You Say You Want A Revolution?

When I was a philosophy student, I participated in this shindig called “ethics bowl”. What ethics bowl isn’t as important than to say that I had a teammate who was an avowed anarchist. Really, he was. I don’t think that he was the type that wants to burn down buildings or wants chos and disorder as much as I think that he believed that people were better off governing themselves. I think that he believed, in the long run, governmental power was more pernicious than it is useful. There is a general feeling out there, not just among anarchists, but among Libertarians, Conservatives, even among Liberals and Progressives, that all government is in some way inherently bad. They are guided by the mantra “the government that governs best governs least”. As soon as governments gain power, they believe, man loses his freedom. These people are easy to spot. They’re the people who spell “government” GOVERNMENT. And a growing number of Americans see GOVERNMENT as a failure. This is not just a Tea Party sentiment. From Rush Limbaugh to the late Howard Zinn, not only are Americans (and their political spokespeople) distrustful of GOVERNMENT, they believe that government is at best incompetent and at worst dangerous. Ronald Reagan famously said, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem”. And the GOVERNMENT has wasted no time proving Reagan’s sentiment. Intelligence failures, the Katrina debacle, runaway deficit spending, crony capitalism, the potential ELE oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the expanding, invasive role into the lives of average Americans has a growing number of people not only agreeing with Reagan’s sentiment, but agreeing with Grover Norquist’s sentiment of wanting to shrink government to the size that it can be drowned in a bathtub. The recent primary victory of Tea Party fav, and son of Ron Paul, Rand Paul, in Kentucky is a testiment to the fact that more Americans are thinking of their government as the GOVERNMENT. Maybe the people should be alone to rule themselves. This idea is by no means a new one. As Americans, we are raised with the notion that people are or should be, for the most part, able to care for themselves. This is the way man’s nature truly is, some say. Where we go wrong, is that we institute GOVERNMENT, that, given it’s nature to take freedom away, busies itself with making otherwise independent creatures wholly subservient and dependent on it. Listen to enough talk radio, and you’ll hear how we’re supposed to be. It actually sounds a little like Rousseau’s depiction of man in the state of nature. According to Rousseau, man, in the state of nature (that is, before civilization), cared for himself. He enjoyed unlimited freedom, and success depended upon his ability or own willingness to do for himself. Man, in his natural state, did not require supervision from an institutional authority. This is about as close to a Garden of Eden as man can get. However, like the fabeled Garden, Rousseau’s nature man did not exist. The story is an allegory, an idealized notion of how man should be — how man is in his heart (as we all feel the longing for total liberty). Unfortunately, as anyone who has ever tries to hang a seiling fan alone has discovered, there are some things that individuals simply cannot do for themselves. We cannot defend our borders as single people (although there are some people who believe this is possible), we need governments to secure our borders for us. A single man cannot fight against an entire nation. Therefore, we need governments to create armies to protect and defend us. We cannot survive alone in a world, where all fight against all, where Hobbes says that life is “nasty, brutish and short”. We need protection. We would rather give up some of our freedom in exchange for safety and security. This is why man agrees to be governed. We also know that no matter how much we try to educate some, there are people who simply will not or cannot not make rational decisions. Governments take all suggestions of how to govern and mitigate as to which course of action is the best for the people to take. The Founders were well aware of this fact. Just ask yourself why the franchise was so limited at the Nation’s founding? This is why Bentham believed that government should occasionally take an activist role. If the common good can be achieved by government occasionally acting as a GOVERNMENT, then the government should do so. And our government has certainly done so; the Reconstruction amendments following the Civil War, civil rights legislation, Supreme Court decisions reversing segregation, etc. Government should always be at the ready to reverse bad decision making when the people either cannot or will not do it themselves. Of course, the government does not have unlimited power. We may have forgotten this, but our government was created to protect our rights, not to grant them. The Rights of the People are not doled out by men in Washington, but handed to us by our Creator. Our Rights are inalienable (that means we can’t even give them away voluntarily). But, like government, our rights are not absolute. We can have them taken from us by way of due process. And we know that our rights end as soon as they infringe on the rights of another person. I cannot execute a person for walking across my property, even if I post a sign that says “No Tresspassing”. My rights to have an unmolested lawn do not overide another person’s right to life. At their heart, all governments require some degree of coersion to achieve their ends (which is protecting and promoting the common good). I think that this fact is what sets some people off about GOVERNMENT — it’s the fact that they feel compelled to do anything at all. You can feel the spirit of Rousseau’s nature man in your heart, but you have to recognize that if you wnat to live in a country of 300,000,000 people, you’re going to have to do some things that you don’t wan to do, and that you are definitely not always going to get what you want. Great political thinkers: Plato, Locke, Rousseau, Marx, the American Founders, even Reagan, recognized that government is necessary. American Founder (and big GOVERNMENT enthusiast) Alexander Hamilton, said if men were angels that governments wouldn’t be necessary. Well, men aren’t. Even Reagan said that the aim wasn’t to destroy government, but to find a way to make it work. The big question is how do we go about finding a government that protects liberty, serves the common good, promotes justice, and serves the wider group? The plain truth of the matter is that democracy is messy. It’s prone to tyranny and bad governance. But, as Winston Churchill observed, as bad as democracy is, it still beats out every other bad form of government. We the people are in charge of this democracy. This is why we cannot fully blame our elected politicians nor can we fully call ourselves blameless when government goes wrong. To run a successful government, it takes lots of responsibility and alot of homework. Our task is not to drown government, but to do as Reagan said and find a way to make it work. So, my advice for anyone who complains about how much they hate GOVERNMENT and how much they’s like to see the drowning, simply think of the places where the drowning has already taken place. And then ask yourself, is there some reason why you’re not already in Somalia?

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