The Purpose of Government

In the midst of a rancorous presidential nominating season, when we are bombarded every day with promises by politicians about how they will create jobs or educate our children better or get the economy rolling again, few if any candidates seem to grasp the purpose of government in America.  The purpose of government is to preserve liberty. 

That would include protecting us from foreign enemies who seek to take our freedom and from people who come into our nation illegally, either as illegal immigrants or as terrorists.  Protecting the legal integrity of our borders and our citizenship is an aspect of protecting American liberty.  Nothing matters, though, if liberty first is not preserved.

Listen, then, to the next Republican debate.  What are the candidates talking about?  Who will create the most jobs, who will jump-start the economy, who will improve our educational system.  We do not need government, especially the federal government, for any of that.  The economy hums along just fine without politicians.  Jobs are created when people work and not when the Bureau of Labor Statistics captures data for dreary and dull reports.

Do we need government to educate us?  We need government less than at any time in human history to educate us.  There are a hundred different ways for children these days to learn to read and write, and once children are literate, there is a limitless universe of knowledge that eager and willing minds can pump to become truly and magnificently educated.  Indeed, it is incomparably better for de-institutionalized willing minds to learn to keep learning than to earn a diploma, which implies entitlement or merit when often it means nothing at all.

Liberty, though, is quite different.  It is the very air free minds need to survive.  It is the soil in which wealth grows.  There is no substitute for liberty, no government program that can simulate liberty, no regulation that can mandate liberty.  It cannot be bought, and it ought not be sold. 

When our Declaration of Independence states that it is to preserve liberty that governments are formed by men, and when the Preamble to our Constitution states that the reason for this experiment in federalism is "to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and to our posterity," that is the heart of what America is, or what it was founded to be.

Expanding liberty would a worthwhile goal for discussion in a presidential election year.  Devolving power to individuals and to state governments, which lack the sort of monopoly the federal government possesses in its continental reach, is surely worth talking about.  What might be some practical ways of accomplishing this goal?

Restore to individuals and to businesses that are not inextricably linked to government the right to discriminate.  The right to discriminate is at the heart of freedom.  What if a particular variety of discrimination seems wrong to us?  Then we, personally, should not do it.  We might also tell businesses that if they want our trade, we will consider when and how they discriminate.  But stop making federal judges and government bureaucrats the arbitrators of good and bad discrimination.  Let markets and individual consciences do that.

Abolish as many federal offices and agencies as possible.  This does not mean that the function performed by that agency is not a proper role of government, but rather that it is not the proper role of a national government.  Government operations close to the people, that compete within states or among states for taxpayers, businesses, and homeowners, cannot trample liberties recklessly. 

Finally, consider giving teeth to the Bill of Rights, which is, of course, all about liberty.  It is from beginning to end a statement of what the federal government may not do, to us or to the governments of the states.  The Second Amendment, for example, is about preserving our individual right of self-protection.  We need to stop apologizing for exercising that right. 

The Ninth Amendment is not about allowing abortion on demand.  Hear the words of that amendment: "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people."  The italicized words show an intention to limit federal judicial power, which was also seen as a threat to liberty.

The sad fact, of course, is that we live in a land full of people more afraid of the responsibilities of freedom than the blessings of freedom.  Until we re-learn the purpose of government in our land, the problems we have in politics will remain intractable and politics largely an exercise in futility.

America is about liberty, and with liberty, despite the dolts who hold or seek elective office, our nation will do just fine.

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