Government: On Self-Government

One of the most bitterly fought debates in human history is the nature and extent of a state’s authority over its citizens. The histories of all cultures are filled with stories of rebellion, revolution, and contention between the citizens and the state, and yet every culture in history returns to government authority in one form or another. In fact, it is by organizing into States and submitting to government authority that Man is consistently able to overcome his Natural environment and prosper in strong communities. Just as individuals learn self-control, submitting the demands of their animal selves to the authority of reason, societies must submit the demands of the individual to the authority of government in order to reach their potential — greater potential than any individual could achieve.

Throughout history, individuals have demonstrated the basic human need to organize into groups for greater strength. Whether motivated by fear of an outside force or desire to accomplish a difficult task, communities form when Man tries to overcome his base potential and become something more. (The philosophical term “State” refers to any relatively persistent, organized community of individuals. The term “Government” is used to refer to a state’s organizational structure, whatever it may be.) States emerge from individuals’ need for greater power, and States are consistently more powerful than individuals for some very simple reasons. When individuals collect into a State, they are able to pool together their various resources, creating (for the State) more opportunities than existed for any individual within the group. Furthermore, the increased number of workers (and, therefore, man-hours available per daylight hour) create more productivity — the State is able to get more done with the resources available than any individual could. Also, and not the least significant, each individual within the State brings his own point of view and his own educational background. Faced with any given problem, the State can consider it through many points of view and thus has greater available creativity than any individual considering the problem through his own narrow focus.

While these benefits obviously provide States with immense potential, the realization of this potential is greatly limited by the very individuals that create it. While individuals provide a State with the resources, labor, and insight to meet its goals, these same individuals will naturally tend to want to spend their resources, labor, and insight on tasks of personal (not State) benefit. It is natural for a person to want to spend his own resources (and, in fact, any available resources) on himself. Similarly, he will want to work toward his own goals, not (necessarily) those of the community. This selfishness can be mitigated to some extent by homogeneity within the community — that is, if all of the State’s individuals have the same resources available, they are less likely to be jealous of others’ resources. Similarly, if they all desire the same goals, the community can more easily work toward those goals. However, the greater the degree of homogeneity within the State, the fewer benefits arise from community, particularly because of the loss of points of view. In other words, States with high degrees of similarity among their citizens will tend to have the easiest time remaining incorporate, but the least reason to do so. Meanwhile, States of highly diverse individuals will have the most difficult time remaining incorporate, but will achieve the greatest potential.

Government, then, should not be the method of oppressing individuals, but the organizational method that best balances the tension between majority rule and individual freedom. That is, Government should use the resources of its citizens, not only to satisfy the needs of the State, but also to satisfy the needs of individuals. Similarly, Government should organize the efforts of the many, not toward any individual’s goals, but toward projects that expressly improve the welfare of the State (including its individual citizens). Similarly, Government should encourage the exchange of ideas for the good of the State. It is never the right role of Government to protect the rights of individuals against the State (that is, in ways directly harmful to the State). Rather, in all things the Government should seek to protect the whole, never its individual parts. Bear in mind, though, the distinction between Government and State. It is expressly not the Government’s role to protect the Government, but to protect the State — that is, the whole community of individuals. Inasmuch as the Government promotes the interests of governors above other citizens, it is no longer protecting the State, but subverting it for personal gain.

Such abuse, of course, creates the rebellion, revolution, and contention that have plagued every State ever born. In spite of such turmoil, though, Man’s greatest potential can only be found within a community; and so men have continued throughout history to organize into powerful States. The most powerful have been those best able to harvest the abundant resources of a diverse population, while maintaining the singular identity of a community. This unnatural complement, this amazing construct of the hearts and minds of Man, has defied nature and allowed Mankind to overcome extreme adversity and accomplish extraordinary goals.

(Click on Comments for links to previous posts on this topic.)