Rights and Responsibilities of Government, Part II

Rights and Responsibilities of Government, Part II



B: Continuing on with our discussion of what government should protect, we’ve also got basic human rights.  Most of these are self-evident and need not be specifically enumerated.  “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” is the way the United States Declaration of Independence summarized them, I believe.  That country’s subsequent Constitution included a “Bill of Rights,” which also mentioned a few of the basic human rights I’m referring to.  But there are occasional disagreements about these as well; hence the “Amendments” to the Constitution, for example.  As another example, the people of each state within those United States have the right to enact any new law they vote into existence – guaranteed again by the aforementioned Constitution – so long as that law passes what is called “Judicial Review,” and these new laws might even involve basic human rights themselves.  So a government must ensure that these basic human rights are protected for each individual citizen over which it has jurisdiction.  It’s easy to see why the defense of these rights might as well just be classified under the charge of defense that the government already has, as I mentioned above: this is part of the “freedom and justice” for each citizen that I said a government should protect.

You’ll notice that a government removes the freedoms it does from its people due to the lack of trustworthiness of men.  If its citizens were sufficiently more trustworthy, this wouldn’t be a problem: people wouldn’t bully each other and would respect others’ rights.  As for contracts, the government intervenes only insofar as there are disagreements.  If there are never any disputes or disagreements that people can’t settle themselves, there is no need to reference the law.  This state of affairs is probably harder to attain, and the blame for the lack of it lies with more than just untrustworthiness.  However a people can get to the point of always settling their own disagreements without having to appeal to the law, then will government no longer be needed to enforce contracts – in essence, the people will be literally governing themselves, in every circumstance.  It seems self-evident that the more unified a people are, the importance of which I emphasized before, the more likely they are to get to this point.  In the absence of this unity, meanwhile, we press on with those few things listed above that are allotted to the care of the government, and handle all other issues by ourselves, without government’s interference.

A: What?!  That’s it?!  Just defense, contracts, and basic human rights?!  What about education, welfare, and transportation?  Or public works in general?

B: I’ll address those later, buddy.  First let me ask you this: what happens when permission is granted to expand on this basic structure of governmental responsibility?  The intention of such an exception is likely for the benefit of one person or group in society that claims that it is needed for some reason, implying that society cannot continue on without it, and that enacting some minor new law won’t hurt anybody, and nobody else will notice the difference anyway.  But as soon as word gets out that an exception has been granted – and word will surely get out, by the way – others will seek to get their fair share of the governmental welfare pie, realizing that apparently government is now giving out special favors, and if the government is ruled by law and justice for all (as it should be), then those others will have every right, as guaranteed by the law, to partake of the special treatment.1

  1. See pp. 6-7 and 50-51 in the pdf of Frederic Bastiat’s “The Law” at this site.

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