The purpose of government is to protect our inherent rights to life, liberty, and property.
Life, because each human life has value. This is different from many societies throughout history that have seen some lives as more valuable than others, and some classes as sub-human and disposable.
Liberty, because that means we determine how we spend our lives—working at overcoming the natural state of poverty and ignorance. This means no slavery, no servitude without just compensation. No class is entitled to the services of people in another class simply based on their class.
Property, because it is the result of our labor, so it represents the exchange of a portion of our life—work that resulted in something useful to us. In the Declaration of Independence, we broaden this idea to the “pursuit of happiness,” which encompasses property as well as our choices in how we spend our lives to accumulate property, or wealth, or work toward any end important to us.
It is tyranny to take the life of the innocent, or to take the life of the guilty without due process of law. It is tyranny to coerce behavior, to require a person to work, not for that person’s own benefit, but for the benefit of the coercer. It is tyranny to take the property of a person without a free, fair exchange for that property.
These are the basic ideas behind the formation of our United States.
|"Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States"|
by Howard Chandler Christy, image from Wikipedia
Setting up a government to protect life, liberty, and property—without taking on other powers that would be tyrannical—was the careful purpose of the writers of the Constitution.
The Preamble to the Constitution outlines these purposes for the Constitution of the United States of America:
· To establish Justice.
· To insure domestic Tranquility.
· To provide for the common defence.
· To promote the general Welfare.
· To secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.
When there are disputes that infringe—or could infringe—on one person’s life, liberty, or property, the government can help justly settle that dispute. If there are problems between one region and another—a trade issue, for example—the government sets up standards of exchange and regular trade routes. When there are threats from beyond our nation, the government can protect our borders and sovereignty. When there are issues that benefit the people as a whole, such as certain infrastructure projects, the government can promote those projects. And having all this written and codified in law brought these things about for those who wrote the Constitution as well as for each generation that has followed.
|Section I, Article 8 of the US Constitutiion|
Article I, Section 8
This federal government, created by the founders and ratified by the people in the individual states, has powers strictly and carefully limited to what will specifically protect life, liberty, and property. And these powers are enumerated—spelled out. They’re all in Article I, Section 8 (plus a couple of additions by amendment). That means they all come under powers of Congress—where laws are made.
The judicial branch is to adjudicate laws duly created by Congress; the judiciary—including the Supreme Court of the United States—has not been granted power to make laws.
The executive branch is to execute the laws, to enforce them, to use the budget for those purposes assigned by the lawmakers. This will include common defense functions, such as directing the military as Commander in Chief, and arguably protecting our sovereignty with and domestic tranquility functions such as the FBI. But the executive branch does not have power to create laws.
The Enumerated Powers
We’ve listed the enumerated powers before [here and here], but it’s a good idea to repeat them from time to time, because it simplifies conversations about our government. It may not simply politics, which is about persuading people to allow assertion of power—whether an enumerated power or not, unfortunately.
Here’s the list:
1. Lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts, and excises—uniformly throughout the US, for purposes of paying debts and for the general welfare (for the good of the country as a whole).
2. Borrow money on the credit of the US.
3. Regulate commerce (make it possible and regular) with foreign nations, among the states, and with the Native America tribes.
4. Establish uniform rule of naturalization (allowing people to become citizens).
5. Establish uniform laws on bankruptcies.
6. Coin money, regulate the value of US coined/printed money, and regulate the value of foreign money.
7. Fix the standard of weights and measures.
8. Provide for the punishment of counterfeiters.
9. Establish post offices and post roads (mail system).
10. Secure copyright and patent rights, to promote the progress of science, arts, writings, and discoveries.
11. Constitute tribunals (courts) inferior to the Supreme Court.
12. Define and punish piracies and felonies committed on the high seas, and offenses against the law of nations.
13. Declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal (license to act on the seas that would otherwise be considered piracy), and make rules concerning captures on land and water.
14. Raise and support armies—but no appropriation of money to that use shall be for a longer term than two years.
15. Provide and maintain a navy.
16. Make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces (military bases).
17. Provide for calling forth the militia (National Guard) to execute the laws of the union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions.
18. Provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining, the militia (National Guard), and for governing any part that is in service to the US—reserving to the respective states the power to appoint officers and the authority to train the militia according to discipline prescribed by Congress.
19. Exercise governing authority over the District (Washington, DC, an area not exceeding 10 square miles) as the seat of the government of the United States.
20. Exercise governing authority over places purchased (by consent of the legislature of the state in which located) for erection of forts, magazines, arsenals, dockyards, and other needful buildings.
21. Make al laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into execution the foregoing powers, and all other powers vested by this Constitution in the government of the US or in any department or officer thereof.
22. Outlaw slavery and involuntary servitude (except as a punishment for crime), and enforcement of this prohibition.
23. Sixteenth Amendment: Lay and collect taxes on income.
24. Fifteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth Amendments: Enforce equal voting rights laws across all the states.
The limitations are not enumerated. However, just for the sake of security, some of the limitations are spelled out in the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments. So here’s a list of specifically mentioned things the government cannot do:
· Establish a state-favored religion
· Limit the free exercise of religion
· Limit freedom of speech
· Limit freedom of the press
· Limit the right to freely assemble
· Limit the right to petition for redress of grievances (file lawsuits over government wrongdoing)
· Infringe on individual right to bear arms
· Force citizens to quarter soldiers
· Search or seize property without probably cause shown by warrant
· Put person on trial for felony without indictment by Grand Jury
· Put person on trial for same offence again after being found not guilty (double jeopardy)
· Force person to testify against themselves
· Fail to provide an accused with swift justice (speedy and public trial by jury)
· Right to jury trial for property disputes over a certain threshold
· Inflict excessive bail or cruel and unusual punishments
· Construe anything in the Constitution to take any additional rights from the people
· Assume any power not spelled out in the Constitution is left to the states and the people.
There are some powers that the federal government has been dabbling in—or outright taking over—that are not among the enumerated powers granted by law. This list of usurpations is not exhaustive:
· Power to govern education.
· Power to offer charitable services (welfare).
· Power to force purchase of a service or product (such as health insurance).
· Power to require payment into a retirement supplement (Social Security).
· Power to interfere with commerce that doesn’t cross state lines.
· Power to redefine marriage in a way that is contrary to long-standing law and tradition, and to enforce acceptance of the new definition, even when it violates personal religious beliefs.
· Power to subsidize any industry (alternative energy, for example).
· Power to target industries in accordance with a social agenda (gun manufacturing, automobile manufacturing, nuclear energy, oil and gas, fast food or sugary drinks).
· Power to use taxpayer funds to support abortion.
· Power to subsidize or control student loans.
· Power to take over any industry (as when the Obama administration temporarily took over GM and banks).
· Power to favor or disfavor individuals or groups for hiring, educational opportunities, or other purposes based on their race or religion.
We’ve offered this list before. Let’s add these:
· Power to limit speech based on government’s approval or disapproval (interference with social media).
· Power to gather data and use passive surveillance of innocent citizens in their private places.
All of these usurpations have happened because there was enough persuasion (lobbying of legislators, media manipulation of public opinion) claiming that there was a need, and that a good government would do these things for its people.
Proper Role of Government
But government isn’t intended to parent its people, nor to grant favors to subjects as a monarch would do. Government is only to protect life, liberty, and property, which will then allow the people to thrive according to their circumstances—which includes helping one another by charitable choice.
We know this:
Whenever government attempts something beyond the proper role of government (protection of life, liberty, and property), it causes unintended consequences—usually exactly opposite to the stated goals of the interference.
If people want the poor to have their dire circumstances relieved, or the people want an educated populace, or they want affordable and available healthcare—government attempts will cause the situation to get worse. It’s a given.
If you really want a problem solved that is beyond the proper role of government, the best way is to allow a free and righteous people to thrive in a free market and figure out how to help one another.
The political, economic, and social spheres are interrelated. Limiting the people’s freedom also limits their prosperity and civilization.