govern-ment, n. [Fr. gouvernement, from gouverner; L. gubernare, to govern.]
1. Direction; control; the exercise of authority; restraint; regulation; the administration of public affairs, according to laws or usages, or, by arbitrary edicts.
2. A system by which a political entity is operated.
3. The process of politically administrating an area.
4. A political body under whose authority governing is undertaken.
Welcome to another installment in my "definitions" series.
This particular one seeks to explore the philosophy of one of the most dominant forces in people's lives and, posibly, point out some important pitfalls in the participation in such an enterprise, as well as important principles for keeping it benign.
Historically, we've never really ever been without government. And, it's not specific to just humans, either. Stallions in wild horse herds practice a monarchial form of government. It dictates that certain mares will come under his control, and all other studs within his sphere of influence will take a hike. And, as is often the case in human experience, his authority can be challenged. If the challenger is successful, there is a new monarch of the herd. Ant colonies, lion prides, wolf packs, and many other species work in recognizable forms of government. The earliest form of government we humans encounter is within the family. Mom and Dad are the titular heads, and, in traditional families, they are the ones who have responsibility for, and give direction to the children. They are whom the children must obey. The function of, and need for family government is of no less importance than rearing successfull adults, thereby assuring survival of the species.
The next iteration of government begins the slippery path. When mankind first determined that many hands make for easy work, organizing people to work together for the common good came about with the best intentions in mind. As soon, however, as one person became designated as leader, and the concept of the stallion's power began to infiltrate the leader's senses, mankind had trouble. The problem is, Nature instilled a particular instinct in people, as well as other species; a very important survival mechinism known as self interest. That's the one that does things like force you to defend yourself when confronted with a threat, or build shelter and gather food for future use. On an individual basis, this instinct is priceless. But, when it is too easily overfed by the accumulated efforts of others, it has a predictable tendency to try to self-perpetuate. And the only way it can do this is to keep amassing the efforts of others. Under question, it will try to justify its self by imposing order on its subjects in the name of protection. (Protection is a false comfort, as, in Nature, every adult member of a species is responsible for their own protection, thereby making a group nearly impregnable.) Its progression past the individual level, left unchecked, inevitably tends toward critical mass and ultimately, destruction. And, since, in the case of government, that mass is the result of the concentration of the resources of many others, the destruction is usually distributed through the same group of contributors. The problem is, in the case of government, that the participation is usually involuntary. I say usually because those who benefit in lesser ways than the leader at the expense of others are always willing participants.
The Founding Fathers, with all of the veiw of recorded history that we enjoy, save a couple of centuries, saw this very corollary demonstrated time and again. And for the benefit of confirmation, we have seen it reoccur again and again in the ensuing period. The point to this last ten thousand years of repeating the same mistake is that every time power became more and more concentrated in an autocratic head of a governmental organization, it became more and more about self preservation of that leader and of his organization, all the while becoming further distanced from, and, disinterested in, the plight of the masses that they excercized sovereignty over. Now, The Founding Fathers, realizing the obvious lesson being reiterated endlessly, decided for that reason, that in a fair government, the only way to keep it in check was to depend on individual self interest and divide the power of government among the people governed. That plan theoretically relies on the sound principle of self interest at it's most reliable and stable level, the individual. But, therein lies a flaw. People. While uncontrolled self interest provides the catalyst for overconcentration of the power of government, and thus the ultimate critical mass resulting in destruction, it's arch-enemy, sloth, also naturally existing in human nature, can often be counted upon on the smaller scale to cancel out the logical decisions of an individual's self interest, thereby causing a rejection of the responsibility for promoting one's self interest by participating in control of government. This sordid process can be easily and reliably begun by autocrats or their minions by simply telling the governed a nice sounding lie. And, it doesn't really matter what, to the willing victim infected with sloth, although tales of misery relief top the list of effective prevarications. Further,it has been realized, artificial dependency upon the largess that the autocrat controls can infect people with sloth, much like the effect of venom disguised as milk from an amicable but malevolent snake.
So, who exactly determines the qualifications of the autocrat? What makes this person the winner of life's sovereignty lottery? Well, for a long time, it was settled the mustang way, namely, whoever chalenged the authority of the last tribe leader and won got to rule. Unfortunately, although effective, this selection process is rather obviously flawed in that the meanest bastard in the tribe wasn't about kindness, charity, and good will toward his subjects, whom he saw as either rivals or livestock provided for his pleasure, to be dealt with accordingly. An evolution to that program was royalty, the idea that if one distributed enough of his accumulated power to friends and relatives, he could count on their help in retaining his sovereignty, which, by the way, often as not, was acquired the old fashioned way. But, being a sycophant or a brother-in-law were not very dependable tests for fair and skilled leaders either, although that pair of qualifications is relied upon heavily today for staffing many government bureaucracies. Granted, there were rare exceptions to the rule, some famous "good kings" came along by chance, and other experiments like elections by bureaucrats were tried, but, generally, most aspiring autocracies tend to follow the same route, recent examples being Hitler, Hussein of Iraq, Khadaffi of Libya, et.al. Despots in particular realized that there was no other organization concieved by man, no army, no corporation, no union, no religion, that was as easily corrupted, taken over, expanded exponentially, and made all powerful and domineering than government. How to avoid predictable results was the question at hand at the Constitutional Convention in September 1787.
One point that begs to be made here is that it was realized that any accumulation of power had to be the result of getting it somewhere from someone else. Personal sovereignty, recognized by the Founding Fathers as "unalienable rights", is "endowed" at birth. That is the spring from which all power originates. This fact is not up to interpretation. We all are born with control over our lives by our own independent thought, and are allowed to excercize it as soon as we are old enough for it to develop reasonably through experience and education. Therefore, submission in any degree by anyone to authority outside their own personal sovereignty requires surrender of part of that sovereignty to someone else, be it an autocracracy, democracy, or any other form of government. The Founding Fathers clearly recognized that all of the government's power came from the people, and their consent to it's sovereignty. Any successful revolution (the American Revolution to cite a stellar example) demonstrated that in crystal clear living color. One month, a foreign autocrat by mere birthright and assertion was the authority of the land. The next month, the entire idea of the King's authority and it's basis was refused and pitched into the Atlantic Ocean. Apparently, his sovereignty over the Americans was not "endowed by his Creator". More important, however, is the concept that any governing body that concentrates power by either consent, or by force of rule, robs the original owner (that would be YOU) of the freedom to use it to better his own lot.
Without beating the details to death here, (they all can be easily researched) the major topic at the Convention was divided into two sub topics; how to get leaders based on merit, not conquest or birthright, and, how to control government rather than let it be controlling. Election by the original sovereigns (the People) from whom the power of the leaders ultimately comes, allowing them to serve by merit, seemed the best way to do the picking. The Bill of Rights, the creation of a bicameral legislative body representing the governed, and separation of the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches seemed to spread out the powers necessarily given the government enough to control it. The Founding Fathers, through personal experience, sound deliberation, and sheer determination gave us cutting edge technology to manage the previously unmanageable. From there, the keys had to be handed over to the public. The only thing left uncontrolled because it is ultimately uncontrollable is the responsibility of The People, each and every one, to make responsible decisions and efforts to do their duty, to their country and to themselves, by voting for the best people to safeguard their individual rights and interests, rather than to acquire and concentrate power. And, to learn how to recognize a lying snake.