George Washington, a man much loved, was the father of our country. Frederick Nietzsche, a man much loathed, was a 19th century German philosopher who brazenly declared that “God is Dead.”
While these two men could not have been more different, their descriptions of government were oddly similar. Washington compared government to fire; “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence, it is force. Like fire it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”
Nietzsche groaned: “The state is the coldest of all cold monsters. Coldly it lies, too; and this lie creeps from its mouth: `I, the state, am the people.’… Everything about it is false; it bites with stolen teeth.” These observations by Nietzsche defy the romantic ideals laid forth by Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address: government of the people, by the people, for the people. Nobody ever said philosophy was easy.
While a safe and civilized society is not possible absent a properly empowered government, there is one lone fact that distinguishes government from all other human enterprises. Government is granted, by consent of the governed, the authority to utilize violence against citizens who break the law.
This singularity is shared by all forms of government; whether Democratic, Totalitarian, Feudal (rule by a noble class), or Theocratic (governed out of religious text.) Fail to pay taxes or send the children to school; and after the letters and telephone calls, eventually the authorities are going to kick the door down with guns drawn. The law is not voluntary, and it is the gun that puts the “force” in “enforcement.” Government, while wholly indispensable, is also inherently dangerous.
Arguments about the proper size and role of government aside, I think most can agree that the foremost task of government is to ensure that the citizens are not deprived of life, not deprived of liberty, and not deprived of their (justly acquired) property. Marxists are free to disagree on the last point.
Looking back over the last forty or fifty centuries, governments in general have a very poor track record of protecting human rights. The 20th century was particularly atrocious in this regard – Bolshevism and Nazism produced in excess of 100 million human corpses. Human liberty is an exception – not the norm. We Americans take our freedom for granted.
A crucial feature of the American Constitution is a principle known as the Rule of Law. The Rule of Law requires that no one is exempt from the law, not the police or government officials, not the wealthy or celebrities, not industry or unions. While the Rule of Law is far from perfect, unless strictly adhered to, what then remains is Rule of Man – government by whim of the political class.
As with many bygone nations, America finds herself slipping away from the Rule of Law, and sliding toward the Rule of Man – an American Caesarism. At whatever pace, the slightest perceptible movement toward Caesarism is reason to dispense (via ballot box) with every last elected politician in Washington D.C.
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