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. “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

  2. 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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. “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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. The government “should commit suicide, fall on its sword”….. Love it Dredd. I concur.

  10. Not even close, LC. I study legal and political theory under J. H. Lomax at the University of Memphis, but thanks for the implicit compliment.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.”

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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?

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

        1. 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.”

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