What is the Proper Role of Government?

by Diane Rufino

The need for government, plain and simple, is because absolute freedom is impossible. However much we believe that freedom is the natural right of man, anarchy is not feasible in a world of evil and imperfect men.

Governments, like those in the United States, are the intentional creations of free people. People mutually agree to transfer some of their rights to a governing body in order that they may live an ordered and more fruitful existence. Yes, they create governments so that liberty, in effect, can be enlarged.  How is this possible?  Consider how much freedom a person has who has to stay home to guard and protect his valuable property.  He can’t work successfully or travel freely.  But police and fire departments can guard and protect his property on his behalf.  In return, free people agree to be bound by the laws of government. And these laws, according to Natural law and natural rights, are specifically intended to prevent and punish bad conduct while promoting and rewarding good conduct.

First and foremost, the role of a government is to protect individual rights. According to Cicero, the preeminent lawyer of ancient Rome, and the great thinkers of the  Enlightenment Era such as John Locke and Thomas Hobbs, the primary role of government is to protect individual life, liberty, and property.  To so do, a government must perform three basic functions:  (1) Police – to protect individuals from domestic criminals and predators;  (2) Military – to protect the community and individuals from foreign threats; and (3) Judiciary – to provide the means for individuals to settle disputes according to established law and without resorting to force. The government of a free people does not regulate its citizens nor does it coerce or influence their behavior in any way.  The government of a free people is benevolent and not intrusive.  Free and good people should never be afraid of their government.  They should never be afraid to criticize it or seek to alter it so that it better suits their liberty needs.  And should never be confronted with such voluminous statutes that they can’t reasonably be expected to read or understand them or their implications and then be punished for it.

In an ideal situation, as our early freedom-loving Americans and Founding Fathers envisioned, under a proper government, a private citizen is legally free to do as he pleases (as long as he doesn’t violate the rights of others), while government is bound by laws and government officials are bound both by law and their oaths.  In other words, a private citizen may do anything “except that which is legally forbidden and a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.”  To some extent understanding of government helped our Founders almost unanimously realize that our country would be established as a republic rather than a pure democracy.  We would be a nation of laws and not a nation of men. Under such a system, the rights of all individuals would be properly respected and protected.

With the surrender of Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781, the colonists won their independence from Great Britain and secured their liberty.  But how would it be preserved?  That was the question. The answer, according to our Founding Fathers, was a carefully-designed government, limited to the precise wording of a Constitution, which would protect those individual rights and liberties that the colonies had just fought for.  The Constitution, written on behalf of a sovereign people, laid out a government of limited and clearly-defined responsibilities. All other responsibilities were left to the States and to the people themselves to manage their own lives and affairs.

The fact that our Founding Fathers carefully crafted, debated, and ratified a Constitution to preserve the liberties they had just fought for is the key to understanding the spirit and construction of our great document.  And the fact that representatives to a Continental Congress created and adopted  a Declaration of Independence which set out the ideals and values upon which our newly independent nation would be established is further evidence.

Our Declaration of Independence states:  “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 a new Government…………”

As we can infer from the Declaration, our Founders believed that certain human liberties are so fundamental to one’s existence, humanity, and individuality that they must come from our Creator.  If that is the case, then no government can take them away.

The wording that Thomas Jefferson chose for the Declaration is significant because it evidences a strong belief that our Founders had in Natural Law, a philosophy introduced by Marcus Tullius Cicero, the leading attorney of his day and defender of the Roman republic, and underpinning the ideals of a government “of the people, for the people.”  John Locke, William Blackstone, William Hobbs, and others based their philosophies of government on Natural Law, and it was these men who greatly inspired our Founders.

Essentially, Natural law is what spontaneously arises when there is no government, because of “who we are” and who created us.  It is not codified in any statute but is a matter deeply and fundamentally engrained in the human spirit. Cicero, who lived at the time of Julius Caesar, inferred the following from his observations of society, government, and depravity:  Before there was government, there was the individual.  A Creator, or higher power, who created the universe then created people. This higher power which created the universe also endowed humans with a bit of its own divinity. That is, He gave us the powers of speech, intelligent thought, reason, and wisdom. We love and nurture our young.  We build life-long family units. (We are created “In His Image”).  As a result of this “spark of divinity,” humans are and should be (forever) linked to their Creator and should honor this relationship. Because humans share reason with this higher power, and because this higher power is presumed to be benevolent, it follows that humans, when employing reason correctly, will also be benevolent.  Reason and benevolence form the foundation of law.  When applied in a society, it is called justice.  People can form strong and beneficial communities because laws will serve the good in man’s nature and discourage and punish the bad.

Natural Law is timeless. It is valid for all nations for all times.  It operates best when men are virtuous and honorable, and it fails when men are greedy and depraved.  One can argue that our Founder’s fatal flaw in creating the Constitution was assuming that Americans could remain virtuous and honorable, because only then could laws and government serve the “good” nature in man and promote moral societies.

Philosophers like Cicero reasoned that Natural law derives from the nature of man and the world, just as physical law derives from the nature of space, time, and matter.  But Cicero’s law presupposes a benevolent and intentional Creator.  It is therefore a moral law.  All men, being rational and tending towards benevolence, pursue paths and develop their potential dictated by their natures.  That is, their conduct embodies moral and ethical codes.  These values are the foundations of a good, strong, and productive society.  Many may see where Natural law harmonizes with the theory of evolution.

In his book on Natural Law, A. Kenneth Hasselberg wrote:  “A social order is not possible unless man is able to conceive of those norms of conduct which are necessary to its establishment and preservation, namely, respect for another’s person and for his rightful possessions, which is the substance of justice … But justice is the product of reason, not the passions. And justice is the necessary support of the social order; and the social order is necessary to man’s well-being and happiness. If this is so, the norms of justice must control and regulate the passions, and not vice versa.

Critics will claim that natural law should serve man’s “nature” and hence, what makes him ‘happy,’ but that would minimize and potentially contradict biological law. Biological law states that the driving force for all living things is the ability to successfully live and reproduce and propagate the species.Man can strive for material (and even amoral) happiness but if it harms his ability to exist successfully, then it’s clear this criticism is flawed.  Psychologist Leonard Carmichael wrote:  “Because man has an unchanging and an age-old, genetically determined anatomical, physiological, and psychological make-up, there is reason to believe that at least some of the “values” that he recognized as good or bad have been discovered or have emerged as human individuals have lived together for thousands of years in many societies. Is there any reason to suggest that these values, once identified and tested, may not be thought of as essentially fixed and unchanging?  For example, the wanton murder of one adult by another for the purely personal amusement of the person committing the murder, once it is recognized as a general wrong, is likely always to be so recognized. Such a murder has disadvantageous individual and social effects.”

British philosopher, John Locke, took the Cicero’s concept of Natural Law one step further and applied it to government.  According to Locke, people (not rulers or governments) are sovereign. Individuals, possessing inherent rights, are the real sovereigns. Governments derive their consent and power from sovereign people under a compact theory (contract theory) doctrine.  Consent can either be in written contract form (a constitution) or implied, by an implied agreement to be served by government and to subjected to its laws.

In order to understand the premise for John Locke’s theory on government, ask this question: Which comes first –  individuals or governments?   We all know the answer.  Individuals, with certain fundamental sovereign rights, form into communities. They delegate their power over their rights and property to a local government to protect them. As John Locke explained: “Individuals have sovereign rights which no government can take away.  (Government can only exercise power on behalf of the people).  As such, government is morally obliged to serve people, namely by protecting life, liberty, and property.”

John Locke was one of the first great thinkers of the Enlightenment Era (or age of Reason).  He believed in the sovereignty of the individual – the inherent rights of the individual to self-protection.  Locke understood that the individual has natural rights to life, liberty and property, and therefore has the right to protect them.  It is from this basic premise that he explored the role of government.  We can read his views in his extensive essays entitled The Two Treatises of Government, published in 1688 and 1689.  In the first treatise, Locke refutes the belief in the divine right of Kings.  It is in the second treatise, however, where we see the fundamentals of Locke’s political theory.

Locke’s fundamental assertion is one that follows Cicero’s writings.  He explains the state of  nature has human beings enjoying most of their natural rights without the state. That is, rights are not granted by the state…  only certain privileges. The fact that property could be freely exchanged, sold, or accumulated in that natural condition led Locke to argue that governments ought not interfere with most aspects of the economy and society. Moreover, he reasoned, no people living in a natural state of freedom would consent to have all their liberty taken away.  Liberty is not the government’s to take away. Therefore, any government requires the consent of the people to “protect the rights of life, liberty, and property” that the people themselves have the natural authority to do. (The right of self-protection).  This, therefore, makes government ‘conditional.’  It also dictates that the role of the state ought to be limited to protecting life, liberty, and property from those few predatory members of the human race whom Locke referred to as the “quarrelsome and the contentious.”

As Locke explained in his Second Treatise on Government, each person is an individual sovereign, with inherent rights that he possesses over his person and his property (especially his intellectual and personal property).  He reasoned: “How can we, as individuals, give consent to others – local government, state government, etc – to make rules for us if we don’t have the original power to make rules for ourselves?”

According to Locke, everyone is entitled to live once they are created (Life), everyone is entitled to do anything they want to so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first right (Liberty), and everyone is entitled to own all they create or gain through gift or trade so long as it doesn’t conflict with the first two rights (Property).  Since the role of government is limited, its power should also be limited. Locke proposed that government be limited through a separation of powers scheme, where each branch checks the other.  He also stressed that once government becomes destructive of the reasons for its existence, then the people have the right, and even the moral obligation, to abolish it.  We can see how strong an influence John Locke had on Thomas Jefferson and on our other Founders.

Unfortunately, when laws become too numerous and detailed, they can destroy liberty just as surely and effectively as having no law.  We are living witnesses to that today.

John Locke wrote that the decision by a group of people to delegate authority to a government creates a social compact or social contract.  Often the compact is memorialized in a constitution, a written agreement that sets limitations on government power and represents the consent of the people.  Laws established for the community naturally flow from this initial agreement and therefore a constitution is superior to ordinary laws created by any legislature. Locke’s idea of government is one of a limited constitutional regime.  Therefore, according to Locke, constitutions are social contracts or social compacts. It is most reasonable to assume that our Founders, the States, and our early Americans viewed the US Constitution as such. If you read the Articles or Declarations of Secession drafted and adopted by the 11 states in 1860-61, many expressly state that the Constitution is a social compact.

For example, read what South Carolina in its ” Declaration of the Immediate Causes Which Induce and Justify the Secession of South Carolina from the Federal Union,” adopted on December 24, 1860:
“By this Constitution, certain duties were imposed upon the several States, and the exercise of certain of their powers was restrained, which necessarily implied their continued existence as sovereign States. But to remove all doubt, an amendment was added, which declared that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people. On the 23d May , 1788, South Carolina, by a Convention of her People, passed an Ordinance assenting to this Constitution, and afterwards altered her own Constitution, to conform herself to the obligations she had undertaken.”

Thus was established, by compact between the States, a Government with definite objects and powers, limited to the express words of the grant. This limitation left the whole remaining mass of power subject to the clause reserving it to the States or to the people, and rendered unnecessary any specification of reserved rights.”

A social contract is an agreement intended to explain the appropriate relationship between individuals and their governments.  People form an implicit social contract, ceding their natural rights to an authority to protect them from abuse.  According to the dictionary, a social contract (aka, social compact) is a voluntary agreement among individuals by which, according to any of various theories, such as those put forth by Hobbes, Locke, or Rousseau, organized society is brought into being and invested with the right to secure mutual protection and welfare or to regulate the relations among its members.

Locke explained that people escape their primitive state by forming into communities and thus entering a social contract under which the state provides protective services to its citizens. Locke regarded this type of contract as revocable.  A government depends on the consent of those who are governed, which may be withdrawn at any time, thus dissolving the agreement and thereby invalidating the government.  [In the case of a federation of states, for example, one state would no longer “give consent” and therefore dissociate itself from the contract, thereby dissolving its bond with the other states].

In every compact or contract between two or more parties, there is mutual obligation. The failure of one of the contracting parties to perform a material part of the agreement entirely releases the obligation of the other.  This, in fact, was the position of the state of South Carolina in its Declaration of Secession.

While we today barely talk about this fundamental concept, the States were keenly aware of the relationship created by the Constitution and obligations associated with it.  Look at the phraseology officially given by the state of Virginia when it finally adopted (reluctantly) the Constitution on June 25, 1788:

The Virginia Ratification of the Constitution of the United States 

Virginia, to wit:

“We the delegates of the people of Virginia, duly elected in pursuance of a recommendation from the general assembly, and now met in convention, having fully and freely investigated and discussed the proceedings of the Federal Convention, and being prepared as well as the most mature deliberation hath enabled us, to decide thereon, Do, in the name and on behalf of the people of Virginia, declare and make known, that the powers granted under the Constitution, being derived from the people of the United States, may be resumed by them whensoever the same shall be perverted to their injury or oppression, and that every power nor granted thereby, remains with them and at their will; and therefore no right, of any denomination, can be cancelled, abridges, restrained or modified by the congress, by the senate or house of representatives acting in any capacity, by the president or any department, or officer of the United States, except in those instances in which power is given by the constitution for those purposes; and that among other essential rights, the liberty of conscience and of the press cannot be cancelled, abridged, restrained or modified by any authority of the United States.”

We all know that Virginia, and other states as well, refused to ratify the Constitution until special assurances were given that the federal government would remain constrained and would not burden individual rights. One of those assurances was the addition of a Bill of Rights and others were given in The Federalist Papers, written by James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, two of the delegates and drafters of the Constitution.

In his book, Republic, Plato introduced social contract theory.  In a scenario involving Socrates, Socrates refused to escape from jail to avoid being put to death.  He argued that since he had willingly remained in Athens all of his life despite opportunities to go elsewhere, he had accepted the social contract  (thus he agreed to abide by the local laws, including submitting to the justice process). The idea of the social contract is one of the foundations of the American political system. This is the belief that the state only exists to serve the will of the people, and they are the source of all political power enjoyed by the state. They can choose to give or withhold this power. The origin of the term social contract can be found in the writings of Plato. However, English philosopher Thomas Hobbes expanded on the idea when he wrote Leviathan in response to the English Civil War. In this book he wrote that in the earliest days there was no government. Instead, those who were the strongest could take control and use their power at any time over others. Hobbes’ theory was that the people mutually agreed to create a state, only giving it enough power to provide protection of their well-being. However, in Hobbes’ theory, once the power was given to the state, the people then relinquished any right to that power. In effect, that would be the price of the protection they sought. John Locke, on the other hand, saw the relationship as still favoring the individual and the rights inherently bestowed on him.  He believed that revolution was not just a right but an obligation if the state abused its given power against the individual.

Thomas Paine, in his Rights of Man, wrote: “The fact therefore must be that the individuals themselves, each in his own personal and sovereign right, entered into a contract with each other to produce a government: and this is the only mode in which governments have a right to arise, and the only principle on which they have a right to exist.”

This all makes sense.  Local governments and social contracts/compacts make sense.  A local government can provide services easier than individuals who must go to work and do other things. What is your fundamental liberty worth when you can’t travel because you have to stay around to guard and protect your property?  So, some government is necessary for maximum liberty.  But the individual is careful to make sure that only certain services are delegated. As Madison explained in the Federalist No. 45, power was always meant to remain closest to the people. He wrote: ” The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.  Those which are to remain in the state governments are numerous and indefinite. The powers reserved to the several states will extend to all the objects which, in the ordinary course of affairs, concern the lives, liberties, and property of the people, and the internal order, improvement, and prosperity of the state.”

But a federal or central government was something different.  It is a government that isn’t close to the people.  And our Founders understood that.  And perhaps for that reason, the Constitution was written for the benefit of the American people. (And of course for the States, who valued their sovereign power as well, which they too derived from their people).  The Constitution was intended to outline exactly what powers and responsibilities were delegated away to a centralized (federal) government – “in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

While the Constitution inspired many, it also caused great concern and generated much criticism and apprehension. Three delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 refused to sign the document because they felt it was not adequate.  Those delegates were George Mason and Edmund Randolph, of Virginia, and Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts. Several entire states refused to ratify it because they didn’t trust it to create a government that could remain constrained with respect to the power delegated to the States and the People.  Those states were New York, North Carolina, and Rhode Island).  And many important men, some who were, in fact, fellow Founding Fathers, publicly criticized it or wrote voluminous essays addressing its flaws.  These men included Richard Henry Lee, a Founder who made the official resolution for a formal declaration of independence from Great Britain, NY Governor George Clinton, NY lawyer Robert Yates, and others who wanted to remain anonymous. The essays they wrote were collectively known as the Anti-Federalist Papers.  James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay addressed these criticisms in a series of retaliatory essays called the Federalist Papers. To this day, the Federalist Papers remain as the official explanation as to the scope and intent of the Constitution, including its phraseology and its delegation of powers.  In applying a contract theory approach to the Constitution, it would be important to note that the Constitution was ratified by the States in reliance on the assurances given in the Federalist Papers.  [According to established contract law, a contract is construed according to the original intent of the parties].

What most people don’t know is that Patrick Henry, our beloved patriot who proclaimed “Give Me Liberty or Give me Death!” was a staunch anti-Federalist.  He had serious reservations about the ability of the US Constitution to protect liberty for any considerable length of time. In opposing the Constitution and its ratification, Patrick Henry believed he was defending the ideals of the Revolutionary War and the Declaration of Independence.  He argued that America had just fought for their independence from an abusive political regime (the British monarchy and Parliament) and now Madison and Hamilton were intending to put the newly-free nation back under a strong central government, with a strong executive.  He argued that we were trading one tyrant for another.  To Henry, this was a repudiation of all the liberties that he and the other patriots had fought for.  As he explained: “A monstrous national government was not the solution….  Many had to die to be free from such a regime.”

In one of his very last public speeches, given at the Virginia Ratifying Convention in 1781, he delivered this heartfelt message: “Liberty is the greatest of all earthly blessings. Give us that precious jewel and you may take everything else.  There was a time when every pulse of my heart beat for American liberty and which, I believe, had a counterpart in the breast of every true American.  But suspicions have gone forth publicly – suspicions of my integrity – that my professions are not real.  23 years ago, I was supposed a traitor to my country.  I was then said to be a bane of sedition because I supported the rights of my countrymen.  I may be thought suspicious when I say that our privileges and rights are in danger.  But, Sir, a number of people of this country are weak enough to think these things are true….   My great objection to this (new) government is that it does not leave us the means of defending our rights.”

Today we are in a Constitutional crisis.  A constitutional crisis is a severe breakdown in the orderly operation of government because the branches have abandoned their roles and responsibilities under the Constitution.  A constitutional crisis occurs when power is exerted that doesn’t exist or is not authorized under the Constitution.  There is not much we can do to preserve the liberty and power originally intended to vest in the States and We the People if we are not willing to become educated and informed and appreciate the reality that every decision made in Washington DC has potential consequences for freedom and liberty in this country…. even when those decisions are cloaked in such benevolent terms as “general welfare,” “entitlement,” “green,” and “sustainable development.”  Moreso, we must be disciplined to elect good, constitutionally-minded men and women to Washington to strip away all government power not authorized by our founding document and committed to elect officials to state government who believe strongly in States’ rights.  Only with the return of strong independence states can we begin to put necessary checks on our enlarging, intrusive federal government.

Additionally, we must not repeat the failures of previous generations and trade liberty for security or trade true equality for social justice.  As Alexander Hamilton said on the floor of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia on June 26, 1787: “Inequality will exist as long as liberty exists. It unavoidably results from that very liberty itself.”  We must not allow individualism to give way to collectivism. Pro-Constitution legal scholar and author, R. Carter Pittman (1898-1972), wrote:  “Equality reaches into the pockets of the frugal to put fat on lazy bones.  Fat fools don’t fight, except at the trough.  From the trough of equality there may be no road back.  The next gate may lead to slaughter pens or to the mines of Siberia.  We may have lost the will to be free.”

We must not allow any further encroachment of socialist policies or wealth redistribution because that is forced equality in contradiction to the laws of nature and economics and they are the same policies of the failed regimes of Europe.  Pittman wrote: “It is inequality that gives enlargement to intellect, energy, virtue, love and wealth. Equality of intellect stabilizes mediocrity. Equality of wealth (and social condition) makes every man poor. Equality of energy renders all men sluggards. Equality of virtue suspends all men without the gates of heaven. Equality of love would stultify every manly passion, destroy every family altar and mongrelize the races of men. Equality of altitude would make the whole world a dead sea. Mountains rise out of plains. Plains rise out of the sea………    Equality of freedom cannot exist without inequality in the rewards and earned fruits of that freedom.”

Finally, we must do what our parents and grandparents failed to do, and that is to teach our children, by words and by example if possible, what it means to be an American and what it means to live under the US Constitution.  We must teach them “authentic” US history, from first-hand documents, and not leave this important education to our failed public school systems. Our ‘greatest generation’ sadly gave birth to our worst generation.  If Thomas Jefferson had his way, every house would have two essential documents – the Bible and the Constitution.  Americans would have values and would intimately know where they stand with respect to government. They would be raised to be citizen-servants, meaning they would serve for a short term and then return to their homes, to their jobs, and to their communities. They would understand the notion of service and proper representation. They would understand the importance of our history and realize that the values and principles and traditions that once made our nation great and strong and unified are the same ones we need again more than ever.  Every one of those values and principles and traditions allowed this country to enlarge freedom and liberty for all its citizens.  In a rational world, our public schools would be teaching all this to our youth.  Robert Hutchins (1899-1977), one-time dean of Yale Law School, wrote: “The object of the educational system, taken as a whole, is not to produce hands for industry or to teach the young how to make a living. It is to produce responsible citizens.”

The government today is pitting one citizen against another.  It is putting the rights and concerns of some citizens over others.  In fact, it is putting the rights of the minority over the equally-important rights of the majority.  Often the rights of the majority are the rights that have traditionally defined what it means to be an “American.”  The government and courts like to claim that individuals’ freedoms can conflict, yet they both have been too liberal in defining what “fundamental” rights are… such as the right to kill an unborn baby, the right to marry a same-sex partner, the right to take from one person to support another who has no relation, the right of an atheist not to be “offended” in any way by a cross, a prayer, a word, a song, a lawn decoration, etc, and the right of a group to absolute civil liberties, including freedom from racial profiling, when that very group is responsible for 80-100% of violent crime.  The government has even gone as far as to statutorily protect some groups’ rights over another – ie, blacks and Hispanics (the 14th Amendment and Civil Rights laws; Affirmative action, which is still going strong; the government’s refusal to defend DOMA).  In this era of violent Islamic terrorism, our country has chosen to label homeland terrorism, such as the Ft. Hood shooting by militant Islamist (“Soldier of Allah”), as “workplace violence” rather than truthfully labeling it for what it was – militant and radical jihadist terrorism.  Instead of a Homeland Security Department which identifies this growing security threat and threat to our military, it has taken active and public steps to play down radical Muslim activity and instead to declare that conservative groups pose the current greatest threat to our national security. (Read the Homeland Security Report of April 2009 entitled “Rightwing Extremism”). Video adds for the “See Something, Say Something” law cleverly hint that white American males are the ones we need to keep our eyes on and to suspect as plotting violence. So much for traditional 1st Amendment rights of free speech.  In an era of great security threats, our country has chosen to target good, law-abiding conservative citizens who love their country, are disgruntled about a tyrant ruler trying to impose a government mandate on healthcare, who “cling to their guns and religion,” and who cherish their Constitutional rights.  Over the past century, we’ve watched what our government has done when it claimed that the freedom of two individuals or two groups conflicted.  Instead of protecting the rights clearly enumerated in the Bill of Rights, our government has put artificial rights above them and chipped away at our traditional rights and institutions. As between atheists who make up less than 1% of the population and Christians who make up over 80%, it is the atheist who gets his way.  As between a helpless living unborn baby who needs compassionate lawmakers to speak where it cannot or a mother who has the power to make reasoned choices, the government chooses the irresponsible mother.  As between an individual’s right to pursue a profession or degree based on merit and free from racial bias (14th amendment), the government has outright denied that individual’s right in favor of a racially-motivated alternative minority candidate.   We all understand the reasonable implications when two legitimate fundamental rights class.  We understand that at times, one man’s freedom must be limited to preserve another’s.   As Supreme Court Justice William Douglas once said: “My freedom to move my fist must be limited by the proximity of your chin.”

Today’s government is picking winners (many of whom are petty criminals or worse) and forcing losers out of good and decent Americans – most of whom AREplaying by the rules. It neither fears nor respects the individual citizen. We are a social security number, a statistic, a polling number, a “threat (as in Rightwing Extremism”), a bottomless pocket for the government to take whatever money it believes it needs……   We are not a constituency to be feared or to served honestly and fairly.  Notions of fundamental fairness have long gone out of the window.  There is nothing fair about the tax scheme.  There is nothing fair about income redistribution (especially when the Declaration of Independence proclaims property, of all kinds, to be an inalienable right).  There is nothing fair about the government’s forcible use of one person to serve the purposes of another, including taking the earnings of one to give to another (which essentially amounts to slavery). There is nothing fair about the social decay and destabilization because of the many entitlement programs (just to pander to a voting block). There is nothing fair about the government forcing a socialized healthcare program on a people who overwhelmingly are opposed to it.  Social justice and new social order are the new goals of our government.  All we need to know can be summed up by a quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson: “When the government fears the people, there is liberty.  When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”  [Note that the quote is now believed to be given by John Basil Barnhill in 1914].

Where is the US Constitution in all of this?

Our Founders’ vision of our American republic was one of a country grounded in virtue and religious faith, thankful for liberty, proud of its Constitution, and eternally vigil for an enlarging government that would become oppressive and non-oppressive to the people.  Our Founders envisioned a country of men rising to the opportunities and challenges that freedom brings, of a limited national government devoted to protecting that freedom, and of responsive local governments to ensure that States and communities keep their individual character.

Today, we barely recognize our country because it has changed so dramatically.  In my relatively short lifetime, I can already sense so keenly all the freedoms and opportunities that have been lost. America “feels” different to me.  The opportunities I had as a young adult won’t be available to my children. They’ll have concerns and issues to deal with that I never had. They won’t share the optimism that I enjoyed.

We have passively allowed a powerful centralized government over a decentralized federal government, we have neglected to vote for strong States’ rights leaders in our states, rendering the States mere government pawns, we have allowed corruption over ethics, we have chosen personal individualistic freedom over virtue, and we have failed to teach our children authentic US history and what it means to be an “American.”  But most of all, we have neglected the most important historical document the world has ever been known —  a document that oppressed and tortured people around the world would gladly die to protect.  It was ours to protect and preserve.  Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Today, we are in an ideological struggle right now over the proper role and scope of government.  We are not only witnessing a Constitutional crisis in this country, but a crisis based on a failure to appreciate what liberty means and stands for.  We saw the beginning of this struggle in 1964 with the Lyndon Johnson’s “New Society.”  Campaigning for Barry Goldwater in 1964 to replace the socialist Johnson, Ronald Reagan delivered these words:

The notion of ‘the full power of centralized government’ was the very thing the Founding Fathers sought to minimize. They knew that governments don’t control things. A government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. They also knew that outside of its legitimate functions, government does nothing as well or as economically as the private sector of the economy.    Private property rights are so diluted that public interest is almost anything a few government planners decide it should be…. Now it doesn’t require expropriation or confiscation of private property or business to impose socialism on a people. What does it mean whether you hold the deed to the—or the title to your business or property if the government holds the power of life and death over that business or property?  And such machinery already exists. The government can find some charge to bring against any concern it chooses to prosecute.  Every businessman has his own tale of harassment. Our natural, unalienable rights are now considered to be a dispensation of government, and freedom has never been so fragile, so close to slipping from our grasp as it is at this moment. This is the issue.. Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves……… You and I have a rendezvous with destiny.  We’ll preserve for our children this, the last best hope of man on earth, or we’ll sentence them to take the last step into a thousand years of darkness.

What do you believe is the proper role of government?  How strongly do you value liberty?  Do you even know how freedom is protected and what it is even worth anymore?

The Constitution is not a complicated document.  Along with the Declaration of Independence, it is our great guarantor of liberty.  It lists the responsibilities of government (only 17 of them, mostly having nothing to do with our everyday lives) and then lists those individual human rights and liberties that it must not legislate and burden.  Everything else is left to the individual and to the States.  The States, being closest to the individual, are the sovereigns that are most responsive to the people and therefore best able to protect their interests.  The Constitution was never supposed to encroach upon the supreme rights of the States in protecting the individual.  As James Madison explained: “Every word of the Constitution decides a question between power and liberty.”

Maybe you are one of those citizens who enjoyed the American dream at one time but don’t have the energy to fight for it for your children or grandchildren.  Maybe you are apathetic and have given into the system that has taken hold.  Well then, my friend, you have just acknowledged that your government has become oppressive.

If you love this country – if you love it for its freedom and its opportunity and NOT for what it gives you in material aid – then you know things can’t continue to go the way they are going.  Something has to change.  And it has to start with us.   It falls upon all of us to take action.  As Ronald Reagan once asked: “We have to ask ourselves if we do nothing, where does all of this end. Can anyone here say that if we can’t do it, someone down the road can do it, and if no one does it, what happens to the country? All of us know the economy would face an eventual collapse. I know it’s a hell of a challenge, but ask yourselves if not us, who, if not now, when?”

As one-time Yale Law school dean Robert Hutchins predicted, the death of the republic will not come from something like an assassination or an attack or even an election, but rather from apathy and indifference.

If you believe in large government, in a government that does more for you than you wish to do for yourself, and if you are willing to allow government to keep eroding and encroaching on the liberties that our country was founded on, then one day you will have to look a patriot and soldier in the eye and justify why you were so cavalier with the freedom that he so willingly gave his last full measure of devotion.


Limited Government, http://principlesofafreesociety.com/limited-government/

Walter Williams, “Visions of Morality, Dec. 7, 2011, The Daily Reflector (Greenville, NC)

Thomas Kidd, Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots, 2011, Basic Books.

Cleon Skousen, The 5000-Year Leap, National Center for Constitutional Studies, 2009.  (originally published in 1981).

Leonard Carmichael, Absolutes, Relativism and the Scientific Psychology of Human Nature, 1961, Van Nostrand, pg. 9

A. Kenneth Hesselberg, “Hume, Natural Law and Justice,” Duquesne Review, Spring 1961, pp. 46-47.

Edwin W. Patterson, Jurisprudence: Men and Ideas of the Law, 1953, Foundation Press (Brooklyn, NY), pg. 333.

Diane Rufino, Secession: Does a State Have the Right to Secede?,  August 2011, https://forloveofgodandcountry.wordpress.com

R. Carter Pittman, “Which Shall It Be? Liberty or Equality, Americanism or Marxism,” Address delivered at the Annual Convention of the Alabama Bar Association, Alabama, July 16, 1954.   Referenced at:  http://www.jtl.org/pittman/   and    http://rcarterpittman.org/essays/misc/Which_Shall_It_Be.html

About forloveofgodandcountry

I'm originally from New Jersey where I spent most of my life. I now live in North Carolina with my husband and 4 children. I'm an attorney
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6 Responses to What is the Proper Role of Government?

  1. Wow, What a great piece! Thanks for writing this Diane. I would love to repost this at my blogger site: http://www.foundersrevolution.net, with your permission of course. What do you say? I would link back here, and give full credit, naturally. 🙂

  2. Nathanael Rolsma says:

    Hi there,
    I’m a senior in high school and I compete in Lincoln Douglas value debate. I’m currently looking for a good breakdown of the purpose of government by a philosopher for the purpose of quoting in one of my debate cases. In this article you said that John Locke explained the purpose of government as follows, “Individuals have sovereign rights which no government can take away. (Government can only exercise power on behalf of the people). As such, government is morally obliged to serve people, namely by protecting life, liberty, and property.”
    My question is, where did you find this quote? Was it in an essay that Locke wrote? I’ve been skimming through Locke’s “Second Treatise of Government” and haven’t found that quote. I also Googled for it and couldn’t find it anywhere either.

    Thanks, it will really help if I can find the source of this quote.

    • Hello Nathaneal, I’m not too late to reply, am I?

    • Nathaneal, the quotes above are meant to hit the major themes of Locke’s philosophy on government. The article comes from a seminar I gave. Locke’s first Treatise on Government deals mainly with a discussion on the Divine Right of Kings, which was the foundation of the monarchies of England and France, the two countries that gave us the great Enlightenment philosophers. In both countries, the people and their rights were abused terribly by Kings adhering happily and blindly to that doctrine. In his First Treatise, Locke dispels the doctrine by explaining there is can be no basis in Natural Law or God’s Law to ever have supported it. Locke’s Second Treatise dealt with the role of government. Here are some actual quotes from Locke’s Second Treatise and essentially what they translate to:

      To understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons, as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man. A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.” [“Chapter II, sections 4-5]. Essentially, this provision corresponds to the theme Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

      “This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power, is so necessary to, and closely joined with a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it, but by what forfeits his preservation and life together: for a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot, by compact, or his own consent, enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another, to take away his life, when he pleases. No body can give more power than he has himself; and he that cannot take away his own life, cannot give another power over it.” [Chapter IV, section 23] This provision explains that certain rights – the rights to life, liberty, and those rights essential to the preservation of life (including the right of self-preservation and defense) – are inalienable and no person can ever have then permanently separated from him.

      “Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it. But because no political society can be, nor subsist, without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and in order thereunto, punish the offences of all those of that society; there, and there only is political society, where every one of the members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it. And thus all private judgment of every particular member being excluded, the community comes to be umpire, by settled standing rules, indifferent, and the same to all parties; and by men having authority from the community, for the execution of those rules, decides all the differences that may happen between any members of that society concerning any matter of right; and punishes those offences which any member hath committed against the society, with such penalties as the law has established: whereby it is easy to discern, who are, and who are not, in political society together. Those who are united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another: but those who have no such common appeal, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature, each being, where there is no other, judge for himself, and executioner; which is, as I have before shewed it, the perfect state of nature. And thus the common-wealth comes by a power to set down what punishment shall belong to the several transgressions which they think worthy of it, committed amongst the members of that society, (which is the power of making laws) as well as it has the power to punish any injury done unto any of its members, by any one that is not of it, (which is the power of war and peace;) and all this for the preservation of the property of all the members of that society, as far as is possible. But though every man who has entered into civil society, and is become a member of any commonwealth, has thereby quitted his power to punish offences, against the law of nature, in prosecution of his own private judgment, yet with the judgment of offences, which he has given up to the legislative in all cases, where he can appeal to the magistrate, he has given a right to the common-wealth to employ his force, for the execution of the judgments of the common-wealth, whenever he shall be called to it; which indeed are his own judgments, they being made by himself, or his representative. And herein we have the original of the legislative and executive power of civil society, which is to judge by standing laws, how far offences are to be punished, when committed within the common-wealth; and also to determine, by occasional judgments founded on the present circumstances of the fact, how far injuries from without are to be vindicated; and in both these to employ all the force of all the members, when there shall be need.” [Chapter VII, section 87-89] This provision is long and seems to be confusing but what it says is that man has an absolute right to be free – an absolute right to life, liberty, and property (“freedom, and an uncontrolled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men”) and even when men come to live together in society, they still retain those rights – they have a right to preserve those rights “against the injuries and attempts of other men.” How are individuals, in society, able to have their rights protected from the actions and injuries of others? By government. Government’s primary role is to protect man’s essential inalienable rights – the rights to life, liberty, and property (the term property is actually a broader term, according to Locke, than mere real property). This section in the Second Treatise corresponds to Jefferson’s provision in the Declaration “That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, ”

      “Though in a Constituted Commonwealth, standing upon its own Basis, and acting according to its own Nature, that is, acting for the preservation of the Community, there can be but one Supreme Power, which is the Legislative, to which all the rest are and must be subordinate, yet the Legislative being only a Fiduciary Power to act for certain ends, there remains still in the People a Supreme Power to remove or alter the Legislative, when they find the Legislative act contrary to the trust reposed in them. For all Power given with trust for the attaining an end, being limited by that end, whenever that end is manifestly neglected, or opposed, the trust must necessarily be forfeited, and the Power devolve into the hands of those that gave it, who may place it anew where they shall think best for their safety and security. And thus the Community perpetually retains a Supreme Power of saving themselves from the attempts and designs of any Body, even of their Legislators, whenever they shall be so foolish, or so wicked, as to lay and carry on designs against the Liberties and Properties of the Subject. For no Man, or Society of Men, having a Power to deliver up their Preservation, or consequently the means of it, to the Absolute Will and arbitrary Dominion of another; whenever any one shall go about to bring them into such a Slavish Condition, they will always have a right to preserve what they have not a Power to part with; and to rid themselves of those who invade this Fundamental, Sacred, and unalterable Law of Self-Preservation, for which they entered into Society. And thus the Community may be said in this respect to be always the Supreme Power, but not as considered under any Form of Government, because this Power of the People can never take place till the Government be dissolved.” [Chapter 3, Section 149] This section means that whenever the form of government becomes destructive of its ends (to secure the rights of the people), the people have a right to assume their natural rights back and dissolve government. From this section, Thomas Jefferson articulated “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.”

    • As to the concept of “property,” John Locke felt that this was one of the most important of rights, next to life and liberty. He explained in his writings that private property is absolutely essential for liberty: “every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and the Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his.” He continues: “The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.” Locke believed people legitimately turned common property into private property by mixing their labor with it, improving it. Marxists liked to claim this meant Locke embraced the labor theory of value, but he was talking about the basis of ownership rather than value. This was exactly Jefferson’s view as well. He also believed that property includes the product of one’s mind and his personality. Personality, character, etc — these are also the product of conscience, including the influences of religion.

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