What is the purpose of government? I believe it is the collective organization of the individual right to lawful defense of his/her person, liberty and property.
This is where we usually agree, left, right, centrist, apolitical… no matter who are.
Government is a flawed, yet needed entity to maintain social order. It is not, however, a tool with which to promote our lifestyle or personal ambitions. This is what often drives those political divisions.
Over the years, I’ve talked about the writings of French philosopher Frederic Bastiat. His seminal, and final notes can be found HERE, in a booklet called, “The Law.” The one quote of his I treasure above all, and needs to be read by everyone is this:
“We hold from God the gift which includes all others. This gift is life—physical, intellectual, and moral life. But life cannot maintain itself alone. The Creator of life has entrusted us with the responsibility of preserving, developing, and perfecting it. In order that we may accomplish this, He has provided us with a collection of marvelous faculties. And He has put us in the midst of a variety of natural resources. By the application of our faculties to these natural resources we convert them into products, and use them. This process is necessary in order that life may run its appointed course. Life, faculties, production—in other words, individuality, liberty, property—this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it is the fact that life, liberty and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
At a coffee shop or in the halls of your local church, most will agree that the purpose of the law and government is to protect individuals, and those protections are agreed upon by the majority of us; Government is to be the enforcer of those protections, nothing more. If we stuck to this, most of us would have no political labels.
But, as humanity is flawed, any entity of power can and will be prone to corruption. The tendency of government will always be toward centralization of power and corruption of those who run it.
Of all places to find wisdom, a quirky, entrepreneurial hacker named John McAfee once provided a good summary of the state of mankind:
“As a hacker, I know as well as anyone, the impossibility of the human mind creating a flawless system. The human mind, itself, is flawed. A flawed system can create nothing that is not likewise flawed.”
In other words, government will always be flawed, because you and I are flawed. My best hope is in my faith in God to perfect those flaws, but our best protection is in a government that allows our greatest virtues to flourish. Which usually means as little of it as possible.
Yet, for some of us, that’s not good enough. The corruption makes us want to react. Therefore, when some of us have perverted the law to our benefit, others of us predictably feel we must use the same tool to react to that original perversion, and occasionally it is no less a violation than the first. Instead of winning minds, we want to only win elections. Thus, we become divided: conservative vs. liberal; union vs. businessman; police vs. individuals; and socially, even pastor vs. layperson. There is the point of division.
Too often, we seek out confirmation of our principles or ideas, and seek to protect our position by walling ourselves off from those with differences. We don’t realize that the existence of their principles doesn’t mean extinction of our own. We can coexist without conforming. But, most of the time, we go too far in promoting our own ideals – and focus on winning – that we fail to persuade our neighbor of the idea, or worse, try to force compliance, or “fairness” through our own laws.
Imagine a scenario:
A business group seeks out a subsidy in the tax code, providing credits to help them expand their business. As a result, they do expand, but some bad actors violate the common trust and appear to abuse their position, their money, and behave in a destructive manner.
In response to this, a citizen group lobbies the same government to change the tax code, and provide refundable tax credits for low income families and children. To be “fair,” the government acquiesces to their demands, and now, two common entities – citizenry and business – are adversaries in the code, each vying for their own best interests. And it was motivated with good intentions, to boot.
And who can blame them? None of us wants to be short-thrifted. But, the initial violation that was the core problem. If the purpose of the law is to protect the God-given, natural liberties of each person to create, attain and preserve what they wish, why do we violate someone else’s liberty with our own? Too often, we answer secularist laws with religious ones; someone else’s success with subsidies for us; their tax deductions with our own.
Today, I feel that too many of us seek to carve out special treatment in the law to counter what we see as an affront to our way of life. We create an opponent in our mind, and publicly. Then, we fight to defeat that opponent, using the very tool that was supposed to protect them and us. We become as bad as the perpetrators when we use the law against them, for our purposes.
That is why the American Founders saw fit to knit together a country with a government that dispersed power (the literal definition of “federal”), and sought to make those decisions as locally as possible, where people are closer in agreement on the majority of things. Most decisions cannot and should not be decided by someone hundreds of miles away, affected by the interests of someone even further.
Yeah, I know I’m sounding pretty libertarian at the moment, but maybe that’s one of the reasons I lean that way. In any society, “live and let live” is more than a cheap cliche. In government, it protects the common good, while allowing us as much freedom as possible. In our churches, it let’s us share a common faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, while allowing us to have churches with varying secondary theologies. Across the country, it gives us a common place to call home, while allowing us to have our own families, faiths, cities, and states that are so different than others, 3,000 miles away.
Yes, we’re going to disagree on so much, and of all people, I’m not known for backing down on what I think is right. But, we’ve gone astray. The internet has increased our contact with those we disagree with, and sped up our conversations and conflict. Perhaps no human being is equipped to deal with this in a peaceful way, but we must try.
For ultimately, as John Adams said, “we are a nation of laws, not of men.” We share far more in common than we realize, and that’s why government was created: to preserve the greater good, which is peace. Peace that is reached not by isolation or segregation, but in acceptance. Civility doesn’t happen in a vacuum, but in our interaction with others… and winning them over, not winning over them.
If the way we live is right, then we should focus on being what we want the world to be, making sure government only preserves our right to do so. If that life is right, others will begin to see what that life does for us, and want the same thing. But, will they ever see it if we only sit online, type furiously when someone objects, and only break bread with those who agree with us?