights of others, than YOU are infringing on other’s rights! Sure, it is indirect due to it being done by your agents in government, but does that fact, at all, alleviate the ugly truth of the matter? Does that somehow alleviate your culpability?
When we infringe on another’s rights, with resulting injury, loss, or harm, than that is legitimately termed a crime. Actions taken by government agents are not exempt of this same moral truth! Although it should be especially obvious in a country based, in part, on the direct voice of the people, there should be no question as to who is ultimately responsible for actions government officials take.
And thus, as Jefferson succinctly put it, you have a DUTY, as well as a right, to stop infringing on the rights other people via your agents in government! You have a DUTY to abandon that government, or alter its’ use of force, when it is infringing on the rights of other people! Remember, not only is government force used against other people, but it is used against other people in YOUR name! Isn’t there irony in sustaining criminal activity via the vehicle that is supposed to be the punisher of crime? Would that not, in its extreme, be criminal behavior in and of itself?
The power is ULTIMATELY and ALWAYS in the people. And thus, there is no escaping the rights and duties that are inherent in your even living amongst a society. It is true that you have rights or ‘just claims’ as a part of your humanity; but all too often, it is forgotten that with every right, there is a corresponding DUTY. Your rights have to do with YOU and your exercise of your agency and freedom, while your duties are how those rights relate to OTHERS, and how their rights relate to yours.
Rights and Duties are two sides of the same coin. And every actual right has a corresponding duty. These rights, being unalienable, all have corresponding duties, with the like quality of being as unalienable as the rights themselves! The exercise of a right can not be fully protected without the enforcement of the duties associated with that right, from either side of the matter. As has been said before by a great legal mind: “Unless there is someone who can be compelled to do or refrain from doing something to give the right meaning, it has no substance.”
The Noah Webster 1828 Dictionary defines “Duty,” in part as: “That which a person owes to another; that which a person is bound, by any natural, moral, or legal obligation, to pay, do or perform.” So what does someone owe to others, in the exercise of their rights, and what to others owe in a reciprocal fashion? Would the answer to that not be found in understanding how every individual’s fundamental rights relate to all others’ equal rights? In this understanding is found the true nature and extent of the actual Social Contract.
So, for example, one has the unalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and thus, he has the Duty to refrain from violating these same rights in relation to other people, and reciprocally, they all have a duty to refrain from doing the same in relation to theirs.
Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to Francis Walker Gilmer in 1816, had this to say:
“Our legislators are not sufficiently apprised of the rightful limits of their powers; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us. No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him. Every man is under the natural duty of contributing to the necessities of the society; and this is all the laws should enforce on him…When the laws have declared and enforced all this, they have fulfilled their functions, and the idea is quite unfounded that on entering into society we give up any natural right. The trial of every law by one of these texts would lessen much the labors of our legislators, and lighten equally our municipal codes.”
With the correct perspective on our rights, duties, and the freedom and the legitimate limits thereof, how could we not agree with this reasoning? In the end, the government reflects the mindset and the morality of the people whom they represent. If we don’t even notice the overstepping of the bounds set by government’s natural jurisdiction and purpose, is that, in a practical sense, any better than seeing it and continuing to allow and sustain that government’s infringing on the rights of yourself and/or others? We must first learn the principles of freedom, and then act and apply them in our lives.
As will be discussed in a future article, we must understand the true characteristics of The Social Contract. The true Social Contract, (or more accurately termed: Social Compact), deals solely with the protection of rights, and the enforcement of duties. We must understand this before we can more fully correct the abuses we see, or currently do not see, in society today, governmental and otherwise.
Because, ultimately, it is entirely up to us.