What is government? And what is its purpose?
When you take a second to think about it, a government is simply a legal fiction. It doesn’t tangibly exist. But for now, think of government as a small number of people hired by the people at large to carry out specifically authorized services for them. Government itself has no innate power, privilege, or authority.
It should always be remembered that the power is ultimately within the people themselves. Therefore, it is up to the people who benefit from those legitimate government services to ultimately support those services.
The fact that large groups of people practicing civil disobedience can have such a huge impact, even though that large group of people may be relatively small as a percentage of the overall population, should illustrate how relatively fragile government itself can be when it comes to the enforcement of laws and statutes. The same tipping point that can be reached to reject illegitimate government action, can also be reached to promote revolutionary means contrary to legitimate government action.
Now, just thinking about how large the population of the united States of America are, when compared to the very small number of public servants, should make very clear a certain point. The power is always with the people! Would there be any real competition, in terms of power, for over three hundred million people to be on one side, against 535 voting members of Congress, 9 supreme court justices, and 1 president?
It should, thus, be completely clear that it is ultimately up to the people to guarantee responsible government action amongst themselves. Public servants are not only people themselves, but after all, they are only representatives of the people themselves! Even tyrants only maintain all the power the people themselves acquiesce. Qui tacet consentire videtur…ubi loqui debuit ac potuit. (He who is silent is taken to agree…when he ought to have spoken and was able to).
Government truly is entirely, always, and ever will be a reflection of the morality of the people. It is a mirror effect of the values of society itself. It is the moral residue of a silent battle that has already taken place in the minds and hearts of the people. Not the cause, as some may suppose, but the after effect. Thus, even forcing “free” government on a foreign people so accustomed to tyranny cannot and will not work. That is like attempting to cure symptoms without consideration to their cause. The tyranny is the symptom of a “sickness” amongst the people. The battle is truly for the hearts and minds of the people. The battle cry is for the protection and honoring of the universal desire for freedom that resides in all mankind!
The Declaration of Independence states that government’s sole purpose and function is to secure and protect pre-existent and God-given human rights. So, how does government do that? Remember, government does not create and “give” rights! So…Government can be used to create an environment that is the most optimal and the most efficient for individuals to exercise their rights. This can come about by the passive, yet very effective, reactionary enforcement of every rights’ corresponding duty! It is a government that is reactionary against harm that has been done against the rights of other people. It is a government that assumes the best nature in people, while being effective enough for the punishing of the worst, if it palpably affects the rights of other people.
There are only three possible roles for government:
1) Prevent Injustice
2) Promote Justice
3) Supply “Social Justice”
Every government is built on one of these premises. Yet, only one can possibly be a limited government. Only one is merely a reactionary government towards only those that have violated the rights of others! That is, of course, the first option. And unfortunately, the trend has always been to go from the first option towards the third. It always trends from government by restoration and reparation towards government by “equalization” and ultimately, absolute despotism and “starvation.” Government, instead of being the legitimate punisher of crime, tends to become the means of those very criminal acts!
Yet, man did not enter society to be worse off! So, why does this happen? Tyranny in government, to reiterate an earlier point, will always reflect a tyrannical tendency amongst those whom they represent. There is always the tendency to attempt to benefit at the expense of others, and yet, to claim that it is somehow for the “general welfare.”
Now, why are options 2 and 3 so dangerous? Why not supply “justice”? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?
Ultimately, government cannot supply justice itself without becoming a violator of the rights of which it is merely supposed to protect. To supply “justice” would not only have to assume massive amounts of “prior restraint” towards the exercise of rights, but could very well lead government into becoming the servant of a subjective definition of “justice,” that would then inevitably lead to outright attempts to control conscience, as well as forced redistribution of the people’s wealth. In fact, it would have to assume complete naivete on the part of those who would think their magistrates are somehow not prone towards the imperfections inherent in all mortal man, even if they have “good intent.” In assuming class consciousness, it is truly naive to think that it couldn’t lead to merely another form of “us vs. them.” The communist experiments in Russia and China should show this explicitly. The practical failures of options 2 and 3 should open people’s minds to the errors of their underlying principles.
Once the line is crossed between option 1, or that of merely preventing injustice, and moves towards somehow promoting “justice” and so on and so forth…where is the logical line in the sand that will say “this and no further!” At what point would it be recognized as tryanny, and detrimental to the exercise of the very rights that government’s sole original and proper purpose it was to protect!
As was noted by the french political economist Frederic Bastiat:
“When law and force keep a man within the bounds of justice, they impose nothing upon him but mere negation. They only oblige him to abstain from doing harm. They violate neither his personality, his liberty, nor his property. They only guard the personality, the liberty, the property of others. They hold themselves on the defensive; they defend the equal right of all. They fulfill a mission whose harmlessness is evident, whose utility is palpable, and whose legitimacy is not to be disputed. This is so true that, as a friend of mine once remarked to me, to say that the aim of the law is to cause justice to reign, is to use an expression that is not rigorously exact. It ought to be said, the aim of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. In fact, it is not justice that has an existence of its own, it is injustice. The one results from the absence of the other.
But when the law, through the medium of its necessary agent – force – imposes a form of labor, a method or a subject of instruction, a creed, or a worship, it is no longer negative; it acts positively upon men. It substitutes the will of the legislator for their own will, the initiative of the legislator for their own initiative. They have no need to consult, to compare, or to foresee; the law does all that for them. The intellect for them a useless encumbrance; they cease to be men; they lose their personality, their liberty, their property.” (The Law, pp. 19-20)
There is another layer to this as well….
Society does not exist outside of the individuals that make it up! Any more than a forest exists outside of the individual trees that make it up! You cannot touch “the public” as if it exists on its own!
Thus, since unalienable rights exist within the individuals themselves, the authority, or the legal right to act, must needs also reside in the individuals themselves. In fact, equally (as well as potentially equally considering the potential situations that could arise), in the respective individuals themselves! If not, how could equal rights, in quality, be a true concept. Thus, the bounds and limits set by nature to the individuals’ right to act must also limit the government that represents those very same individual rights! In other words, there is no possible way to exercise, delegate, or extend a right via representation in government without that rights’ corresponding duties!!
For example, how can one extend a right to self-defense via government without the corresponding duties that attend to that very right? How could government somehow represent a right to life, without the corresponding duty to respect the lives of others? And wouldn’t the same principle apply towards the property of those very same individuals? Thus, any government action outside the legitimate actions of individual persons, may have the facade of legality, and even the force of power, but cannot be considered in harmony with any form of legitimate authority!
As Ezra Taft Benson so succinctly stated it: “the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act.”
Remember, power is merely the will of the mightiest! It is simply the ability to act, even if that is by brute force and coercion. Authority is the moral and the legal right to act!
Thus, of the three options stated earlier above, the role of preventing injustice is the only government which can be limited. It is the only that is restricted to the moral and legal authority that resides in connection with the individual right to act! It can be the only proper role, and role which is in harmony with the entire purpose of instituting government in the first place!
How could it ever be considered within the proper role of the individual person to promote “justice” amongst his/her neighbors?? In fact, that would inevitably lead to conduct that would violate the rights that government is supposed to protect. For, assuming that improper role for government, what would be the logical line that would say that they could not ban this or that book, or even attempt to regulate the thoughts of individuals who may tend to believe things outside of “the public good.” In other words, it would inevitably lead to criminal conduct that is to be punished by government! It would lead to a situation where the exercise of individual rights is less efficient, not more! And would it be any less criminal if done by government agents themselves, even if ironically done in the name of even a majority of the people, or in the name “Justice”?! As Rousseau called it, “the general will!” Vague. Nebulous. And a threatening potential “justification” for tyranny in any form, including that of the mere majority!
To keep government within its proper role is our duty towards ourselves and each other. Ultimately, out of all inter-human relations, government is the lowest common denominator in society, and should thus, merely reflect that upon which everyone can simultaneously, logically, and practically agree! That is, of course, the universal desire for freedom that everyone has, and which everyone needs to be respected, to pursue their own happiness! That is the code of morality that can be accepted by all men, if they would but realize, or more fully realize that fact! It is the universal desire for freedom that naturally surrounds every single fundamental right, which rights, mortal man did not give, and thus, they cannot take away! They belong inherently to all men, and if only we could realize that fact, the world would be a much better place today.
Because, ultimately, it is entirely up to us.