On the Nature of Government

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

— The Declaration of Independence

Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness Positively by uniting our affections, the latter Negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher.

Society in every state is a blessing, but Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one…. For were the impulses of conscience clear, uniform and irresistibly obeyed, man would need no other lawgiver; but that not being the case, he finds it necessary to surrender up a part of his property to furnish means for the protection of the rest; and this he is induced to do by the same prudence which in every other case advises him, out of two evils to choose the least. Wherefore, security being the true design and end of government, it unanswerably follows that whatever form thereof appears most likely to ensure it to us, with the least expense and greatest benefit, is preferable to all others.

— Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

— The Constitution of the United States of America.

Security is the true design and end of government. To this end we seek to establish Justice above all else. Government is at once the author and the arbiter of law. That we place such terrible responsibility in the hands of an elected body is a testament to the trust we place in our fellows. That we continue to do so, despite the accumulated evidence of the years, is a testament to the power of hope over wisdom. And yet, we do not believe that we are irretrievably lost.

The government–at all levels–has become too profligate with the law. For as much as the law is a necessity, if the law is to serve the aims of justice then it must be constrained: as small and as lean as possible. When the law strives to govern the whole of human action, the law ceases to be a tool of justice and becomes instead a monument to caprice and extortion.

There is, to be sure, a wide range of vice and wickedness that we seek the law to punish, but as the government must, by its necessity, be a public body, the law too should seek only to criminalize whatever wickedness is also a public vice. For just as we regard a private government, obscure and hidden from the public eye, as a danger to Society, so too must we consider a government that seeks to invade personal privacy as inimical to the interests of Society.

We seek to restrict the actions of government to the public sphere. Just as we close our bedroom windows to the prying eyes of intrusive and prying neighbors, so too we close our privacy to the scrutiny of the government. What is purely personal must remain purely personal: the conduct and content of our spiritual lives, the nature and habit of our intimate loves, and the health and condition of our individual bodies.

Security is the true design and end of government. To this end we entrust government with the responsibility to insure domestic tranquility. As much as we wish to preserve our privacy from unwarranted intrusion, we recognize that Justice demands that the government protect the rights and privacy of our neighbors as well as our own. We seek equal treatment before the law, regardless of race, creed, religion, sex, or language. To that end we seek the law to criminalize any actions that deprive any person of life, liberty, or property–and only those actions.

We do not desire that the government establish Society nor that it mold or promote a particular vision of Society but only that it ensure that Society can flourish free from the disruption of violence, theft, fraud, and coercion. Accordingly, we entrust the government to protect private property from thieves, brigands, and its own grubbing hands. We require that the government provide just compensation for the property it confiscates and we should likewise demand that the government publicly account for every expenditure of tax revenue, including who sponsored, approved, sought, and benefited from the expenditure. In all cases, confiscation and spending must be radically curtailed.

Furthermore, we recognize that it is–in all places and at all times–more difficult for distant governments to remain accountable to their constituents. Accordingly, we look for the law to devolve itself, as much as possible, to as local a level as possible. As government is not the answer to all–or even most–of Society’s problems, the federal government is the answer to even fewer. Federalism is the bedrock upon which our government is founded and the further we build away from that foundation, the softer the sand upon which we stand becomes.

Security is the true design and end of government. To this end we empower the government to provide for the common defense. But such a responsibility does not end with the formation of a standing army, nor is it a responsibility that ends at our shores. A secure national defense demands a vigorous attention to all aspects of international relations. It demands that we attend to the health of the international community. It demands that we encourage and promote liberty and democracy throughout the world using intelligence, diplomacy, persuasion and free trade wherever possible. Where all other options fail, we will use force if we must.

A secure national defense requires that we deal with honorably with our neighbors, respecting treaties, free trade, and national sovereignty. But respect cannot mean that we ignore brutality and oppression nor that we concede our own interests to maintain a false hope of peace. A secure national defense requires that we resist terror in all of its forms. Whether a repressive fascist regime or a band of fanatical thugs, evil must be acknowledged and it must be opposed.

The United States is unique among the nations in the modern world. We have power and military might that no other country possesses. We must use that power judiciously and with care and restraint. It is a sad truth that although the world harbors much oppression, our power is still finite. We must act judiciously and with restraint. And when we bring our arms to bear, we must act with resolve and commitment.

Security is the true design and end of government, and there can be no end more important than that we secure the Blessings of Liberty . We secure these blessings–our inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property–so that we might engage productively in a healthy Society. We form attachments with our neighbors, our friends, and our communities so that we might create a world of peaceful, joyful, prosperity. Such is the aim and hope of Society, and the responsibility of government is nothing more than to allow Society to flourish.

Government secures the liberty of its citizens–by protecting one fundamental right above all others: the right to associate. Whether that association is undertaken for monetary gain, personal edification, public instruction, or private pleasure is immaterial. Whether it is a faceless electronic transaction flashing across a continent, a published a work of political opinion, an invitation to a religious service, a lesson that helps teach a child, or a marriage, free association is the essence and cornerstone of public life. Government exists to protect the rights of its citizens so that they might associate freely–and that in their association they might find joy.

Security is the true design and end of government, but the government may, where it can and when it is able, promote the general welfare. But we should remember that when government seeks to promote the general welfare, it should do so only by restraining public vice. The government cannot promote the general welfare by granting largesses or favor upon some select body of the polity, for whenever it seeks to take from some and give to others, the government ensures invidious distinction, manufactures inequity, and promotes the welfare of only the select and the few.

The Pursuit of happiness–the most cherished of all American political ambitions–demands a healthy Society. Happiness may spring from a well within the soul, but it would be a shame beyond measure if our joy were only and always private. We are a gregarious people, we band together for all manner of activities. Our public life–where our aims and desires intersect and join with others–is our Society. But if the government favors some at the expense of others, then Society fractures and divides. If our relations are strained, if our commerce and association is proscribed, watched, regulated, hampered, inspected, and nannied at every moment, then our Society will in turn become crimped and withered: a small and petty thing, impotent and mewling.

We do not seek to confuse society and government. We seek to separate them. We seek to distinguish between the private and public spheres. We seek to restrain the power of government so that a free people might exercise their own.

We do not seek the dissolution of the government. Nor do we seek the dissolution of society. Indeed we believe that the dissolution of Society has come largely because it has withered in the face of encroaching government. That government must be reduced we acknowledge with determination. That Society must be invigorated and renewed we acknowledge with equal resolve.

A Free People demand a Free Society. We do not believe that we must pander to special interests, nor do we believe that people are blind, stupid, or gullible. We are a radically diverse nation, but we remain united by our shared heritage and our vision for the future. Our shared heritage is our commitment to the ideas and ideals that America embodies. Every child born in America–and every immigrant to this nation–shares in the American dream: a dream of personal prosperity and fulfillment. We are committed to the American Experiment. We believe it can still be saved. We believe it can succeed.