The Function of Government: What Is It In Iteself?

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather Quillby Gene Howington, Guest Blogger

The Law of Identity is one of Aristotle’s fundamental Laws of Thought. It is expressed often in the terms of A=A or in other philosophical works as some variation of Marcus Aurelius’ admonishment to “ask of each and every thing what is it in itself”.  This is less commentary than informal unscientific survey, but some of your answers will likely inform a future commentary. These questions kept hovering about as I considered the topic of the social compact. There seems to be a lot of confusion about the nature of the social compact model of government and that had been my intended topic for this weekend. However, as I thought about it and reviewed some older threads here where the subject had come up in preparation for addressing the subject, another area of confusion stood out as prevalent as well.  That confusion centers around the proper role of government in society, specifically the proper role of government as defined by the U.S. Constitution.

If we look at the Constitution itself, the Preamble contains a basic description of the function of our Federal government.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

It is important to note that the Preamble is not law in the traditional sense. It neither grants powers nor restricts action. It simply provides context for the purpose of the form of government as established in the following articles and amendments. It is a statement of our aspirational goals of government.

Let’s break down the Preamble to provide some context for the question that follows.

“We the People of the United States” we’ll take to be all natural born or naturalized individual citizens of the United States. Just people. We won’t address the the twisted logic of attempting to turn the legal fiction of the corporation into real people. If you weren’t born, don’t have a metabolism, aren’t made of meat and won’t die, we won’t consider you a person for the purposes of this discussion.

“[I]n Order to form a more perfect Union” we can consider both as a statement of quality and an aspiration considering the Founders included a process for Constitutional amendment in Article V. They knew that society and consequently societies definition of perfection would change over time and designed the Constitution to serve the citizens by being flexible enough to adapt to those changing definitions and needs.

“[E]stablish Justice”, not just through the creation of the Supreme Court and lower courts, but to pursue that ever elusive perfected justice where all wrong doers are held accountable for their bad actions and all victims are made as whole again as practically possible.

“[I]nsure domestic Tranquility” which entails more than just keeping the peace. This idea is intimately related to both the preceding the notion of establishing justice as a society with just laws and just courts is a society less likely to suffer social discord from people opting for “self-help justice”, but also to the subsequent notions as well.  Providing for the common defense relates to domestic tranquility as a society that shares in protection from outside aggressors is less likely to be disrupted by invasion.  Promoting the general welfare relates to domestic tranquility as a society that both tends to the commons as well as protects and aids its weakest members is less likely to suffer internally generated domestic social discord. Securing “the Blessings of Liberty” relates to domestic tranquility as a  society that maximizes liberty will also face less discontent from the citizenry.

Consider that in many ways, mostly rooted in the corruption of the electoral and legislative processes by monied interests and their undue influence and the danger of the ever expanding unitary executive, our government has and is perpetually failing in their Constitutionally defined mission. We see regularly stories of injustice. We see regularly stories of not common defense, but wars of aggression and the erosion of our civil rights. We see regularly where the general welfare is sacrificed for the personal and corporate profits of the few. We see regularly stories where those in positions of power want us to sacrifice liberty in the name of security from a nebulous and overblown threat in a way that seems to be less about protecting citizens and our rights and more about their consolidation of personal political power and ability to stifle dissent and/or opposition.

Some Western countries penalize corporations for off shoring jobs. Some Western countries are not afraid to put bad acting previous pols on trail and/or in prison for their crimes. Some provide for post-secondary education either for free or minimal cost to their citizens.  A great many provide universal health care as a basic human right.

The questions are simple although the answers may be complex.

NOTE: Any suggestions based on either Ayn Rand or the Austrian School of Economics will be laughed at and probably ridiculed as simply apologetics for the venal and sociopathic.

What do you think is the proper function of the U.S. government in itself given the context stated in the Preamble?

What do you think our government should be doing to achieve the goals stated in the Preamble that it isn’t doing right now?

What do you think our government should stop doing to achieve the goals stated in the Preamble?

~ submitted by Gene Howington, Guest Blogger.

55 thoughts on “The Function of Government: What Is It In Iteself?

  1. Off topic question:

    Why doesn’t our federal government (but 40 states in the US do) recognize the Armenian Genocide?

  2. RWL, why hasn’t the fact that neither W nor Cheney can travel to Vermont, a United State last time I checked, for fear of arrest on suspicion of war crimes attracted the attention and courage of so much as ONE U.S. attorney as to why that may be?

    This is something that exists in the present and at home. Armenian genocide? Not so much.

    Any U.S. Attorneys reading this, you have a LOT of explaining do so…. nor is this subject just going to “go away.” The order to torture was given. Everything that has followed is a mixture of hollow and false. In 2013, only cowardice causes your continued inaction.

  3. Excellent discussion Gene. The US government’s role is to provide for the well being and safety of its people. That doesn’t just mean a strong defense. It also means that jobs and universal health care and a clean environment together with an excellent school system are an essential aspect of our government. This should all be done while protecting our constitutional guarantees.

  4. Gene,
    Over the years, I have never ceased to be amazed at how supposedly bright people can do neither nuance or abstraction. I have no idea how many mental status examinations I have given over the years. Part of an MSE is to ask a few proverbs. I ask several, ranging from very easy to very hard. One of the easiest is, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” When asked to explain that in everyday words, you would be surprised by the number of people with advanced college degrees who answer, “You have to read it first.”

    It is no wonder so many take the Constitution literally, like the guy from Mississippi yesterday who said that since the Constitutions doesn’t specifically say “separation of church and state,” it is not the law.

  5. OS,
    you are right about the separation of church and state comment yesterday. I guess if the bible is taken literally, maybe the constitution does not include any court decision that interpret it.

  6. Locke had 3 reasons for government: protection of life, protection of liberty and protection of property. That was pretty much it. Just the protection of those 3 things.

    We are so far from those notions that our government has become an overseer rather than a protector of our rights.

    It should be doing much, much less than it is.

  7. OS:

    “It is no wonder so many take the Constitution literally,. . .”

    Amendment 13:

    Section 1.

    Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

    Section 2.

    Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

    I take that literally. No other way to take it.

  8. OS,

    Yep. And I can barely imagine a world without nuance or abstraction. Such a world may be simpler, but the comfort of simplicity does not come close to the value of a complex but more accurate truth or the utility of abstraction. Some think ignorance is bliss, but bliss at what cost? The world is literally fractal in complexity, but that is nothing to fear. In fact, I find it wondrous.


    Locke didn’t write the Preamble, Bron. He wasn’t even party to the Convention although his writings did indeed influence the Founders. However, the Founders did cover those three areas as well as others in stating the function of our government. If they had wanted to use Locke’s shorter prescription, they could have, but they didn’t.

  9. Bron,

    And the jurisprudence on that language would back you up. The problem with literalism and/or originalism in interpreting the Constitution is in the areas where language is not clear cut or matters are not plainly settled. Areas like the 13th? Not so much. Very little wiggle room in that language. In contrast, the N&P Clause is a Pandora’s box.

  10. Bron the only problem is that government defines what is legitimate and illegitimate property. That changes over time and circumstances. Slaves at the time were considered property in some states. Drugs and alcohol were considered rightful property and were freely available. Having a wagon is legitimate only if there are enough wagons to transport the Army, if not, the wagon is taken by the Army. It is not so simple and the defining methods of the role of government has to be found in the preamble to promote the general welfare. In fact, Tom Paine among others thought that universal health care was a right, which at the time was not a good idea, since the doctors were more likely to kill you than cure you. The first Congresses found that establishing government owned and operated hospitals for sailors was a means of promoting the general welfare. So there are many other things that go along those same lines that government can and must do, and NOT be contrary to our founders.

  11. Jefferson used Locke’s concepts in the Declaration. Why would you want to free yourself from one set of chains to put on another set?

    The Constitution should be interpreted based on the concept of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness.

    We have a paternalistic nanny state.

  12. randyjet:

    Slavery was a terrible compromise.

    What is the General Welfare? It can be everything and then it is nothing. If you go broke providing for food, shelter, health care, etc. how is that in the best interest of all of the people?

  13. And while the Declaration informs the Constitution and the spirit of the law and our social compact, it is not the law nor did the Framers use Locke’s prescription, Bron.

    You can play with the cards as dealt, leave or call for revolution but neither Locke nor the Declaration state the function of government as defined in the Preamble. That they didn’t is relevant to the future discussion of the social compact in context. The Founders saw mutual benefit in the way they framed the mission of government in employing an “expanded” Lockean perspective.

    Also, I disagree with your last sentence. We have a corporatists fascist state transforming into an authoritarian police state, but nanny has squat to do with it. Those in government no longer care for anyone but themselves and their corporate paymasters. They certainly aren’t interested in caring for the needs of the citizens as is implied by the use of the word “nanny”.

  14. Love the post Gene.

    Your question: “What do you think is the proper function of the U.S. government in itself given the context stated in the Preamble?

    My answer: “The government (in terms of what was envisioned at the founding, and in terms of my ideology today) is to serve the common good, the common wealth, the common weal, which is to say, the well being of the people.”

    Which is so far from reality as to border on wishful thinking, it terms of it becoming reality.

    Your question: “What do you think our government should be doing to achieve the goals stated in the Preamble that it isn’t doing right now?

    My answer: “Commit suicide (fall on its sword). Leave a suicide note apologiing for overthrowing the real people’s government, and call for real elections without money as the controlling factor.”

    Which is, again, so far from reality as to border on wishful thinking, it terms of it becoming reality.

    Your question: “What do you think our government should stop doing to achieve the goals stated in the Preamble?

    My answer: “Saying anything or doing anything until the first two have been accomplished.”

    Which is, finally, so far from reality as to border on wishful thinking, it terms of it becoming reality.

    The original idea and structure were some of the most wonderful advancements in the direction away from tyranny, considering the reality at the time the attempt was begun, ever attempted.

    Something more powerful than the best desires and intents of the American people intervened over the years to thwart our attaining the high ground the founders could then see, but could not at that time attain.

  15. I would agree with Bron’s statement that our constitution should be interpreted based upon life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
    i will point out that we had two Revolutions whereby the first culminated in the orginal Constitution and the First Ten Amendments or Bil of Rights. The Second Revolution came with and after the Civil War and the three Amendments of Reconstruction: 13th Freed the Slaves; 14th made all persons equal, not just the Freedman but the poor white trash who had been under the thumb of the oligarchy and the notions of Lord and Lassie; the 15th Amendment which conferred voting rights on the Freemen. Each Amendment has a provision that Congress can pass legislation to implement the provisions. It was Lyndon Johnson who passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Those statutes completed that which was left undone when Reconstruction went South after Grant left office. The low point was Woodrow Wilson who re segregated Washington DC, government, and particularly in the military. Truman did some Executive Orders, integrated the armed forces, and later the 1957 Civil Rights Act was a step. But Lyndon Johnson was The Man. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 allows us all to pursue life, liberty and happiness.
    A good book on topic is Garrett Epps, Democracy Reborn.
    Google also: Loewen, Sundown Towns and also The Second American Revolution.

  16. You ask what the government should be doing? Protecting the united States of America from tyranny and enforcing the foundation principles. All public employees should be required to read the Bill of Rights, Magna Carta, Constitution, Federalist Papers and all documents produced by the founders to be able to hold office of the people. Public employees held to their Oath which is a contract with the people. Term limits on all public employees. Schools run by the states because they know the needs of the people. Public employees should not be allowed to belong to a union when they are being paid by the taxpayers. Public employees denied voting themselves raises, awards and pensions on the publics dime. I could go on and on but nobody seems to like to read, especially public employees!

  17. ” If you go broke providing for food, shelter, health care, etc. how is that in the best interest of all of the people?”

    This is not the only future possible. You have to just, you know, want to find alternatives.There is more that sufficient wealth and resources available to accomplish these goals without anyone losing anything of actual substance, given a financing plan, a problem of much less complexity than, say, a mission to Mars.

    One word will need to be learned for it to work, however, something which comes with the discovery that the surface area of a sphere is indeed finite: “enough”. Wisdom seems to suggest any happiness pursuit plan contain this notion.

    It also appears natural, then, for True Conservatives to have plowed trillions into space exploration, as there is no bigger known venue for freedom.

    Instead, we got a rock. Into it are etched many words. One is “torture,” which is written so large you really cannot make out most of the others, though “arms dealing” is also clearly visible. Oh! In small print: “indefinite detention.” So small you may have missed until it was far too late.

  18. I have to laugh at LC a fellow Texan since he has not done as he says others should do. The Constitution already has the provision that Congress cannot vote itself a raise.It can only take effect until after an election. It is even funnier when Texas and presumably this writer voted for our Guv for Life Perry in the last election. Texas GOP has fought against voting rights for the elderly, poor, blacks, Latinos, etc.. and made sure that the redistricting would NOT reflect the population of Texas. DeLay complained that the reason for doing an out of ten year sequence was that too many Democrats had been elected and did not reflect the voting strength of the GOP. Yet they made damn sure that the GOP has an unfair and even illegal proportion now.

    Then to top it off, the Texas GOP has made sure that NO E-Verify law would even get out of committee in the legislature, much less get passed. The GOP wants MORE illegals coming into our country, but they want them to stay illegals so that they can exploit them better. In fact, Robert Perry, the luxury homebuilder has most of his workforce composed of ILLEGALS and made damn sure no Texas law will interfere with that cozy relationship. He is one of the biggest donors to the GOP in Texas and nationwide.

  19. While the thrust of the Preamble strikes me as an aspiration to a Rousseauan general will, and the ideal there must be a balance between what is the proper role of the individual, the proper role of the community, and their mutual obligations and responsibilities to each other, I can’t help but think of Plato as well (probably also has something to do with the fact I’m reading Plato right now).

    “Mankind must have laws, and conform to them, or their life would be as bad as that of the most savage beast. And the reason of this is that no man’s nature is able to know what is best for human society; or knowing, always able and willing to do what is best.

    In the first place, there is a difficulty in apprehending that the true art of politics is concerned, not with private but with public good (for public good binds together states, but private only distracts them); and that both the public and private good as well of individuals as of states is greater when the state and not the individual is first considered. In the second place, although a person knows in the abstract that this is true, yet if he be possessed of absolute and irresponsible power, he will never remain firm in his principles or persist in regarding the public good as primary in the state, and the private good as secondary.

    Human nature will be always drawing him into avarice and selfishness, avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure without any reason, and will bring these to the front, obscuring the juster and better; and so working darkness in his soul will at last fill with evils both him and the whole city. For if a man were born so divinely gifted that he could naturally apprehend the truth, he would have no need of laws to rule over him; for there is no law or order which is above knowledge, nor can mind, without impiety, be deemed the subject or slave of any man, but rather the lord of all. I speak of mind, true and free, and in harmony with nature. But then there is no such mind anywhere, or at least not much; and therefore we must choose law and order, which are second best. These look at things as they exist for the most part only, and are unable to survey the whole of them. And therefore I have spoken as I have.”

  20. I’m sorry, I did not realize that I specified “Congress” when referring to voting themselves raises. Presumption is the same as, bearing false witness. So who did I say I voted for?

  21. God alone is perfect. For the USA to secure its blessings of security is to war at whatever time against anyone outside the USA warring against anyone else in the USA with the legal system as we know it. The Justice of man is revenge, retribution giving guilt. All of which do not give anyone tranquility. That makes the words of the Constitution a bald faced deceptive lie.

    Blessings of Liberty to ourselves is only thinking of oneself. Love does not seek its own. Therefore the constitutions is loveless.
    Our Posterity, that is covering once own ass thinking of no-one else.

  22. Bob Huddleston are you aware that codes, rules, and regulations were created for Corporations as a guideline in dealing with the people? Codes, rules, and regulations are exactly that – not law. God’s law is the only law and America was founded on God’s law.

  23. But which God or Goddess, and under which doctrinal interpretation should we apply, LC? There are so many out there, and they all have believers who claim to have “the truth” through divine revelation. I think it best if instead of having a sectarian pissing contest over regulatory and legal issues, we set laws that don’t appeal to any doctrinal or divine justification. How’s that sound?

  24. LC only believes in HIS Constitution, the one he has not read is irrelevant, and if it disagrees with his religion, it is void.

  25. bOB Huddleston:

    I am not sure Plato and JJR are conducive to human freedom. Plato’s Republic is a good recipe for a dictatorship as is jean jacques rousseau’s the social contract.

    JJR did not inform the founders, it was Locke for the most part and some others like Algernon Sydney. The DOI is Locke. JJR basically says an individual is nothing but a cog in society as does Plato.

  26. Bron, I’ll grant Plato took the needs of the community too far in relation to the individual, but by taking The Laws and a healthy dose of his pupil Aristotle’s work in the Ethics and Politics a more balanced interpretation is possible, though still far from the Rousseauan mark. I don’t think it a stretch to say Rousseau’s On The Social Contract played a HUGE role in our own revolution.

    JJR did inform the founders.

  27. Presumption is the same as, bearing false witness
    Codes, rules, and regulations are exactly that – not law. God’s law is the only law and America was founded on God’s law.

    LC your own words PROVE my contention. Thank you for showing us all the sad state of education in most of Texas. It is YOU’RE not your by the way and your grammar is terrible. You have shown you have no regards for the meaning of words, presume=lie, have no regards for the Constitution,and have proven once again that you have no rational ability. Thus as Barney Frank once said to those of your ilk, it is like talking to a chair and makes about as much sense.

  28. Here you go, Bron:

    From “1794: American Race, Republicanism and Transnational Revolution”
    By Luciana Louise Herman

    “In the years preceding the French Revolution, American thinkers lauded and freely appropriated Rousseau’s ideas on the social contract in the context of a longer legacy of English compact theory beginning with the Puritans’ Mayflower Compact of 1620. According to Paul Spurlin, the majority of American references draw on Rousseau’s notion of an implied contract among free men such that, as abolitionist Gouverneur Morris observed shortly before the American Revolution, ‘a part of their freedom shall be given up for the security of the remainder.’ In the years following the Revolutionary War, writers ranging from Noah Webster and Alexander Hamilton to John Adams and Joel Barlow quoted and adapted The Social Contract in essays, tracts, state constitutions, and poetry, paying increasing attention to Rousseau’s ideas in the years following the beginning of the French Revolution.

    Rousseau’s infamous call for the freedom of men – ‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains’ – resounded in American letters and politics in the 1790s when Federalists and Democratic-Republicans divided their allegiances. Federalist Noah Webster, for example, changed his opinion of Rousseau’s ideas following the French Revolution, vilifying The Social Contract as ‘chimerical,’ while ardent Republican Philip Freneau quoted Rousseau’s ideas freely on the topic of direct democracy and the evils of representative government. Missing no opportunity to expose the Federalists to the ridicule and contempt of his Republican readers, Freneau reprinted ten paragraphs of Book VIII (‘Of Civil Religion’) of The Social Contract in his newspaper, The Time-Piece. In response to what he perceived as the restrictive, anti-democratic policies of John Adams’ administration, Freneau lauded the sanctity of a social contract that undercuts tyranny, prevents blind obedience among citizens, and fosters a civil freedom of mutual toleration and respect for differences. Inherent to Freneau’s and the Republicans’ support of universal enfranchisement and direct democracy was a fundamental component of self-interest essential to the new economy of capitalism, which according to historian John Ashworth, demanded a new theory of social moralism. Such Dissidents and political moralists as Thomas Paine, William Godwin, and Benjamin Rush sought new ethical standards that would mediate socioeconomic differences and enhance democratic access among the middle and lower classes. Many abolitionists extended such standards from the elimination of slavery to the enfranchisement of the new entrants to the class of free men.”

  29. Arthur I didn’t realize you were a Barney Frank follower. Sorry to hear that you don’t like women but that explains your bias to me.

  30. Well, one thing that should be included in the definition is that an effort to “promote the general welfare” does not mean guaranteeing the individual welfare of every person in the country.

  31. The U. S. Supreme Court first interpreted the General Welfare clause in United States v. Butler, 297 U.S. 1 (U.S. 1936). The court held that the general welfare language in the taxing-and-spending clause (where it also appears) constituted a separate grant of power to Congress to spend in areas over which it was not granted direct regulatory control. Just so, Congress has previously enacted social safety nets that did this country great service and helped a lot people. Social safety nets they are now dismantling and privatizing (including creating private profits at citizen’s expense) as quickly as their corporate graft masters tell them to. One thing “General Welfare” does most certainly not mean is protecting and guaranteeing the profits of individuals and corporations over the well-being of all citizens.

  32. What should gov’t do for the people?

    Involve itself only where it provides common good for the citizens and stay the heck out of our lives otherwise.

    What should the gov’t stop doing?

    Stop violating Article 1 Section 9 Clause 8 of the constitution: No title of nobility shall be granted by the United States. This includes the self-granted de facto nobility the politicians have coronated themselves with.

  33. “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.”
    — Patrick Henry

    “Religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”-James Madison

  34. I’ve come to think the problem with the Constitution and Bill of Rights is that at the time it was written, they missed a foundational point in not specifying what being “free beings” comes from. Before we are “free beings”, we are “moral beings” — indeed it is what separates us from the rest of species that inhabit the earth — and it is from this ” constitutional morality of our being” that the idea of “free beings” follows. By recognizing this foundational point of first being “moral beings”, from which the idea of “free beings” follows, collective problems (health care, education, etc) get cast in a new form….of course it is in the collective’s best interest to preserve optimum health of ALL members…provide for optimum opportunities for eduction for ALL members, etc. Just my 2 cents.

  35. Bob Huddleston:

    the French Revolution was a bloody mess. I am not sure I would want to exalt or emulate that example.

    That was “pure” democracy unencumbered by any regard for individual rights. That was one of the reasons our founders chose a representative democracy; as a protection of the individual against the mob.

  36. If physical force is to be barred from social relationships, men need an institution charged with the task of protecting their rights under an objective code of rules.

    This is the task of a government—of a proper government—its basic task, its only moral justification and the reason why men do need a government.

    A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—i.e., under objectively defined laws.

    “The Nature of Government,”
    The Virtue of Selfishness, 109

  37. “The only proper purpose of a government is to protect man’s rights, which means: to protect him from physical violence. A proper government is only a policeman, acting as an agent of man’s self-defense, and, as such, may resort to force only against those who start the use of force. The only proper functions of a government are: the police, to protect you from criminals; the army, to protect you from foreign invaders; and the courts, to protect your property and contracts from breach or fraud by others, to settle disputes by rational rules, according to objective law. But a government that initiates the employment of force against men who had forced no one, the employment of armed compulsion against disarmed victims, is a nightmare infernal machine designed to annihilate morality: such a government reverses its only moral purpose and switches from the role of protector to the role of man’s deadliest enemy, from the role of policeman to the role of a criminal vested with the right to the wielding of violence against victims deprived of the right of self-defense. Such a government substitutes for morality the following rule of social conduct: you may do whatever you please to your neighbor, provided your gang is bigger than his.”

    For the New Intellectual, 183

  38. “The source of the government’s authority is “the consent of the governed.” This means that the government is not the ruler, but the servant or agent of the citizens; it means that the government as such has no rights except the rights delegated to it by the citizens for a specific purpose.”

    “The Nature of Government,”
    The Virtue of Selfishness, 110

  39. “The fundamental difference between private action and governmental action—a difference thoroughly ignored and evaded today—lies in the fact that a government holds a monopoly on the legal use of physical force. It has to hold such a monopoly, since it is the agent of restraining and combating the use of force; and for that very same reason, its actions have to be rigidly defined, delimited and circumscribed; no touch of whim or caprice should be permitted in its performance; it should be an impersonal robot, with the laws as its only motive power. If a society is to be free, its government has to be controlled.

    Under a proper social system, a private individual is legally free to take any action he pleases (so long as he does not violate the rights of others), while a government official is bound by law in his every official act. A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.

    This is the means of subordinating “might” to “right.” This is the American concept of “a government of laws and not of men.””

    “The Nature of Government,”
    The Virtue of Selfishness, 109

  40. “NOTE: Any suggestions based on either Ayn Rand or the Austrian School of Economics will be laughed at and probably ridiculed as simply apologetics for the venal and sociopathic.”

    Gene Howington

    So freedom is for the venal and sociopathic? Wow, just wow.

  41. Nope. But Ayn Rand in toto is simply apologetics for being venal and sociopathic, Bron. Her very narrow understanding of the function of government – which is informed by the outcome determinism she engages in to reach the conclusion that greed is good which is, in turn, an expression of her mental illness – was not what was adopted by our Founders. The eventual result of putting her policies into action would be not just tyranny but slavery. Cherry picking some quotes in which she essentiall parrots Locke does not change that fact about Objectivism and its Ubermench ideals. She’s anti-egalitarian, anti-democratic and sociopathic. The last demonstrably so by both the WHO and the DSM criteria.

    Sorry. “Look out for number one and screw everyone else” is not a formula for a successful society. Society is an inherently cooperative effort and her view of cooperation is “what’s in it for me” – selfishness.

    It’s considered a sin by every other religious system in the world for a reason, Bron. Her work is a rationalization for bad behavior in the individual. Just because she read Locke doesn’t change that.

  42. And before you object to Objectivism being categorized as a religion? It’s a cult of personality with dogmas expected to be accepted not only as true in the face of an absence of evidence but in the face of evidence to the contrary as provided by science.

    I might also add that her notion of the primate individual is also fundamentally at odds with the social compact model of government. She allows no room for mutually derived benefit if it curtails the absolute rights of individuals. In short, she doesn’t recognize the collective nature of societies. A fatal flaw in her reasoning (such as it were).

  43. Gene, sorry I’m late to the party…

    I wish to provide a preamble to my discussion of the preamble: As I have stated on previous threads, I have independently arrived at the conclusion that the ideal government serves two primary purposes, which I believe are stated most clearly as

    1) Protect the weak from predation by the strong;
    2) Serve as the focal point for communal action, both in deciding what will be done, and (without favoritism) managing the process of getting it done.

    Within the context of the preamble:

    We the People of the United States, … specifies the controlling body; which I agree with.

    … in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, … provide for the common Defence … All of these fall under (1); protecting the weak from predation by the strong.

    A “more perfect Union” of States prevents small States from being dominated by large States, poor States from being dominated by rich States, States without access to the sea from being extorted by States with access, etc. The “strength” of a State may vary over time, but a more perfect union is formed when States are on an equal footing (as in the Senate).

    Establishing Justice is nearly synonymous with protecting the weak from predation by the strong, but obviously includes punishment (“obviously” because without the prospect of punishment law does not shield the weak from the strong).

    … provide for the common Defence, … This extends the metaphor to the International stage, the common defense is our collective shield against invasion or threats to our existence. It is another way of shielding the weak (individual citizens) from predation by the strong (raiders, looters, foreign armies, terrorists, etc.)

    … insure domestic Tranquility … promote the General Welfare … As Gene noted, one way of ensuring Tranquility is to address the causes of Distress; which I believe (from the sociological study of criminality) stem primarily from desperation, poverty, and (as many minorities still feel today) a sense of rigged game in which you always lose because somebody else controls all the resources and power. When there seems no way to win within the system, some people (particularly young adults) will try to win outside the system; they feel they have nothing to lose except an otherwise pointless existence of poverty and subjugation.

    Certainly some criminality stems from actual clinical mental deficits that produce sociopathy and psychopathy, but only about 1% of people are born that way.

    The rest is preventable; and I think this falls under my second point (2) above. The crimes cost us more than the preventions; in this case an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and the ounce of prevention is, for most people, what they feel is the moral communal route anyway.

    Namely, provide a real, tangible route out of desperation, poverty, and permanent subjugation that seems more plausible than risking one’s life in criminality. There is some overlap in doing that between (1) and (2), namely citizens should feel safe in their neighborhood, employers should not be exploiting the desperate circumstances of workers by demanding they endanger themselves, or making sexual demands of them, or paying them so little they have no real chance of escaping their circumstances or working their way out of them.

    But there is also the common infrastructure. Nutritional support, educational support, transportation support (like roads, and perhaps at-cost public transportation), sanitation support, health care support, shelter support, retirement income support for the elderly. These may not have been the specific “general Welfare” points the founders envisioned, but I believe they did not get specific because they expected things to change over time, and rather than dictate points, they believed the people should decide.

    … and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, …

    We know what “Posterity” means. What are the “Blessings of Liberty?”

    Or to put it another way, what do we find “good” about liberty? I think what we find good is measured in our degree of self-determination. Which is directly related to our degree of oppression, coercion, or powerlessness to change (some addicts, for example, feel enslaved by their addiction, they want to be “freed” from their addiction, but feel powerless to change).

    The other word in this prescription is important as well; I think “to secure” is well chosen, because Liberty does not come at zero cost. It must be captured, so to speak, and detained!

    To me the overall purpose of government, which I believe is consistent with the preamble, is to maximize the general level of self-determination, primarily by removing the obstacles to self-determination, including thwarting the strong that would exploit the weak (either criminally or financially), and leveling the playing field to alleviate the traps of misfortune and circumstance, like being born into poverty, disabled by birth or accident, or unemployed despite a willingness to work.

    I do not think that means people cannot be rich, I think talent should be rewarded and different jobs deserve different financial rewards. I have no problem with people just getting lucky and striking it rich.

    Primarily, when it comes to the General Welfare, Securing the Blessings of Liberty, and Domestic Tranquility, I believe those are addressed by putting a floor under poverty; a limit on how low one can fall. A “safety net” is one way, but I also think poverty should not dictate the quality or level of one’s education, nutrition, health care, sanitation or domestic safety.

    People that think they have been born into a rat, flea and cockroach infested jungle with no way out except crime will commit crimes. People that think they have a real chance to work their way out will (except for a small percent) generally attempt to do the work rather than risk their lives on quick riches.

    That increases self-determination for the poor (their Liberty) and increases Domestic Tranquilty for us with less crime, and more good citizens adding value to our lives by their work (as we add value to their lives by our work).

    For those with empathy, it is the moral thing to do: A rising tide lifts all boats.

  44. Bill H: Well, one thing that should be included in the definition is that an effort to “promote the general welfare” does not mean guaranteeing the individual welfare of every person in the country.

    That is self-contradicting logic; if we did guarantee the welfare of every citizen we would self-evidently promote the general welfare. What do you think “general” means, if it isn’t some measure of benefiting all citizens?

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