July 7th, 2006

The Proper Role of Government—A Commentary

I highly recommend the talk “The Proper Role of Government” by Ezra Taft Benson. The following is my thoughts on select portions of his talk. Warning: this post might be a tad long… 🙂

All too often, answers to these questions seem to be based, not upon any solid principle, but upon the popularity of the specific government program in question. Seldom are men willing to oppose a popular program if they, themselves, wish to be popular – especially if they seek public office.

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.

Pres. Benson starts off with an excellent denunciation of the political popularity contest we see today. How often do we observe politicians changing course simply to cater to a group of voters, or to jump on a bandwagon on a hot topic to be seen on the popular side and not be criticized?

Pres. Benson is in line with the political understanding of the revolutionary generation, when “…the very notion that a candidate should openly solicit votes violated the principled presumption that such behavior itself represented a confession of unworthiness for national office.” (Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation, p. 162)

If principles are correct, then they can be applied to any specific proposal with confidence.

This is what we need more of in today’s political arena. Men of faith. Men with principles. Men who understand the difference between right and wrong. Men who use principles as a litmus test for any legislation, government program, or court case.

Rights are either God-given as part of the Divine Plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. Reason, necessity, tradition and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government.

In this section of his talk, Benson discusses the possible sources of our liberties and freedoms. Some liberals, being fans of big government, seem to have instilled in their mind that the government is the institution that creates and provides these rights for its citizens. Benson refutes that notion as follows:

Since God created man with certain unalienable rights, and man, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that man is superior to the creature which he created. Man is superior to government and should remain master over it, not the other way around. Even the non-believer can appreciate the logic of this relationship.

It stands to reason that the government itself has no innate power or privilege to do anything.

In order for man to prosper, he cannot afford to spend his time constantly guarding his family, his fields, and his property against attack and theft, so he joins together with his neighbors and hires a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves.

Here Benson shows that government only exists to serve the people, who are the very ones that give the government the power it wields. “WE THE PEOPLE…”, in the Preamble, clearly illustrates this point. The government only has its power because of the people it is intended to serve, and not the other way around. Indeed, the false idea that the government is the institution that affords its citizens the rights they enjoy is in complete contrast to the will and intent of the Founding Fathers of this great nation.

Quoting James Madison:

If men were angels, no government would be necessary.

This raises a very interesting point. In the last quote, people united and appointed a sheriff to protect them from evil-doers. But if there were no evil-doers, they would not need protection. If your son was angelic and had no disposition to do bad things, you would not need to give him any rules, for he would already be obeying them. Similarly, if we were all perfect and loved and served each other, God would not need to give us commandments. Indeed, the two greatest commandments, to love God and our fellow man, are all-encompassing commandments, for if I truly love my neighbor and God, then I won’t be murdering you, stealing from you, lusting after your wife, or doing anything else wrong.

So, government exists to protect the citizens from evil-doers. The Declaration of Independence says that “to secure these rights (Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness), Governments are instituted among Men”. Government exists to secure us these rights that we would already enjoy if everybody would just do what is right. Interesting thought. But, that isn’t the case (as is evident upon watching your local news channel, riddled with examples of evil and sin). And so, government is born.

Suppose pioneer “A” wants another horse for his wagon, He doesn’t have the money to buy one, but since pioneer “B” has an extra horse, he decides that he is entitled to share in his neighbor’s good fortune, Is he entitled to take his neighbor’s horse? Obviously not! If his neighbor wishes to give it or lend it, that is another question. But so long as pioneer “B” wishes to keep his property, pioneer “A” has no just claim to it.

If “A” has no proper power to take “B’s” property, can he delegate any such power to the sheriff? No. Even if everyone in the community desires that “B” give his extra horse to “A”, they have no right individually or collectively to force him to do it. They cannot delegate a power they themselves do not have.

In this example, Benson illustrates why socialism does not work. The redistribution of wealth cannot work (especially by moronic politicians who think they know what’s best for you) simply because the government can only operate based on powers given to it by its citizens. And, as Benson states, “the people who have created government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place”. So, as he illustrated in his example with the horse, people do not have the power to redistribute wealth (or health care or social security, for example), and therefore the government cannot and should not have such power.

This means, then, that the proper function of government is limited only to those spheres of activity within which the individual citizen has the right to act. By deriving its just powers from the governed, government becomes primarily a mechanism for defense against bodily harm, theft and involuntary servitude. It cannot claim the power to redistribute the wealth or force reluctant citizens to perform acts of charity against their will. Government is created by man. No man possesses such power to delegate. The creature cannot exceed the creator.

When all is said and done, the essential role of governemnt is simply to protect its citizens from “all enemies both foreign and domestic”.

Quoting the Alabama Constitution:

That the sole object and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.

Wow. How many of our nation’s leaders today’s are living and serving in accordance with this statement? How many government-instituted programs and taxes and laws could we drop kick into the category of “usurpation and oppression”?

Quoting John Locke:

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom. For in all the states of created beings, capable of laws, where there is no law there is no freedom.

Sound familiar?

I believe we Americans should use extreme care before lending our support to any proposed government program. We should fully recognize that government is no plaything. As George Washington warned, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence — it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master!” (The Red Carpet, p.142) It is an instrument of force and unless our conscience is clear that we would not hesitate to put a man to death, put him in jail or forcibly deprive him of his property for failing to obey a given law, we should oppose it.

I believe Benson is here endorsing skepticism, prudence, and thoughtful analyzation of all government-proposed programs. We should investigate, get our facts straight, and assess whether or not the program is something the government should have the power to implement—is it something that we would have the power to do ourselves, if there was no government?

Quoting Thomas Jefferson:

The way to have good and safe government, is not to trust it all to one, but to divide it among the many, distributing to every one exactly the functions he is competent to. Let the national government be entrusted with the defense of the nation, and its foreign and federal relations; the State governments with the civil rights, law, police, and administration of what concerns the State generally; the counties with the local concerns of the counties, and each ward direct the interests within itself. It is by dividing and subdividing these republics from the great national one down through all its subordinations, until it ends in the administration of every man’s farm by himself; by placing under every one what his own eye may superintend, that all will be done for the best. What has destroyed liberty and the rights of man in every government which has ever existed under the sun? The generalizing and concentrating all cares and powers into one body.

AMEN! AMEN! The bulk of power should be centered in local government, where the “common” people can and do have the most influence and power to control and manage their government affairs. As noted earlier, federal government should be primarily concerned with the defense of the nation as a whole. All other matters that can be handled locally should be, but how often is this the case?

No one has the authority to grant such powers, as welfare programs, schemes for re-distributing the wealth, and activities which coerce people into acting in accordance with a prescribed code of social planning. There is one simple test. Do I as an individual have a right to use force upon my neighbor to accomplish this goal? If I do have such a right, then I may delegate that power to my government to exercise on my behalf. If I do not have that right as an individual, then I cannot delegate it to government, and I cannot ask my government to perform the act for me.

Again, this clearly explains that our government can only be vested with powers that we as inidividuals would possess ourselves in the absence of a governmental institution. I can’t force my neighbor to share his wealth and property with me. I can’t force him to give me free money when I retire. I can’t force him to pay my medical bills. So why should the government?

Quoting Thomas Jefferson:

With all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and prosperous people? Still one thing more, fellow citizens — a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, which shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it had earned

In this section, Benson is talking about “legalized plunder”, a term where the government taxes its citizens overbearingly to provide for its programs, the redistribution of wealth, and other “take from the rich and give to the poor” implementations. Jefferson’s quote is supportive of this in illustrating that government has no place in interfering with a man’s business with numerous taxes, tariffs, and laws which only end up impeding prosperity, creativity, and ingenuity. I can’t think of anything more stifling to a fledgling business than the IRS and DWS imposing all sorts of regulations, fees, and laws.

Quoting FBI Agent Dan Smoot:

“England was killed by an idea: the idea that the weak, indolent and profligate must be supported by the strong, industrious, and frugal — to the degree that tax-consumers will have a living standard comparable to that of taxpayers; the idea that government exists for the purpose of plundering those who work to give the product of their labor to those who do not work.
The economic and social cannibalism produced by this communist-socialist idea will destroy any society which adopts it and clings to it as a basic principle — ANY society.”

That pretty much describes America today. Stop stealing my money and giving it to the elderly, the sick, and the poor. Leave it up to me to be charitable with my hard-earned money. The Feds are not modern-day Robin Hoods. They don’t know what the best way to use my money is’I do. But I work four months a year, as do we all, to pay our bloated government, which thinks it knows best how to manage our money. Absurd.

Quoting Henry Grady Weaver:

Most of the major ills of the world have been caused by well-meaning people who ignored the principle of individual freedom, except as applied to themselves, and who were obsessed with fanatical zeal to improve the lot of mankind-in-the-mass through some pet formula of their own… The harm done by ordinary criminals, murderers, gangsters, and thieves is negligible in comparison with the agony inflicted upon human beings by the professional ‘do-gooders’, who attempt to set themselves up as gods on earth and who would ruthlessly force their views on all others — with the abiding assurance that the end justifies the means.

This is an excellent point, yet again showing that the government, no matter how well-intentioned they are or claim to be, is not the right solution for helping the poor and the sick. What, then, is the solution? As Benson says:

By comparison, America traditionally has followed Jefferson’s advice of relying on individual action and charity. The result is that the United States has fewer cases of genuine hardship per capita than any other country in the entire world or throughout all history. Even during the depression of the 1930’s, Americans ate and lived better than most people in other countries do today.

Americans are good people. After 9/11 happened, there were millions of dollars raised to help those who had suffered (albeit much was given to organizations such as the Red Cross where some is wasted on overhead expenditures). The best way to solve the world’s problems is by letting them prosper (by reducing taxes and similar hindering burdens), educating them on how best to act and be involved, and letting them do so of their own free will and accord. Again, my money is my own. Do not tell me that you know best how to use it in the interest of the world over. Experience has shown that such is not the case.

This brings up the next question: How is it possible to cut out the various welfare-state features of our government which have already fastened themselves like cancer cells onto the body politic? Isn’t drastic surgery already necessary, and can it be performed without endangering the patient? In answer, it is obvious that drastic measures ARE called for. No half-way or compromise actions will suffice. Like all surgery, it will not be without discomfort and perhaps even some scar tissue for a long time to come. But it must be done if the patient is to be saved, and it can be done without undue risk.

Benson goes on to say that this can be done, in his opinion, in a twenty year time period. It involves letting government programs expire, finish their terms, not be renewed, and then cancelled altogether.

If only… if only there were national-level politicians out there who believed similarly to these principles and statements. If only there were enough people aware of these problems so as to rally together and to take action. If only…

The article is an excellent read. I could have easily cited each paragraph in the article for commentary, since every line was powerful, concise, and potent. I very, very highly recommend it to any and all persons interested in politics. I am grateful for the sound, inspirational wisdom given by President Benson, and for his clarion calls in the political arena.

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