Monday, October 20, 2008

Governments are instituted... for what purpose?

You might be somewhat familiar with the following words...


IN CONGRESS, JULY 4, 1776
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America

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.

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. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men


Why do we have a government? What is it's job? According to the Declaration of Independence the primary purpose is to secure certain "unalienable Rights" amongst which the authors appear to have felt were prominent... "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

They go on to say...

... 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. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.


There are several good ideas here. First and foremost of course is...

"Governments are instituted among Men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed"

... the idea that government derives its power from the consent of the governed. All power belongs with the people in other words.

Naturally following from this primary idea is...

"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"


... that it is the right of the people to alter or abolish the government and institute a new Government as need be.

And reiterating the reason for and purpose of 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."


They then state that such processes are not to be taken lightly or for just any old reason. In a previous statement they talk of government "destructive" of the ends for which it was created and here they talk about government in terms of "evils" before lauching into a laundry list of the problems they were suffering at the hands of the English King in their times.


"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."


Prudence indeed. The Founders were dealing with a particular kind of trouble and making the hard decision of a complete break with their old government and creation of a new. Not something to be lightly entered into. But they also of situations less severe then their own. When government becomes destructive of the ends for which it was formed it is the right of the people to alter said government.


"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"


At the conclusion upon declaring their independence from Great Britain they list another set of things that individual states (through their governments presumably) do:


"and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do."


Thereby giving us a secondary level of what they believed governments are for. I say secondary because these particular items amongst others, I believe, follow from the primary ideas announced at the beginning as a matter of course in a society where government is instituted to represent the will of the people united to form a state and invest a government.

Moving to the Constitution of the United States we get a few more ideas of what government is for at the high level before getting into specifics and details of how this particular government is to be formed and operate.

The Preamble:


"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."


"We the People" reiterates the idea of government instituted by the consent of the people and by no other force.

"... in Order to form a more perfect Union..." is a very interesting idea that is hinted at in the Declaration where it talks about the people altering or abolishing governments in order to institute one more conducive to securing our unalienable rights. The wording is such however that it deserves a fleshing out and discussion of its implications all by itself. "A more perfect Union..." implies understood imperfection and the need for an on-going process of perfecting more. We'll touch on this again and again as we move forward as this is what our politics and history, both past and future, is all about.

We then get into more specific purposes of what our vision of government is all about before getting into the details:


"... establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty..."


Note that these are part and parcel of forming "a more perfect Union," comma. So here we have the idea that government is to:

1. establish Justice
2. insure domestic Tranquility
3. provide for the common defence
4. promote the general Welfare
5. secure the Blessings of Liberty

For who?


"... ourselves and our Posterity..."


So... what do we have?

Government is formed from the power and consent of the People in order to secure the unalienable Rights of the People.

What are these rights that government is to secure?

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness... among others.

What else?

Safety and Happiness

Anything else? Let's get a bit more specific...


1. establish Justice
2. insure domestic Tranquility
3. provide for the common defence
4. promote the general Welfare
5. secure the Blessings of Liberty

6. Power to levy War
7. conclude Peace
8. contract Alliances
9. establish Commerce
10. and all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do


Ok... all that makes a great deal of sense. I've a few other thoughts about the form of governments and the reasons why people come together to form governments that are left assumed but unspoken in these two main documents but that will make for another post.

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