When one declares oneself to be a conservative, one is not, unfortunately, thereupon visited by tongues of fire that leave one omniscient. The acceptance of a series of premises is just the beginning. After that, we need constantly to inform ourselves, to analyze and to think through our premises and their ramifications. We need to ponder, in the light of the evidence, the strengths and the weaknesses, the consistencies and the inconsistencies, the glory and the frailty of our position, week in and week out. Otherwise, we will not hold our own in a world where informed dedication, not just dedication, is necessary for survival and growth.

William F. Buckley Jr., Feb 8, 1956, NR

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Soliciting Answers - The Purpose of Government

Throughout the historical documentation of political philosophers, there are a variety of opinions regarding the purpose of government. Why does man decide that he is best served by rules made by other men? How are an individuals interests served by becoming submissive to an entity that may or may not share priorities?

Is the purpose of government to protect individual rights? Is the purpose to preserve the government structure itself? Is the purpose to determine the moral and ethical constraints of behavior?

Please respond with your thoughts.


Admin said...

Hey, folks:

American citizen-government relationships are based upon the "social contract" concept. According to that concept, the government affords the citizenry certain protections in exchange for the loss of certain natural rights. For example, one has unlimited rights in the state of nature (the state in which the laws of nature rule supreme), and logically one could go and commit acts that would be crimes in modern society. The question is how much of a certain right must be given up in exchange for certain protections and services? That is the conservative-liberal divide. The right side of the political spectrum tends to offer more rights, but also fewer services, while the left side does the opposite.

In my view, the Bill of Rights is an enormously important document. Liberals often attach other spurious "rights" such as universal health care, but in reality, the Bill of Rights is essentially a list of things that the government cannot do rather than a list of things that the government must do. For example, the government must NOT impinge on one's right to free speech (1st amendment) or one's right to keep and bear arms (2nd amendment). Similarly, the Fourth Amendment states that the government must NOT conduct an improper search and seizure. Notice a pattern?

None of these are things that the government MUST do; they are rather things that the government mustn't do.



TAO said...

The concept of "social contract" does not necessarily involve a "trade" between individuals and government.

It is initially a contract amongst individuals that everyone is better off with an agreement amongst ourselves. Then of course a discussion would have to be held to discuss how the contract would be enforced and protected.

At one time Kings claimed that their right to rule was divine.

Locke believed that the sovereign was not party to the agreement of the contract.

Rousseau developed more thoroughly that sovereignty is the OUTCOME of the contract.

Our founding fathers were the FIRST to establish the enlightened idea that men (common human beings such as ourselves) could and should empower government.

In regards to what the government "must not" do....well then it could also be argued that anything NOT listed out explicitly could then be the right of government.

No liberal makes any argument for things a government MUST do...such as your example of univeral healthcare.

What liberals do argue is that if you look at the statistics developed countries that have universal healthcare have dramatically lower healthcare costs and improved longevity.

There is nothing in that argument that says someone has a RIGHT to healthcare but rather that it might be more logical, cheaper, and better for the over all health of a country to nationalize healthcare.

Admin said...


While there is no doubt that healthcare in the United States costs more, there is also no doubt that the quality of care one can procure through the free-market system is also the best. Higher health-care spending may also reflect cultural differences in terms of priorities. The "lifespan" argument is fallacious, in my view, because healthcare isn't limited to treating life-threatening illnesses. Once again, "lifespan" may be affected by cultural choices (note the obesity rate).

Brooke said...

My thoughts are that gov't should defend the group of people from others, and defend the individual from anti-social persons.

After that, get out of the way!

TAO said...

Lifespan is not a "fallacious" argument. If one country lives to X years on average and another lives to Y years then there is a difference. Included in those numbers would also be the totality of cultural differences and any other points that you could bring up.

Then you have to ask yourself what is the purpose of a healthcare system? Prolong life? What measurement do you use to determine "quality" or "free market" or "the best" it appears to me that you ASSUME that we have the best because it is ours. That is rather subjective so, find a measurement that we can use to measure the performance of our healthcare system then you can make an argument about quality, free market, and best....

Until then you just have an opinion.

I think if you really look at our healthcare system in light of insurance companies and their networks and hospitals and their privelege system we really do not have free market at all.

Admin said...

Trying to define a healthcare system by lifespan or any other measurement is an exercise in futility. Healthcare is a commodity, just like any other service provided. The way to get the best prices for the best healthcare is to allow competition in the free market. What's also not included in the "lifespan" argument is racial differences- The average lifespan of a black male is 6.2 years less than a white male, and is 8.3 years less than the national average. Blacks constitute 2.5% of the Canadian population (very socialized healthcare system), while in the US blacks make up 13.4% of the population. Would this not throw off the lifespan calculation?

Dan Trabue said...

How are an individuals interests served by becoming submissive to an entity that may or may not share priorities?

* No one is an island. We are, as a matter of fact, all in this world together.

* It is essential that we learn to live together. Both from a moral/spiritual view and from a practical view.

* Living together requires some cooperation and perhaps co-dependence.

* Cooperation and co-dependence almost certainly requires rules. Anarchy is highly over-rated, as is Survival of the fittest/might makes right.

* What possible reason would we have to want a life with no rules? Selfishness? Pride? Hatred/disdain of the Other?

* The purpose of gov't (cooperation between a people - the social contract some have mentioned) therefore, is to ensure some basic natural laws - your right to swing your fist ends sometimes before it reaches my nose.

Seems to me.

Dan Trabue said...

AOP said:

The right side of the political spectrum tends to offer more rights, but also fewer services, while the left side does the opposite.

Well, now, that would depend a lot upon what type of conservatives and what type of liberals we're talking about.

Social Conservatives are the ones often wanting to restrict rights to marry, what you can read, smoke, drink, how you behave, etc, etc, etc.

TAO said...

Admin, once again, when you state that the lifespan/longevity of the US is X then you are taking race into the equation. In your own example of blacks vs whites and the difference in longevity rates then you have to ask, is it their race that causes the lowering of their lifespan or is it caused by the fact they the percentage of blacks who fall into poverty is higher than that of whites.

Then when you claim that heatlhcare is a commodity you are running a risk of someone saying that as a commodity then it is something that can be regulated much like a utility.

THAT is exactly the problem with the conservative movement. Like the other day on Kudlow' show where he went on and on about supply side economics and then went off about the debt that Obama is going to create. Then he comments that he has no problem with the government being in debt but he is not sure that the levels that Obama is proposing are wise.

which for Kudlow and his idol Laffer (the father of supply side economics and a big shot in Reagan's administration) translates into "we like government debt as long as a conservative is at the helm."

If you believe that lower taxes and small government is the way to go then you also have to demand less spending and a smaller military. If you believe that government assistance imprisons individuals and destroys their desire to work then you have to say the same thing about government assistance to corporations. If you actually look at it one of the leading causes for our lower lifespan, higher healthcare costs, dependence on foreign oil is our Agriculture assistance program which is ALWAYS supported by conservtives.

As a conservative then I want to know what we are actually doing in Iraq and why are we so concerned about AIDS in Africa? That to me appears to be the most absurd form of government involvement I have ever seen. Yet conservatives are big fans of both of those.

If government cannot solve the problems of its own people and everyone who reads this blog believe that is the case then what do we expect government to do in foreign countries but create more problems?

We believe that our schools will be improved if they are managed by the local community rather than by Washington yet at the same time we criticize businesses that are locally owned and favor the large multinational corporations.

If you believe that local communities are better for one thing then how do you claim that the same logic does not hold true in another?

If you believe that big government is bad and limits our freedoms then you have to accept the fact that the military is part of the government and that big business also limits our freedoms.

If you do not want government to infringe on your beliefs and your freedoms then you cannot be for a ban on abortion or for all of these gay amendment issues. Because what those amendments represent are government infringement on someones rights....and your rights could be next.

Big religion is just as much a threat to ones individual freedoms as is big government.

Thats the basic issue with conservatives right now...the whole time we are going around blaming liberals and government for everything that is wrong with this country we in turn are using government to do what the liberals used it for....as such we have become the 21st century liberals.

Obob said...

Robert, I do not like this post. Either my ADHD cannot focus on a well deserved answer for a great question or my kids are not letting me post.
In a nutshell, man wants the government of the moment that makes them feel safe, initially. Until they realize either they have stumbled into a tyranny or are safer than before and foolishly want something else. Yes we are selfish children.
Best I can do and not crash the server. Good query

TAO said...

Obob is right.

Principles are long term and sadly everything we do is in the here and now.

One of the points I just love is when congress sits there and grills these CEO's about their pay and bonuses and then claim that they want CEO pay to be linked to performance....Hmm...we linked pay to performance in all aspects of this country boy would the poverty level jump in this country!

There would be alot of people in Congress going to work carrying their lunch in brown bags...

It just seems to me that we have gotten dizzy spinning everything in our lives around so much that we all are punch drunk.

I have made one new years resolution this year and that is to simplify my life. First off I am going to quit thinking about things so much and focus more on living the way I think one should live.

Reality is the only place I can change anything is in my own life. I have a friend who is a bigshot consultant in the semiconductor industry and he goes on and on about all these fancy concepts in regards to our current economic situation and after listending to him for 45 minutes not understanding a thing he was saying I just add, "...so, all the brillant ones weren't as bright as they thought they were...." There are some basic principles that no one can refute. Like gravity...anything that goes up will go down...anything that goes up alot will go down alot.

Or that man still has an issue separating self intereests from rational thought. Just because something appears to be in one personal self interest does not mean that it is rational.

Its like the issue of what type of government we want...well, that all kind of depends on what kind of people "we" are....

Nobody really wants government that does NOTHING but the minimum but rather everyone wants a government that does what THEY want it to do.

I think the whole issue of education is not one that circles around religion but rather that circles are discipline and respect.

I do not believe that there is anything wrong with our school systems that a ruler to the knuckles wouldn't solve. I am not only talking about the kids but I think teachers need a listen discipline too...

Spanking did wonders for my interest in an education and desire to do my best....

It also did wonders for my ability to find time to pray.....

Somethings in life never change and sometimes simpler is better.

Gayle said...

I feel the purpose of the government is to protect the rights of the people and defend this country, period.

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

Government should have onbly two responsibilities. First to protect the nation in which it governs and second to serve the people who live in that nation.

Notice I said serve not take care of. Serving the people means to adhear to the will of the people and as such continually seek out the will of the people and not forcing governments will upon the people.

This is where government fails. It becomes and all encompasing entity which beleives that it is the power of the nation and it is the entity that dictates to the people what they should have, should do and how they should abide as citizens.

When just the opposite should be the function of government. To always in all manner adhear to and follow the will as stated by the people in whom government was created to serve.

Dan Trabue said...

Roads? Should the gov't be involved in infrastructure?

I think so. Although, I think that drivers should pay the full costs involved, rather than having non-motorists provide motorists "welfare." Of course, the problem with that is that this would add to the costs of driving pretty significantly. This is, in my mind, a good thing, as it helps driving costs reflect actual costs which would, in turn, be a natural market solution to decrease motorists, which would be a good thing.

How about water/wastewater? Should those be gov't or quasi-gov't agencies? And how about protection of water and air from pollution? I think all of those are properly roles of the gov't.

And jails? I reckon that would fall under the category of protecting the rights of people, right? And how about inmate prison reform efforts? IF by implementing education and rehab programs in jails, gov't could DECREASE recidivism and thereby save money, is it appropriate?

I think absolutely.

Thomas Jefferson (among others) thought public schools were a proper role for gov't, do you agree with him? I do.

I think a lot of times, people are for smaller gov't and getting rid of "most" of gov't programs. But when it comes down to it, many of these programs make a good deal of sense, in the sense that they are promoting the commonwealth of the nation and are about protecting natural rights and being fiscally responsible.

Dan Trabue said...

This is where government fails. It becomes and all encompasing entity which beleives that it is the power of the nation and it is the entity that dictates to the people what they should have, should do and how they should abide as citizens.

I wonder if you have an example of what you mean by this? When has "gov't" become an all-encompassing entity that dictates to the people, in your opinion? Inasmuch as this could happen, I'm opposed to it, but I'm not at all sure what that means. I don't know where gov't has become all-encompassing (although our military has become fairly bloated and all-encompassing, traveling all over the world in this role and that) and dictatorial. Perhaps you could provide an example or two?

TAO said...

Have you ever planted a small tree and or bush in your yard only to realize after a few years that what was once so beautiful is now so overgrown, ugly, and killing out everything around it? Well government is the same way.

When you claim that the duty of government is to "protect and serve" then you get onto a slippery slope of defining "protection" and "service"

What may seem so black and white to you ends up being totally a different color to someone else.

Lets look at crime...what is the leading cause of crime? Drugs? Poverty? So before you know it someone comes up with the idea that the best way to protect the citizens of a country from crime is to fight crime where it grows and before you know it you have drug programs and welfare.

Then you have the whole issue of morals and values. Everyone will claim that they believe in limiting government to protecting and serving but then they will want to have government pass laws that deal with morals and values and they will claim that this is the right of government because it falls under "protection" as in the sense that the government must protect the values and morals that made this country great.

Government is not in the business of morals and values...

Their is no thing as a "Christian Nation" but rather we are a country of individuals who profess to be christian. Thus religion becomes an individual issue NOT a societal or governmental issue.

Government should be limited to that which we cannot do ourselves and what we need to define is what we can and cannot do ourselves.

Dan Trabue said...

Government should be limited to that which we cannot do ourselves and what we need to define is what we can and cannot do ourselves.

I might could agree with this, depending upon the details.

I wonder, TAO, beyond agreeing, for instance, that a military defense is appropriate for gov't, what guidelines you might offer for what is a reasonable size for such a military.

Also, I wonder: We can take care of the poor ourselves (ie, outside of gov't), but what if we don't?

What if homelessness or other poverty-related issues, for instance, are COSTING taxpayers money (due to crime, lack of productivity, lack of workforce, child welfare problems, etc, etc) because there are insufficient private resources dealing with the issue? What then?

It seems to me the only fiscally responsible thing to do is to step in and spend $x million to deal with the problem IF it will save us $2x million down the road. You agree or no?

That seems to me to be one area of difference between the Left-ish and Right-ish - that those on the Right seem willing to pay even more re-actively rather than paying less pro-actively.

TAO said...


We actually agree more than we disagree. I do not really have any answers for your questions because I do not have an agenda outside of making people think and realizing that all thoughts have consequences both intended and unintended.

In regards to the military...think about it this way, if you believe that government is to protect a nation then you have to ask if only its borders? Or its worldwide interests? Is the military to physcially protect our country and its borders or is it to protect our ideals and what we believe in?

Or healthcare...we love to brag about all the achievements that we have created within our healthcare system and we give credit for those to this thing called "free markets" but reality is all of the innovations that our healthcare system has achieved have been through reasrch centers which are usually tied to universities and are funded by federal grants, and various other contributions. Not much free market or profit incentive involved there.

When you talk about healthcare REFORM you are actually talking about another altogether different healthcare system. Which isn't all free market either when you look at insurance and all of the issues involved there also.

But the biggest issue with healthcare is that we need to face the fact that healthcare has limits and at what point do we say, enough is enough? That might actually be, besides the Agri business issue, the leading cause of our high healthcare costs...we expect healthcare to keep us alive forever, to make us thin, to make us pretty, and all sorts of things

Joe said...

The original purpose of the government of the United States was to enable its citizens to freely practice their beliefs, to coordinate the corporate efforts of the populace and to allow the opportunity for each member of society to reach his/her aspirations in life without excessive governmental interference.

Like most other governments, over time the government of the U.S. has degenerated into a power hungry, "nanny" state, that thinks it knows what is best for its citizens, who are quite satisfied to allow them to have ultimate control of their lives.

Joe said...

Tao: "We believe that our schools will be improved if they are managed by the local community rather than by Washington yet at the same time we criticize businesses that are locally owned and favor the large multinational corporations."

I know of no conservative who criticizes the concept of locally owned businesses and/or favors large multinational corporations.

To the contrary, we believe in locally owned businesses, even the ones that grow into large corporations, like Walton's little store, the fore-runners of McDonalds, etc.

The whole idea is creativity, opportunity to be (or not be) as big or small as you want to be, as in "life, liberty and the PERSUIT of happiness."

And schools WERE better when they were locally controlled.

Dan Trabue said...

? Schools ARE locally controlled. Although the Bush administration (not a "liberal" administration, that) has placed some stringent "guidelines" in place, schools mostly are self-controlled.

But it sounds like in principle we agree in the concept of local autonomy, within reason.

Dan Trabue said...

Joe said:

the U.S. has degenerated into a power hungry, "nanny" state, that thinks it knows what is best for its citizens

Just to clarify what you're getting at Joe:

Is it a "nanny state" to want clean air? To expect drivers to have insurance and drive responsibly? To expect companies to dispose of waste properly? To expect cars to have a reasonable degree of safety and pollution-control? Or are these all reasonable expectations?

I wonder in what manner you think we're living in a nanny state?

That we have a military presence all over the world "just in case" there might be bad guys there or in order to "protect our interests" there? That we tell people who can and can't get married? What we ingest/smoke/drink?

The Liberal Lie The Conservative Truth said...

Dan, all emcompassing is a fact when it comes to the bloated government that we now have.

Find any aspect of your daily life that has not changed because of government involvement.

We buy food that is taxed and regulated by the government. We purchase fuel that contains government imbedded taxes and whose production is regulated by the government.

We drive on roads that depend upon government money for repair or replacement and oil which is regulated and taxed by the government for asphalt.

At work service jobs that deal with the public have a miriad of government regulations which stipulate how and/or when items in that job can be used.

In fact off the top of my head I cannot name any company that employs people that does not have to deal with government regulations that drive up costs. Some good and some ridiculous

At home we use appliances which have government mandates printed on bar codes etc which regulate the industry in which that product is made. Also require government patents to be produced.

We watch or listen to programs on channels or stations that are liscensed by the FCC a government agency.

Our homes are insured by companies who are regulated by the government. Built by construction companies who are regulated liscensed and insured by government regulated and/or suppliers.

When this Nation first came into being government was designed not to be involved in the day to day lives of the citizenry, yet we cannot turn around in our own homes or work places without finding examples of government intervention.

Now through bailouts the government is part owner of our banks, investment companies and auto manufaturing companies.

That my friend is all emcompassing. While there is a certain amount of regulation necessary in order to prevent greedy companies and individuals from taking advantage of the free market, government involvment in every aspect of life has become completely out of control and the prospect of that increasing with the incoming administration is about 100%

Dan Trabue said...

Yes, are fuel is taxed, but that money goes at least partially to pay for the roads on which you drive. You don't want "free roads" (ie, welfare) from the gov't, do you?

Yes, we keep an eye on our foods, but that also helps keep our food healthy so we don't have avian bird flu outbreaks or mad cow, and this is a good thing, don't you think?

Yes, our companies have regulations as to how they treat their employees, how they deal with their wastes, how they advertise. But this seems to be a good thing, too, don't you think?

I thought the agreed-upon concept here was that gov't has a responsibility to ensure individual rights. Well, I want MY right to clean water ensured. In order to do that, there needs to be some gov't regulation. I want MY right to clean air ensured. Someone has to oversee that.

You don't really think that companies or individuals ought to have the right to pollute as a matter of personal liberty, do you? Surely you recognize that one person's "right" to pollute (for just one example) interferes with another person's right to not have other people's pollution in their air, water and ground?

Now, it could be possible that some of these regulations are overdone. You'd have to give me an example of a specific case and we could talk about that.

But in general, it costs money to run a gov't, to employ police, to build roads, to make sure the bridges are safe, to make sure our water is clean, etc, etc. And we the people (ie, the gov't), for all our failings have an obligation to work for the commonwealth.

I'm not sure where you disagree - is it just the level? You're not an anarchist, are you?

TAO said...

Yes, back a couple of hundred years ago government was not so involved in our personal lives but back then most every grew their own food, never traveled all that far from home, died pretty much where they were born, made their own clothes, built their own homes and basically were pretty much independent of each other. It is real easy in that case to determine exactly what is the responsibility of government and what was individual responsibilty.

There wasn't all that many things that necissitated government involvement.

Now our dependence upon each other is much greater and we depend on people that we do not know and never meet. If I bought my meat from a butcher who lived in my town who bought meat from a farmer who lived just outside of town I am more apt to trust that they will be responsible to follow good sanitary practices because if they do not everyone in town will turn against them. But who can we depend on now to ensure the safety of our food supply when I am buying meat from a retailer who bought the meat from a supplier who got the animal from who knows who?

Thats why I am not a big fan of a return to the old days because you cannot return government to the old ways unless you can also return us as individuals back to those days.

Beltway said...

"Is the purpose of government to protect individual rights? Is the purpose to preserve the government structure itself? Is the purpose to determine the moral and ethical constraints of behavior?"

All of the above Robert, and none at all. Government is the great paradox. You would have better results explaining the meaning of life.

Now an attempt at levity. I was watching reruns of Meerkat Manor on Animal planet the other day. I think "Rocket Dog" and the "Whiskers" are proof positive we are not the most intelligent creatures on the planet. ;)

CB said...

Life, liberty and estate are inalienable rights that the federal government was empowered to protect upon its establishment. Most other powers were reserved for the several states which empowered the federal government and not the other way around.

I am re-reading Novus Ordo Seclorum - The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution by Forrest McDonald. If you're curious about the Latin phrase, it translates roughly, New Order of the Ages. If you have a greenback, a one dollar bill, look on the back and in the banner under the pyramid, this phrase is printed.

This country was established to protect personal liberty so that we can pursue the greenbacks to buy the freedom we want. This explains why we are far and away the leader of the world on so many levels. I'm not going to go Ron Paul on you but we have had more to fear from domestic enemies than foreign since Woodrow Wilson, FDR, the Warren Court, Nixon now Bush and Obama.