What is the proper role of government? Since the election, and re-election of, Barack H. Obama, Republicans and conservatives were emphatically against the policies being rolled out. During the 2016 election, people were up in arms between Hillary R. Clinton, and Donald J. Trump. Today, we have a more divisive society. There is vehement opposition to the election of Trump. Social media and online discussions are full of argle-bargle vitriolic statements. Have we, as an American Society, lost sight of what the proper role of Government is supposed to be?
It seems that the political minefield is more about populist persuasion. It appears that there are no more true statesmen representing values and principles over popularity. Ezra Taft Benson says it this way:
Decisions of this nature should be based upon and measured against certain basic principles regarding the proper role of government. If principles are correct, then they can be applied to any specific proposal with confidence. … Unlike the political opportunist, the true statesman values principle above popularity, and works to create popularity for those political principles which are wise and just.
Today, American politics appear to be more on the opportunist to provoke popularity over value and principle. We have forfeited true freedom and liberty for ever increasing propaganda of popular agendas. More and more opportunists become elected into local, county, state, and even national positions to serve “special interest” groups of individuals. True principles and values of proper governance appears to have been abandoned.
In Benson’s understanding, there are only three specific principals guiding the correct role of government.
Government is instituted by God
The very first premise we look at is how government is an institute of God. Here, Benson gives an understanding that such institutions are for the “…benefit of man; and that he [God] holds all men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society.“
Through the endowment of a Sovereign Government we begin to understand natural rights of an individual. This is espoused in the very first paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
In Benedict De Spinoza’s work, Theologico-Political Treatise, we read the following:
By the natural right and ordinance of nature, I merely mean those natural laws wherewith we conceive every individual to be conditioned by nature, so as to live and act in a given way. … For it is certain that nature, taken in the abstract, has sovereign right to do anything she can; in other words, her right is coextensive with her power. The power of nature is the power of God, which has sovereign right over all things; and, inasmuch as the power of nature is simply the aggregate of the powers of all her individual components, it follows that every individual has sovereign right to do all that he can; in other words, the rights of an individual extend to the utmost limits of his power as it has been conditioned.
These natural rights were expressed by the founding father’s in the very next paragraph of our Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. – To that secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Spinoza remarks on how our individual rights are not only natural, they are also God-Given naturally and sovereign. To what purpose? It is for our own sovereign law and right of nature to endeavor to preserve ourselves, “…without regard to anything but itself; therefore this sovereign law and right belongs to every individual, namely, to exist and act according to its natural conditions.”
From our sovereign and natural rights, we move toward sound reason. We exist with other individuals who express their own natural rights. Spinoza further comments how these individual rights we are born with do not forbid strife, envy, anger, and/or deceit. He highlights how no one single individual desires to live in enmity toward another. Yet, if we are left to our own mere natural rights, we desire to do what is appropriate for us. On the contrary, because we come together to live, a greater purpose helps place our rights into appropriate perspective:
… we shall plainly see that men must necessarily come to an agreement to live together as securely and well as possible if they are to enjoy as a whole the rights which naturally belong to them as individuals, and their life should be no more conditioned by the force and desire of individuals, but by the power and will of the whole body.
The important principle that guides us is not our sovereign and natural rights, it is the principles of sound reason. What is this principle truth? It is to restrain any natural desire and right we believe we have whereby we may injury another individual. Spinoza reflects on the simple concept of what we desire to be done unto ourselves, we ought to do that very same thing to others. We protect and sustain the right of another as if it is our own sovereign and natural right.
Therefore, the correct role of Government is to understand the sound reason of it’s sovereign origin. It is to understand sovereignty being bestowed in order to secure the benefit of man These benefits are to pursue and protect his rights, along with his neighbors rights, through appropriate laws that provide for the good and safety of our society.
Government is to secure the individual right to free exercise of conscience, property and protection of life
The next principle truth Benson outlines is how the Government is not able to exist in peace, unless there are laws framed and held to secure each individual right to freely exercise their conscience, the right to control property, and the protection of life. Today, we are seeing more and more violation of these inalienable rights.
The right to free exercise of conscience
In a question, Defining and Protecting Conscience, Undergraduate fellows who were enrolled in the Law, Religion, and Liberty of Conscience Seminar interviewed experts on the role of conscience in American life, law, and politics. Here, we will refer to Mark R. Wicclair’s statement on the nature of Conscience:
A person’s conscience can be thought of as an internal moral guide. To say that someone has a conscience is to say that:
The person has deeply held moral beliefs.
The person’s decisions and actions generally are consistent with her deeply held moral beliefs.
If a decision or action is not consistent with the person’s deeply held moral beliefs, she feels guilt, remorse, shame, and the like.
The free exercise of conscience (i.e., the ability to act in accordance with one’s deeply held moral convictions) is essential to preserving one’s moral integrity. Hence, the free exercise of conscience is a value worth protecting. However, there are limits to legal protections of conscience. For example, laws may restrict parents’ exercise of conscience in order to protect children from neglect or abuse. Similarly, the special obligations of professionals may place limits on justified legal protections of conscience.
Thus, the governments role is to protect the individual’s right to moral conscience moves to protecting the moral integrity of that individual. The allowance to free exercise of conscience appears to be a principle value that is no longer amenable to American culture today.
Take the following case example that had flooded national headlines in 2015. The Owners of an Oregon Bakery were fined $135,000 dollars because they had denied the opportunity to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. The owners claimed that they refused this on the grounds of religious beliefs. The couple who brought a discrimination lawsuit against the owners won and were awarded damages for emotional suffering. Subsequently, because of the hefty fine, the national attention, and the barrage of vitriolic commentary, the owners ended up having to shut down their business. A business they operated for years.
This heated debate that began in 2013 pitted Anti-Discriminatory laws with Religious convictions:
Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian awarded the damages nearly six months ago, saying the owners had violated the women’s civil rights by discriminating on the basis of their sexual orientation. They were also slapped with a gag order that prohibited them from speaking publicly about their refusal to participate in or bake wedding cakes for same-sex marriages.
If we were to have sound reason, the principle value of protecting the rights of an individual’s exercise of free conscience is violated with this lawsuit, and the punishment for “emotional distress”. On the one hand, a couple exercised their sovereign natural rights. On the other hand, two owners exercised their reasonable sound conscience in denying services. In the end, the value of one’s free exercise of conscience was deemed discriminatory and punished by the legal standpoint of populist opinion.
Along with this, in the marketplace of ideas, anything that goes against the established propaganda of the liberal and progressive left is deemed intolerant, racist, and hate-mongering. In reality, what appears to be happening is the liberal and progressive left is following populist opinion rather than sound reason. Anything that employs critical thinking and rational objective perspective is deemed a threat to the populist ideals. The devaluing of true principles is increasingly self-evident. As populist propaganda and opinion continue to be fed, we will see more and more of the suppression of free exercise of conscience and the oppression of values and principles based on sound reason and judgment.
The Right to Control Property
Tom DeWeese provides 10 principle truths behind what it means for Government’s role in securing the right to control property.
DeWeese’s first premise reflects that as a property owner, we are to be protected in our own exclusive authority to determine how private property is to be utilized. The second principle truth reflects how we are protected in having a peaceful possession, control and enjoyment of private property. Third, private property owners are protected in how they make contracts relating to either the sell, rental, or giving away all or part of a legally purchased property.
The fourth principle truth speaks out against eminent domain for the purpose of reselling the property for private interest, or to derive revenues from. In his fifth principle, private property rights mean that local, city, county, state, or federal government has the authority to impose any type of legislation regarding the “aesthetic landscaping, color selections, tree and plant preservation, or open spaces on legally purchased/deeded private property.” This also includes additional factors in his sixth principle truth that the right to control property also prohibits any implementation by any governmental force to utilize the land for public use.
Government may not also impose any law or ordinance restricting the number of dwellings on private property. Neither does the Government have the authority to impose any restrictions when it comes to zoning, or implementation of any regulation that may devalue or limit the ability to sell one’s property. Along with these, no government has the power and authority to limit the right of someone to any “profitable agriculture activities by mandating and controlling what crops and livestock are grown.”
Finally, the Government has a due diligence in protecting the right to control property by enforcing that person’s right to not be violated. Any government or representative does not have the right to enter private property without the written permission of the property owner, or is in possession of a lawful warrant.
Along with this, a person has the right to manage and control their earnings. How they spend, how they save, and what they utilize their financial capacities in relation to maintain their own personal lively hood.
Protection of life
With the establishment of one’s right to freely express their conscience, the right to control property; we now come to understand another aspect of the role of Government. That is, the protection of life. This is established in various forms. Protection of life is on a national and local level. Enforcement of various laws, and the punishing of those who have violated those laws. Through a strong military and law enforcement, we secure the protection of each individual life. This also includes the right for individuals to protect their own life and their own property.
The problem arises in the ongoing debate over the nature of life and when that life begins. Since the proper role of government is to protect life, we see the institution of our Government having given over to shield the right to abortion. This is reflected in Sarah Primrose’s article: “…despite placing limitations on Planned Parenthood, the court system has also served as a shield for the organization.” Regardless of the debate on abortion and the controversy around Planned Parenthood, the point here is to realize how entrenched Government’s role is protecting the right to take a life instead of protecting life. In essence, all life matters and needs protection.
We are bound to sustain and uphold our respective Government
Since the government’s role is to provide limited benefits to us; the individual is bound to sustain and uphold their respective government. This means, we uphold the established laws the Government institutes. In turn, the Governments are required to enact only those specific laws that serve the best interest of the Governed. Here is what Ezra Taft Benson says:
I believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, which protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience.
Nationalism, or patriotism, is the hallmark of how individual citizens show their support for the Government. This is extended when we see how those in position of authority utilize wisdom and discernment in securing public interest. This includes maintaining the freedom of one’s conscience and the expression of one’s conscience. What this brings up is the nature of whether Government’s role is to implement rights to the individual. Today, we see turmoil over the misuse and abuse of Government influence in who has the right and who does not possess the right. This will be explored further in the next essay.
Summary of thought
The main premise we have explored is the nature of what the proper role of government is. Origin of individual sovereignty and natural rights and the origin of Government Sovereignty in protecting the rights of individuals. A brief exploration in the principle and concepts of how the proper role of Government focuses on a more limited basis. The problem we see in modern American society today is the breakdown in how the Government has lost sight of value and principles. Instead, we see more and more special interests securing specific rights while oppressing the sovereign rights of other people. This is to the point of causing injury. And yes, our Government appears to have lost sight of these profound principles.