Saturday, July 23, 2011

role of government part one

First of all a warm welcome to Smokey and Snickers to the family...Nice to have new energy around the home...
So the question I have rattling around in my brain is this: What exactly do we expect to get from our government?  What are we "owed" as participants in our social contract? what can our government do for us?
'Twould seem to be an easy question to answer.  Humans initially/naturally existed in a state of anarchy--no controlling authority.  There was nothing imposing order on their behavior toward one another.  Over time, as people switched to an agrarian way of living (as opposed to hunting and gathering their way through life) this anarchical society proved to be problematic.  Food being stolen means the grower can't eat.  So the choice is to spend all of one's time defending food from predators (which keeps the grower from growing and harvesting) or he can attempt to grow enough to feed predators enough to leave him alone, or he can organize with other growers to defend as a group.  I suppose he could also try reasoning with the predators and bring them around to his way of thinking...but I doubt that would work well...  So organizing together led to the first societies, which led to the first agreements on laws/rules and norms.
So at the core, we expect a government to impose laws/norms that have been commonly agreed to by the citizens, on those who might be less willing to follow them, while at the same time, arranging to protect those citizens from people outside the state who might not agree about the laws either.  So a government must arrange for a system of laws, a means to enforce those laws, a means to modify those laws, and some type of military to defend the nation.
That's the basis for government as we know it.  Now obviously it has evolved since then.
During the Enlightenment, the movement was to overthrow absolute monarchs, and return the power of governance to the general citizenship (though not everyone was a citizen, nor were they all enfranchised if they were), and they were pretty P.Od about the abuses that the monarchs had heaped upon them, so they wanted government to do more.  Laws were no longer just to protect property and life, but to protect abstract concepts like human and civil rights.  These were, at the time, largely contained to freedoms that the average American recognizes: Speech, Assembly, Press, Worship.  At the same time, they deepened laws of protection of property to include ideas like: a fair trial, facing accusers, the vague notions of innocent until proven guilty, and notions of due process leading to punishments that were neither cruel nor unusual.  Welcome to the Constitution.
As a backlash against the depredations of the absolute monarchs, this was very effective, and the goals are easily understandable as to why they were so necessary for the new governments of places like the US to hold on to its legitimacy.
This then evolves into a notion of a welfare state after the Civil War, and I'll see about that next post...

1 comment:

  1. I'm waiting with baited breath to see how you bring our government to the impasse we're in now, where an apparently large number of elected officials believe that they have been elected to obstruct government and obstruct it absolutely. In some ways we're back to the absolutism of the monarchy, only it's disguised as democracy. This is not government of, by and for the people any longer.