THE CASE FOR GOVERNMENT
“Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” – Ronald Reagan
A RESPONSE TO LIBERTARIANISM
By Peter AlexanderIn establishing my case for government, I would like to thank the Publisher for bringing to forum the topics of Anarchism and Libertarianism. These ideologies that have gathered renewed popularity in American politics, particularly with the rise of the Tea Party, and as the message of Ron and Rand Paul continues to reach new audiences. Fundamentally, both ideologies argue that, as Ronald Reagan so concisely put it in his first inaugural address, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”. What delineates Anarchism from Libertarianism is a matter of degree: the Anarchist would have no government whatsoever, whereas the Libertarian would have a government “the size where we could drown it in a bathtub”, as Grover Norquist is fond of saying. It is my position, that while imperfect, government is not only not the problem, but, in many instances, the only solution to the problems faced by a modern, mass society.
Firstly, I would like to dismiss Anarchism out of hand. It is an ahistorical aberration that can only be considered in the light of the peace and security that has been created by some type of governmental force. It does, however, bring up several interesting points of discussion about human nature and our interactions. It seems rooted in the belief that human nature is fundamentally good and that our natural inclination is towards cooperation and altruism; a version of human nature comparable to Rousseau’s “noble savage”. I argue this because even without government, the Anarchist presumably stills believes in the market, where there is an exchange of goods and services. Within any market there is bound to be dispute: a cow that won’t milk or a chair that won’t stand, and an indignant buyer seeking compensation.
The Anarchists’ presumption is that people will be able to work things out of their own accord and good nature, or that Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” will guide a society and the market so that if the chair won’t stand, the chair maker will eventually be out of work, and the market will find a new chair maker and with innovation, find equilibrium again. But what happens, when the dispute cannot be settled? To whom or to what does our indignant buyer plead his case?
It is here, within the market, that we see one of the essential roles of government: as the arbiter of last resort. In order to prevent violence among ourselves over market disputes and to maintain social order, there must be some agreement on an arbiter of last resort (in America, this is represented by the justice system, and ultimately, the Supreme Court); otherwise, it’s the wild, wild west, where we settle our disputes with violence among ourselves, which while glorified by Hollywood, ultimately leads to the life characterized by Thomas Hobbes as “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short”. Human beings lived in a world without government and laws, and created them in response to the hardships of that world. It is because of our good nature and historical experience that we have created systems of governments to settle a disputed case in order to prevent this state of affairs.
A conversation with a Libertarian about government is possible because she recognizes the need for government, at least in some minimal capacity. The important question that Libertarianism poses to any governed society is, “What is the essential role(s) of government?” While I am making the case for government, I am not making the case for any or every government, and one need only read an elementary school textbook to find instances of governmental excess and abuse. What then is the essential role of government in America?
Many differing perspectives fall within the case plead by American Libertarianism in response to this question but the unifying paradigm is that government is the problem. Most often, it is the size of government that is mentioned as a primary concern, particularly the amount of tax dollars that go toward funding the varied bureaucracies and regulatory offices. At the signing of our Constitution, our nation began with a population of ~4 million people and has since grown to ~340 million people. Of necessity, our government is going to grow in size as serving the same number of people in exactly the same capacity as our Founding Fathers’ generation was served is going to require more people serving in government and a proportionately larger tax requirement to support it.
Ben Franklin: Philadelphia, PA
Prior to my last Physical Training test in Basic Training, my Drill Sergeant told his platoon that he was considered overweight relative to his height and weight, and that after his most recent PT test, on which he had exceeded the uniform Army standard to such a degree that he had received Presidential recognition, that he was forced by regulation to have his neck and waist measured to ensure that he was in proper proportion and that he was not overweight in the wrong way. Looking at him strictly in terms of height and weight was to miss the purity of his functional efficiency, which could not have been truer to its purpose. Judging government in terms of size is similarly misguided without reference to efficiency and purpose.
In order to make the case for government, we must determine what is essential to government. Essential to any government in the modern system of nation-states is the ability to define its territory and defend its resources by force from non-citizens. If an organization of people cannot perform this basic function, it cannot be called be a government. Therefore, as Americans, we must provide for the national defense. To fulfill this responsibility, by the consent of its people, our government is granted the agency to both conscript and tax its citizens, since without fighting personnel and the necessary logistical support no entity can protect its sovereignty. We have no active conscription policy as we have been able to utilize an all-volunteer force and a considerable share of our total tax revenue goes to defense such that it would be difficult to argue that the United States does not do a very good job of protecting its citizens from external threats.
The question then becomes what are we willing to fight for? Our government must have the authority to enforce contracts within our markets, and protect our citizens and resources from external threat, as well as levy taxes in the support of those efforts; I hope the Libertarian can agree to those terms.
Is that sparse version of government enough to fight for? Is this truly all we expect from government? What about education? What about health care?
We, as Americans, need to decide what will be the purpose of our government, and moreover, to what every American is entitled by virtue of being American. From this day forward, what do we expect our government to do?