There has been discussion lately about what the government should be doing, can do and is constitutionally allowed to do. But underneath those discussions we need to understand what makes government different from other organizations. Private organizations like the Red Cross, the NAACP, MADD, the Salvation Army, Angie’s List and the ACLU can all perform functions the citizens of a regional area need. Most things the government can do can be performed by similar privately ran organizations, so what is it that the government can do that these organizations can’t? Simply put, the government is the only body that we have legally given the power of force over its citizens.
That’s it. By force the government can enforce its laws. If the laws aren’t followed, we have given this single body the power to remove us from society and place us into custody at gunpoint if necessary. Yes, if we take the natural progression of resistance to the government, that is the end result.
Let’s look at a natural progression. Let’s say you are guilty of one of the laws that the government has been entrusted to enforce. You have decided, for your own personal reason, to not carry automobile insurance. As this is illegal in most states, you are breaking the law. Now you get pulled over and given a ticket for this. You ignore it. Soon a warrant is issues for your arrest. When the warrant is served, you resist arrest. The police will, rightfully so, use force to arrest you and take you into custody. And they would be legal in performing this action.
No other organization or agency has this power. If you pledge money to MADD and then don’t give them that money, you will not be made to by force, unless the government gets involved to put enforcement of a contract into action. No one from MADD will visit you with contingent of gun-toting enforcers to make you give over the pledged funds.
It is precisely this power that we have given to the government that requires that we limit what the government can do. Every time we ask the government to enforce a law, we are asking them to use the threat of force, possibly death, to ensure that the law is followed. Every program that requires taxes to fund is asking the government to take the earned wealth, by force, from one individual and giving it to the program.
The writers of the US Constitution understood this. They knew it all too well, having lived under a government previously that used that power to limit the freedom of it’s citizens as it suited the needs of the government. So, in writing the Constitution they put hard limits in it, most notably in the bill of rights, capped with the 9th and 10th amendments. “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” and “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.”
In other words, our ruling document is not a listing of rights that we are given by government, but a listing of limits that are placed upon the government. If something is not enumerated within the Constitution as a power of the government, it simply does not have that power.
Yet, all too often, in trying to get the notions we want enacted as laws we ignore this fact. We imagine that there is some wording or clause in the constitution that allows us to use it for our desires, while at the same time imagining that those desires we oppose are not allowed to use those same clauses. The reality is that we have so far pushed the line of what the federal government was designed to do, without properly amending the constitution to allow for these new desires, that most people aren’t even aware that there are some things that the federal government just isn’t allowed to do. Thomas Jefferson warned about this when he wrote:
“They are not to do anything they please to provide for the general welfare, but only to lay taxes for that purpose. To consider the latter phrase not as describing the purpose of the first, but as giving a distinct and independent power to do any act they please which might be for the good of the Union, would render all the preceding and subsequent enumerations of power completely useless. It would reduce the whole instrument to a single phrase, that of instituting a Congress with power to do whatever would be for the good of the United States; and, as they would be the sole judges of the good or evil, it would be also a power to do whatever evil they please… Certainly no such universal power was meant to be given them. It was intended to lace them up straitly within the enumerated powers and those without which, as means, these powers could not be carried into effect.”
“I hope our courts will never countenance the sweeping pretensions which have been set up under the words ‘general defence and public welfare.’ These words only express the motives which induced the Convention to give to the ordinary legislature certain specified powers which they enumerate, and which they thought might be trusted to the ordinary legislature, and not to give them the unspecified also; or why any specification? They could not be so awkward in language as to mean, as we say, ‘all and some.’ And should this construction prevail, all limits to the federal government are done away.”
When an injustice or problem comes before us we instinctively want something to be done to fix it. If someone is down on their luck or a person is being unfairly victimized based on something they have no control over, we want to see the little guy ‘win’ and beat the system that is causing their pain. So many times we say to ourselves, ‘There Ought To Be A Law’ to prevent this from happening again! But is making another law really the best way to handle these events?
There are many times where there are other ways to resolve issues that do not involve bringing in the government and their enforcement of laws that are made. For example in dealing with the less fortunate, should we be involving the federal government into such issues or should the community, each individual deciding for themselves how best to help, or even if help is warranted in each case, get involved and resolved the problems as they occur without creating a bureaucracy that invariably leaves some who are deserving out in the cold while rewarding those who know how to ‘grease the system’?
In many cases the laws create new problems that need to be addressed by, yes, another law. We want a law to stop people from committing prostitution, but in effect we push the behavior underground, preventing the community from adequately dealing with the issue while involving the police state into the personal lives of two consenting adults. A similar issue with abortion, gambling and the use of recreational drugs like tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. We ignore the history of prohibition in regards to alcohol many decades ago and recreate the same situation in an unrealistic War on Drugs that has had little effect on the use of drugs while creating an underground mob culture, criminals out of people who need help and the filing of our jails with people who’s only offense is the smoking of a plant that grows naturally in the wild.
So the situation is now that every perceived ill should be handled by the government. By using their ability to force people to follow whatever law is enacted they can force people to solve these perceived ills. But by doing so things that could be handed without that threat of force behind it, instead done through charity and good feelings are now accomplished through force and lack of freedom. More funds are required to be taken, by force, from the citizens instead of offered up by the citizens through charitable means. But worse than that, because we are forced by fund these endeavors we no longer feel the need to provide charity. “We gave already” is the view of many, because they are forced to give from their paychecks in taxation they feel less motivated to give to charitable organizations.
This permeates. We no longer know or care who are neighbors are or what their needs are. There’s a governmental program to take care of them, “I can live my life knowing that I’m doing my part without actually ‘getting dirty’.” Not exactly the type of attitude that helped make this society great. It’s also a trend that I am afraid may be too far entrenched to reverse.
Of course, I am not advocating anarchy. Many will say, wrongly, that anyone suggesting a reduction of the influence of government in our lives is just trying to bring anarchy to our society. There are times when laws and government are definitely needed. The protection of an individual’s rights as prescribed by the constitution being the highest priority, the regulation of interstate trade and commerce, protection of the country from outside forces, etc. But when confronted with an issue that needs to be corrected, we should be asking first what we can do to resolve these problems ourselves without involving the institutionalization of rigid laws.