Types and Purpose of Government
What is the purpose of government? Is it the prevention of the state of nature? Protection of our
liberties? To provide the most good for the most number of people?
I. Characteristics of "Good" Government
A. Justness: By justness, I mean three things. First, there is fairness. A just government is fair to all people that it governs. This includes not only the governed, but also the governors. Subjecting the governors to the same laws as the governed will help to ensure that no one group's interests are served at the expense of others. Contrast this to Plato and Aristotle who believed that legislators were above the law.
B. Morality. The laws of a government should be moral, meaning that they do not violate our natural rights. According to John Locke, the natural rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. I agree. Contrast this to Plato's form of government where censorship, community property and children, eugenics, and arranged marriages would all be common place. A just government must be truthful to its citizens. Contrast this to Plato's idea of medicinal lying. Plato contradicts himself by saying "a philosopher must love truthness, hate falsehood and not tolerate untruth in any form" But then he advocates medicinal lying by the rulers to the populace. Aristotle would have violated some of our liberties under his system, but he would have given us some liberties, such as private property. Many things are not moral, but to make laws banning them when they do not violate another person's liberty would be immoral.
C. Honor. A just government gains honor by being fair, upholding the law strictly, and deriving its power from the consent of the governed. Contrast this to Plato's idea of elitism - government by a few select qualified or best people. Plato believed that philosophers must be kings. He denied that the common people had the ability to rule themselves. To Plato, these people were just tools to his end that was the perfect government. I would almost agree with Plato on his statement that philosophers must be kings by saying that philosophers should be kings. To rob the choice of the people whether or not they chose to be governed by a philosopher or not would be wrong. Aristotle rejected the idea of intellectual elitism, and instead chose to let the common people participate in some ways in government. This was a step towards democracy.
II. Purpose of government:
The best government is the one who does nothing but defend our natural
rights. Protection is the only concept that can be universally agreed to that the government do. Any
other attempt of government is taking the property of one person and giving to the other, which is
called stealing. This is usually done in the name of the common good or called altruism. But we can
not justify stealing in any case, and their attempts at altruism surely do not meet the conditions of
altruism. Since the property of one is being taken involuntarily in the name of altruism, what this
amounts to is forced altruism, which is an oxymoron. By definition altruism can not be forced since
the reason behind an altruistic action has nothing to do with the benefit of the actor. The concept of
forced altruism and common good lead to a dangerous idea known as utilitarianism. A good
government can not base its principles on utilitarianism because it inevitably leads to violations of the
natural rights which protection of is government's highest good. Consider for instance our
government, which has sadly become altruistic. Our government steals property from individuals in
the name of the common good (welfare, business and farm subsidies, military operations that do not
pertain to our protection). Compare this with Aristotle's ideas of government where he had a very
high view of the state. He thought that the purpose of government was to strive for the highest good
of the human being. Aristotle believed that the state was prior to and more important than the
individual and the family . I believe that the individual comes first, then the family, and
then the state. Even with Aristotle's high regard for the state, he rejected communism .
Plato said that no government could be good unless based on the study of man and that the
government should be powerful , which suggest that he would be more on the side of
utilitarianism. Finally, the worst purpose that a government can deteriorate to is ruling in the interest
of one person or group. Plato's best forms of government would eventually deteriorate into these
kinds of governments.
III. Measures of a "Good" Government
A. Potential for Corruption: I define a corrupted government as one where the interests of one group or person are served at the expense of the other group's interests and liberties. Our present system qualifies as corrupt because the idea of tyranny of the majority. There are two factors that can make a government corrupt. The first is violation of our natural rights. If these liberties are violated, the government is corrupt. The second is how concentrated power is. I believe the old saying of "Absolute power corrupts absolutely". Plato also believed this saying, conceding that eventually even his governments would deteriorate. So a good government has power distributed widely and there are checks and balances.
B. Stability: Stability is a factor in a good government because if the government is not stable it willobviously be changing. Change is hard to adjust to, and it is hard to make progress without continuity. A stable government does not violate the liberties of any person or group of their society. An unstable government violates these liberties. When the common people are violated, the chances for revolution are high. Aristotle also agreed that when the common people are excluded, the potential for corruption is high. A stable government has strong leadership. Without strong leadership, another ambitious person or group will be there to take over. Strong leadership does not mean big government though. It simply means a respect for the law and leadership. Protection of natural liberties will make the common people stable, and strong leadership will make the leadership stable.
C. Efficiency: A factor contributing to a good government is its ability to solve conflicts and ambiguities of the law. This is admittedly better in a system of government where the power is concentrated in a small group or person. This group or person can just decide the course of action without the hassles of a big group discussion.
IV. Governments from One Extreme to the
A. Libertarian representative democracy - This government would start with the basic liberties which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of property. Legislation would only be used to solve ambiguities in the law.
B. Representative democracy - This is similar to the libertarian representative democracy except that the natural rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of property are not guaranteed.
C. Democracy - In a true democracy, everyone gets power. A true democracy has all of the
characteristics of a representative democracy, except that it is inefficient.
D. Aristocracy - Aristocracy is rule by the best qualified, but is unlike a monarchy in that the ruling class is more than one person. The idea of justness is undetermined in this type of government since the ruling class may choose to be fair, moral, and honorable. The purpose of government is also undetermined, but it seems that the ruling class would be in favor of utilitarianism. The potential for corruption is high since natural rights may be violated and power is concentrated. An aristocracy might not be stable since natural rights could be violated. It does have the advantage of being efficient though. The question "Who is best to rule?" threatens the ideas of justness, stability, and corruption. If they are the best, it is likely that they would be well respected by the populace. This is not as good as a democracy for the mere fact that only select individuals, not a team of people (democracy) rule. A team of individuals will more likely come up with the right idea than a select few who do not have a true view of society.
E. Timocracy - (possession of property is required for participation in government) Timocracy would be rule by the honored, and not as Plato says rule by those who are infatuated with honor, ambition, and war. Justness and the purpose of government are again dependent on the circumstances, but not guaranteed. The potential for corruption is high since natural rights may be violated and power is concentrated. There would be support for the government among the people and therefore the system would be stable. Since few are ruling, the system would be efficient.
F. Monarchy - This government would be rule by the philosopher king. One person would rule in the interest of the people. It would have the advantage of well thought out policies and it would be efficient. The principle of justness would be at least mildly observed because by ruling in the interest of the people, fairness would be observed. The purpose of government would likely be utilitarianism. The potential for corruption would be high. The question of "Who is the philosopher king?" poses problems again for stability, corruption, and justness. Some would be naturally against the king because they have different views of philosophy.
G. Oligarchy - This system would be rule by the rich. The idea of justness would almost certainly be thrown out the window. Liberties would almost certainly not be granted. The populace would not be happy and as a result, the system would not be stable. The purpose of government would be to serve the interests of the rich. It would be efficient considering that the rich class would be small and whoever was the richest would get the most say. This system is corrupt by definition.
H. Anarchy - Anarchy would be a state of no natural government. Justness is gone on all accounts. Liberties would only consist of what you could protect on your own. This system would not be stable because groups would form to protect their liberties. The concept of efficiency would not exist. Need we say anything about corruption? I rate this above rule by the religious because individuals would still have the ability to form groups to protect their mutual liberties.
I. Communism - This system of government is characterized by one leader meddling in the life of everyone in every way for his/her pursuit of what he/she perceives to be the common good. This system of government is not stable, as we have seen, because the interests of the individual are not considered and government should derive its power from the consent of the governed. It would be efficient because power would rest with one individual. The potential for corruption is great since absolute power corrupts absolutely. Individual liberties would not be granted, and consequently communism is not just.
J. Tyranny - This system of government would be characterized by one ruler with absolute power ruling in his/her own interest. Tyranny would obviously be efficient. It would not be stable because the interests of the common people are not taken into account. In no way is tyranny just. His government is corrupt by definition.
In conclusion, the purpose of government is to maximize the characteristics of a good government -
justness, purpose, avoidance of corruption, stability, and efficiency. The principle justness must be
adhered to strictly to be an acceptable system of government. An underlying factor in almost all of
the characteristics of a good government was the adherence to the protection of our natural rights.