“The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield, and government to gain ground.” —Thomas Jefferson
There are two kinds of government in the world: 1) rule by the few, or an oligarchy (which generally vests power-wielding authority in a dictator) and 2) rule by the people, or a republic (where the people govern). The alternative to these two fundamental kinds of government would be no government at all, or anarchy.
The political spectrum extends from 100% total government control to a free-for-all of 100% anarchy. In terms of power, this would mean going from 100% government to 0% government. The proper midpoint between tyranny and mobocracy is the republican middle, where there is law, but only law which is made by the people and respects the natural rights of the minority, according to the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.
When a totalitarian government holds power, no individual rights exist, only government-granted privileges. The state decides to whom privileges may be given and from whom privileges may be taken away.
When anarchy reigns, no privileges are granted and no rights guaranteed. The Law of the Jungle reigns. And might makes right.
Republic: The People’s Thing
When proper balance is maintained, whereby everyone enjoys equal protection under the law, opportunities for achieving success, pursuing happiness, and exercising liberty are made accessible to everyone.
Republican civil society—where problems are solved with the most freedom possible, and where people are allowed to keep the fruits of their labor and benefit from their hard work—promotes the creation of a greater number of life-enhancing and life-saving solutions than any other system. Republicanism generates more wealth creation and a greater sense of well-being for any and all who take advantage of the free enterprise that cannot help but take root under such a system.
Utopianism: A Real Problem
Utopianism is problematic, since utopias tend to privilege elite notions above populist ones, even when those ideas might not work well for solving certain kinds of problems. Utopian ideals are invariably the products of oligarchical central planning that is, necessarily, limited to the ideas of the few who are in power. Although utopia is from the Greek, meaning “good place,” in practical terms, it generally works out to be anything but that. The problem with an “enlightened few” planning for everyone else’s benefit is that elitist approaches can never accommodate all situations, and many possibilities for problem-solving will be forbidden or overlooked, due to a lack of experience with the particulars of those experiential worlds on the parts of elitist planners.
Freedom Is the Solution
The only system that is fair to all people is a system where people are free to solve their own problems, as long as they respect the rights of others while doing so. The equal protection of everyone’s rights, along the lines of an ethical system based on the Golden Rule, is in order.
Democracy as Tyranny: The End of the Story
Democracy, without any republican form of equal protection, can often prove tyrannical. Only a Golden-Rule-based system, where each person has equal protection, really works. Here is a famous example: A horse thief is caught by a posse of 31 people. A member of the posse shouts, “Let’s hang him from a tree!” A vote is held, and 16 vote to hang the horse thief. In a pure democracy, the horse thief is hanged, and that is the end of the story.
Republicanism to the Rescue
But in a republic, the sheriff calls out, “You can’t hang him! He has his rights.” The Golden Rule is invoked. “You would want a chance to explain why you stole a horse, so this man gets a chance to explain. He’ll have his day in court.” This fleshing out of the Golden Rule, called the right to due process, means that judgment is withheld until after a full hearing of all evidence has taken place.
Perhaps the man stole the horse as a result of having been threatened. His side of the story must be heard. It is his right. Safety and freedom are both promoted when natural rights are protected and equal protection for all, per the Golden Rule, is enforced.
Delegating Power to the State
The people can only delegate powers to the state that they themselves rightly possess. State power is instituted to protect what is natural to the people that predates the state altogether; republican government does not grant us our rights as a list of privileges. Natural rights predate government.
The sheriff from the story was legitimately hired to protect the lives and property of the people, because the people already had the natural right to protect their own lives and property. So the delegation of this power to an agent who might act on the people’s behalf was right and proper. It is also fitting that the sheriff enforce the Golden Rule, making sure the people treat the accused as they would wish to be treated.
The French political theorist Frederic Bastiat, in The Law, wrote, “Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.” The people are thus superior to government and must ensure that government remains subservient, lest the people lose their freedom and themselves become the servants.
The Principal of Agency
Republican government operates based upon a set of universal principles, applied consistently across place and time. An overarching Principle of Agency permits the government to do on your behalf only what you have the right to do yourself. The converse of this principle is also true: If the act of another does not seem in some way offensive to you, you have no right to compel the state to punish such an act.
This means that, if you have no right to go into a wealthy neighbor’s home to take his money for the purpose of redistribution to neighbors, then you may not delegate this redistributive power to government. And, even if everyone in the neighborhood is in agreement that it would be a good thing for the richest neighbor to share, they have no right to compel him to do so. No one knows his situation. Also, collective rights devolve from individual rights. Thus, whatever is immoral for an individual to do is, likewise, immoral for a group to do. Taking someone’s money, and giving it to others without permission of or benefit to its owner, is stealing. And it is still stealing if a group does it.
Forcing the People
This immediately calls into question the validity of any kind of government-mandated welfare state. Government-forced redistribution fundamentally changes the relationship between the state and the people. It gives government the power to usurp the people’s natural rights, dictating to the people instead of serving them. Thomas Jefferson once said, “A wise and frugal government . . . shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”
How Freedom & Fairness Are Lost
The problem with state-sponsored welfare programs is that they harm some in order to benefit others. By treating people differently, based on degree of wealth, they violate the right to equal protection under law, a timeless principle, based upon the Golden Rule, enshrined in the US Constitution.
This equal-protection principle is found in Leviticus 19:15: “You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.” In government, this principle applies to legislators and judges alike, for, if a law passed by legislators requires that courts treat people differentially, judges are forced to violate this principle of fairness.
The only fair expenditure of taxpayer money is for goods and services that everybody has equal access to, such as municipal libraries, public roads, and police protection. Helping others is the domain of private individuals and private charities, rendering people—rather than the state—their brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. And, indeed, when private charities serve this function, more people are better served by an equal expenditure of funds than when the state does it.
An Unfortunate Set of Results
Once the rule of equal protection is violated, the poor stop trying as hard and vote themselves money from the rich. The rich stop trying as hard, since the harder they work, the higher they are taxed. And the overall wealth and well-being of the republic, thus the overall ability to help the poor, decreases as a result. And fairness and freedom are lost in the process.
The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com