Government in America!
The central achievement of the American Revolution was to demote government to a role of cop on the beat. The monarch stopped being the sovereign; the citizen became sovereign instead. Self-government became an aspiration for all people not just rulers.
The idea became prominent, at least for a while, that government's proper role is to secure the natural rights of the citizenry. There was nothing there about a nanny or a regulatory state. John Locke, who identified the most principled version of the classical liberal conception of government, argued that since in "the state of nature" – i.e., prior to civilized society – some people may pose a serious threat to others, a system of laws is needed so as to mark everyone's sphere of authority, a region within which one is in full charge and which others must respect instead of trespass upon.
One's life is the beginning of this sphere; one's liberty follows as does one's private property. What a government is needed for is to keep these safe, to secure the rights to life, liberty, property and whatever derives from these. That is the point of government, nothing else. It is a vital function since without it criminal conduct would very likely go unchecked. But like referees at a sports event, government isn't meant to get involved in the game, only to make sure it goes on peacefully, with everyone's sovereignty secured.
This view of government was, of course, radical to the core. Instead of the century's old top-down rule, by some king or tsar or gang, everyone is supposed to rule oneself and his or her dominion. All interactions among people would in time be voluntary and peaceful. And from this arrangement would emerge a productive, creative, free community and not a hive or colony as with bees or termites.
That is what is individualist about the American system, namely, that a country is to serve the objectives of a great variety of unique citizens and that one particular way of living was not to be imposed on all by a ruler. Government is to serve the citizenry, not the other way around. And contrary to some thinking on the topic, we are not all in it together as in North Korea and other collectivist political communities. Instead of being a sphere for just one kind of life dictated to by a ruler, America was to be a sphere for an immense variety of different lives coexisting peacefully, competing and cooperating, not marching to the same tune.
The details of the American idea course would, of course, be complicated and diverse but one idea was at the center of it all: None may violate the basic principles on which such a system rests, the basic rights of every individual. The only role for force was to be defensive and retaliatory. No one may initiate it with impunity, not even for noble goals a leader might wish to force upon the rest.
That is the American political alternative, the American political tradition, not the collectivist ideal pursued by some political thinkers and "leaders."
Posted by Hapa on 10/11/12 03:46 AM
well said... .long live individual liberty...
Posted by DarbyJie on 10/11/12 06:38 AM
But then came the Kantian school of philosophy, dead set on destroying such a ridiculous notion as men having unalienable rights. Why this morbid philosophy, which postulated a *second* hidden reality, a denial of man's ability to be sure of anything and man's "duty" to seek 'the greatest good for the greatest number' acquired such a death grip on our national psyche is hard to understand -- but it was (and still is) embraced with great devotion, while man's rights to freedom has become -- in philosophical circles-- a discredited, 'immoral' concept.
We have not returned yet to the simple goodness of our founders' philosophy of "natural rights", and thus still suffer the loss the absence of this world view creates in our lives and spirits. A true, unheralded tragedy, for America. But yes, this was indeed a most unique country originally. When we are chided for our American 'Excepionalism' - well, we WERE exceptional, for a far too brief period of time~
Thanks to Dr. Machan for this excellent article.
Posted by Libertarian Jerry on 10/11/12 09:32 AM
Excellent synopsis of what America was and what it became. Why was the collectivist genie allowed to escape from the bottle? Probably 2 reasons. 1. The endless drive for control and power by the Elites. 2. The basic dishonesty,jealousy and coveting of a voting majority of Americans. I would also add into the mix the drive for power by the Leftists,who over the last 90 years or so,have used Cultural Marxist methods to impose their worldview on the rest of us. Staying with the Elitist theme,the American Revolution was mainly about the American colonists trying to break away from the yoke of the Bank of England and its use of the state to collect taxes for its interest payments. Today the money men hide behind a creature called the Federal Reserve. It seems that in 225 plus years America has traded one money master for another.
Posted by Jj on 10/11/12 05:20 PM
I have been striking the word "government", replacing it with "Protectorate", as suggested by GW Griffith, and it is a seed crystal bearing much fruit. He argues the Founders would have used this word, had it been around 200 years ago. The act of governing is the act of a sovereign soul, and I can not govern anyone else, wheteher banded together or not. This tiny error could arguably be the one flaw that has proved fatal to the entire experiment. All government gravitates from small to large. Every time. A law of nature. The very concept must go. It is why we say ours is the best of the worst.
Posted by SteveV on 10/11/12 07:07 PM
Machan is right about the American Revolution, but the warnings in the Federalist Papers against the Corruption of Democracy, which meant the corruption of the people by political means involving what we now call "redistribution", was forgotten. I suppose that began to happen from the very beginning as Hamilton implemented his plan to create "privileged orders" by using the first central bank to foster "vested interests" in the success of the Federal Government,thus replacing mutual interest with special interests. The corruption of the rich came before the corruption of the masses. One could say that the initial corrupt privileges fostered at high levels tended to justify and result in general corruption. I'd like to see Machan take a shot at explaining how to avoid similar failures again because I don't quite grasp just how any reasonable form of freedom could exist without Lock's legally defined spheres.
Posted by Merridth80 on 10/12/12 10:07 AM
60 years ago my dad profered" the Gov't will make criminals of Honest men!" How wrong was he? I now see the ways!I don't see Romney accomplishing anything much, maybe he will get our people back to wage earning. The PE won't let him do much more than that. But we are an industrious & imagnitive society, Give us a chance & We Americans will take back our Country!
We will keep working on the Money Grubbing Political Class until we are rid of them!
Posted by Danny B on 10/12/12 09:43 PM
"One could say that the initial corrupt privileges fostered at high levels tended to justify and result in general corruption."
One could say this over and over and over and over and over.
Posted by rossbcan on 10/13/12 06:49 PM
TM: "It is a vital function since without it criminal conduct would very likely go unchecked. But like referees at a sports event, government isn't meant to get involved in the game, only to make sure it goes on peacefully, with everyone's sovereignty secured."
... so, what happens when those entrusted with predator control, rationalize away the "rule of law":
Click to view link
and, decide that being "master predator" is their destined role?
as to "vital function", yes, but not the identity of the functionaries.. Sure they help, themselves. Personally defend you and yours. Nobody else has the motivation, understanding, nor integrity.
stay tuned, or, for the impatient, understand history, as the tables turn...