The U.S. government is certainly NOT of the people, NOT by the people, and NOT for the people. In the vernacular of the day, what do we have? Government of the People, by the People, for the People. NOT.
I submit that the people or peoples that inhabit a certain portion of North America known as America did not overthrow the government of Iran in 1953. They did not direct themselves into the Vietnam War. They did not decide to bomb Serbia, starve the people of Iraq, and later invade Iraq. They didn’t decide to debase the dollar. They did not devise or pass Obamacare. They did not decide to bail out Wall Street investment bankers or hedge funds. They did not decide to militarize America’s police. They did not decide to have a war on drugs with stiff prison sentences. They didn’t decide to have a war on poverty. They didn’t decide to have a massive NSA program of surveillance and spying on themselves and the rest of the world and then to keep it secret from themselves. A certain number of Americans may have been polled and their positive, negative and ambiguous opinions sounded out on some of these actions, but the People certainly didn’t make these decisions and many other important decisions.
Obama’s agenda has been his own. The same goes for his predecessors. The People have never written a State of the Union address that contained the president’s favorite causes and agenda. What the people have done is to supply the bodies and the resources to the State and to obey its laws and directives, and all of that under the threats that if they did not obey, they would be punished.
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The People simply do not have decision rights on what the State does. In the normal course of events, what the State does is out of the People’s hands. Occasional mass protests, polls or votes have influence on the State, but only temporarily so and not to any substantial degree. The People are not running the ship of State.
In a masterpiece of political propaganda, the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln penned one of the most famous slogans in American history: “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Lincoln was referring to the U.S. government, but the U.S. government has never fit such a description. A government of that description with its seat in Washington could not have perished from the earth in 1863 because no such government existed in the first place. What existed was a State, one that Lincoln wanted to be large, permanent and growing.
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This slogan has been fabulously successful at getting people to identify with, acquiesce in and support the State and its administrative apparatus. Schoolchildren are encouraged to memorize the Address or at least that clause.
“Of the people” makes people think that the State’s officials and bureaucrats are drawn from “us” and are “of us”. Physically, they are. Morally and behaviorally, they are not. Their intentions and actions differ drastically from us. It is the difference between rulers and the ruled, between sovereigns and subjects, and between masters and slaves.
The rulers, who are apart from us, over us, and wield powers unavailable to us, would have us believe that they are “one with us.” Obama is still saying the same thing as Lincoln almost 150 years later when he tells us: “The government is us [sic].”
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The phrase “by the people” fools people into thinking that American government is being accomplished by everyone in a team effort and by team decisions. A democratic consensus is supposed to be at work; or else in republican fashion, the people are not construed to have rulers but representatives who are agents. We are supposed to believe that they sense and read our collective will and then translate it into laws and regulations, taxes and wars, programs and debts, for our own good, for the general welfare. These are the illusions fostered by those who enter the ruling elite.
These illusions are designed to make people think that they are governing themselves. The State’s apparatus of potentially unlimited despotism is substituted for self-government and for limited government that protects rights.
Does voting mean that government is by the people? Ask yourself what influence you have on any legislation by your vote or by your vote in conjunction with others. Many members of Congress frequently do not even have an influence, neither reading the massive bills nor knowing what is in them. A few members and lobbyists are writing laws in the dead of night. Hearings are rigged.
What influence do you have on what a president decides? What influence do you have on what a Supreme Court says is or is not law? What influence do you have on what a Congress legislates?
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What influence do you have on who is elected to office and who your representatives are? In 1789, there were less than 30,000 constituents for each representative in the House. Today, that number is about 700,000.
Most of those who are elected to national office are candidates of the two major parties, which themselves are entrenched by behind-the-scenes rules and laws. These parties vet the candidates using criteria and processes of politics and finance that are not constructed by the people, but by the party’s leaders and suppliers of money. The resulting representatives do not represent issues and priorities of the people, and they are not beholden to them but to their backers and financiers. Furthermore, if they wish to remain in Congress and gain power, they must accede to the priorities of the more powerful politicians that they must work with inside the State’s system.
If the apparatus of the State, commonly called government as by Lincoln or “the” government as by Obama, is not of or by the people, is it “for the people”? This is hardly possible given the ways in which the offices and bureaus of government are filled and the ways that priorities are established, taxes imposed and decisions made. It is impossible to think that an organization with the powers of the State, that can instill fear of punishment and can actually punish anyone who does not pay their taxes or do exactly as they’re told to do, is making decisions “for” us and not for their own interests and those who control the organization.
Obama follows the well-worn path of apologists for the State when he says “The government is us.” The government is not We the People – not us – when the ruling apparatus is that of a State, as is the case in America and many other nations.
A State is an organization that always is manned by an elite bent on domination for its own purposes. Its powers are not unlimited, but their expansion can become exceedingly uncomfortable for those forced to submit to them or who mistakenly support them. When the elite poses as a popular movement or the democratic voice of the people or the leadership of the general will or the vanguard of the people, it is at its most dangerous; for then it possesses a rationale that may result in the acquiescence of large numbers of its subjects who tie their own nooses.
A State always has a government, but not all government is of a State. Government refers to the governing body of such groups as a nation, State, tribe, aggregation of people, federation, association or community. A nation and a people need not have a State, but they still can have a system by which they govern themselves. Members of a church may govern themselves. A corporate organization can govern its own behavior. A clan can develop its own government. So can a commune, a scientific community or an industry.
The State is peculiar in its claim to be the final word in government in a territory. It is ironic that as the form of government has become more democratic over the past few centuries–that is, supposedly of the people, by the people and for the people–the government has in reality become more all-encompassing and more oligarchic. The form does not accord with the substance. This is in part because the State has had the power of being the final word, and the democratic form has reinforced the legitimacy of its sovereignty. The mythical “of the people, by the people, for the people” has reinforced the actual “not of the people, not by the people, not for the people”.
The myth of self-rule in the face of very real elite rule has not acted alone in enlarging the State. Certain ideas that previously limited the scope of the State and its government have been greatly reduced in importance, sometimes perverted, or even have fallen by the wayside; and the democratic form provides no resistance to their absence–in fact, it supports the degradation of these ideas and the expansion of government under the State’s power. Certain other ideas have risen greatly in esteem and importance in supposedly providing support to enlarging the State. A few examples follow. Natural law has fallen in esteem and positive law has risen. Common law has fallen and civil codes have risen. Self-reliance has fallen and expert rule has risen. Individual responsibility has fallen and social causation risen. Neutrality has fallen and expansionism risen. Negative rights have fallen and positive rights risen. Moral codes have fallen and pragmatism risen. Distrust of the State has fallen and trust in the State has risen. God has fallen and the State has risen.
Throughout these alterations in ideas, the statists have continually promoted Lincoln’s slogan “of the people, by the people, for the people”, Obama’s pronouncement being a recent prominent example. The statists want a pliant and acquiescent people, not an active thinking people that questions the State or its constantly increasing encroachments. Witness the State’s reactions to the Occupy movement and to Assange, Manning and Snowden. These are further evidence of Government of the People, by the People, for the People. NOT.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by the owners of this website.
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