promoting the unwanted, redheaded stepchild that is individual liberty

Government: a ‘dangerous servant’

In Individual Sovereignty, liberty and rights on February 10, 2010 at 4:08 am

To have a healthy fear of government is to understand human nature — its to understand ourselves.

I often hear people making fun of conspiracy theorists or those fearful of big government. After all, government is nothing more than the people. So what is there to fear?

First of all, government is not the people. Government is a representation of the people — or at least it should be. Secondly, inherent rights and power belong to persons, not groups. Government is a group and therefore a surrogate power. When we talk of issues such as civil rights or womens rights, it is the people constituting the group, not the group itself, that own the rights and, consequently, the power. This distinction may seem unnecessary but it is crucial.

Persons within a democratic republic give up some of their inherent power to the government in exchange for various interests. However, the power ultimately rests within the people.

The danger of government lies in the heart of humankind. Which one of us has not experienced the rush of being appointed to a position of power or at times sought to lord ourselves over others? The potential for power abuse among individuals pales in comparison to that of government — especially that of a superpower. Surely those tasked with buying up billion-dollar industries and bringing nations to their knees face tremendous temptation.

Because of this, it is a wise citizen who posses a healthy fear of, and keeps a consent watchful eye on, her government.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

— George Washington

  1. I wish that they Supreme Court had your clarity about surrogate powers. The recent decision on ‘Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission’ violated the clear distinction between individual citizens’ rights and the rights of groups that may or may not represent them.

    The Supreme Court decision is another example of the need for vigilant citizens to carefully watch their government.

    More comments, regarding this tangent from your essay, at the link.

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