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The Proper Role of Governmentby The Honorable Ezra Taft Benson
Former Secretary of Agriculture to President Eisenhower
Published in 1968
Men in the public spotlight constantly are asked to express an opinion on a myriad of government proposals and projects. “What do you think of TVA?” “What is your opinion of Medicare?” How do you feel about Urban Renewal?” The list is endless. All too often, answers to these questions seem to be based, not upon any solid principle, but upon the popularity of the specific government program in question. Seldom are men willing to oppose a popular program if they, themselves, wish to be popular – especially if they seek public office.
GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE BASED UPON SOUND
Unlike the political opportunist, the true statesman values principle above popularity, and works to create popularity for those political principles which are wise and just.
THE CORRECT ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
"(I) believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life…"
"(I) believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, which protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience." (D&C 134: 1-2,5)
THE MOST IMPORTANT FUNCTION OF
The great Thomas Jefferson asked:
Starting at the foundation of the pyramid, let us first consider the origin of those freedoms we have come to know are human rights. There are only two possible sources. Rights are either God-given as part of the Divine Plan, or they are granted by government as part of the political plan. Reason, necessity, tradition and religious convictions all lead me to accept the divine origin of these rights. If we accept the premise that human rights are granted by government, then we must be willing to accept the corollary that they can be denied by government. I, for one, shall never accept that premise. As the French political economist, Frederick Bastiat, phrased it so succinctly, "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 Law, p.6)
THE REAL MEANING OF THE SEPARATION OF
CHURCH AND STATE
Since God created man with certain unalienable rights, and man, in turn, created government to help secure and safeguard those rights, it follows that man is superior to the creature which he created. Man is superior to government and should remain master over it, not the other way around. Even the non-believer can appreciate the logic of this relationship.
THE SOURCE OF GOVERNMENTAL POWER
The important thing to keep in mind is that the people who have created their government can give to that government only such powers as they, themselves, have in the first place. Obviously, they cannot give that which they do not possess. So, the question boils down to this. What powers properly belong to each and every person in the absence of and prior to the establishment of any organized governmental form? A hypothetical question? Yes, indeed! But, it is a question which is vital to an understanding of the principles which underlie the proper function of government.
Of course, as James Madison, sometimes called the Father of the Constitution, said, "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." (The Federalist, No. 51)
Indeed, the early pioneers found that a great deal of their time and energy was being spent doing all three – defending themselves, their property and their liberty – in what properly was called the “Lawless West.” In order for man to prosper, he cannot afford to spend his time constantly guarding his family, his fields, and his property against attach and theft, so he joins together with his neighbors and hires a sheriff. At this precise moment, government is born. The individual citizens delegate to the sheriff their unquestionable right to protect themselves. The sheriff now does for them only what they had a right to do for themselves – nothing more. Quoting again from Bastiat:
So far so good. But now we come to the moment of truth. Suppose pioneer “A” wants another horse for his wagon, He doesn’t have the money to buy one, but since pioneer “B” has an extra horse, he decides that he is entitled to share in his neighbor’s good fortune, Is he entitled to take his neighbor’s horse? Obviously not! If his neighbor wishes to give it or lend it, that is another question. But so long as pioneer “B” wishes to keep his property, pioneer "A" has no just claim to it.
If “A” has no proper power to take “B’s” property, can he delegate any such power to the sheriff? No. Even if everyone in the community desires that “B” give his extra horse to “A”, they have no right individually or collectively to force him to do it. They cannot delegate a power they themselves do not have. This important principle was clearly understood and explained by John Locke nearly 300 years ago:
THE PROPER FUNCTION OF GOVERNMENT
In general terms, therefore, the proper role of government includes such defensive activities, as maintaining national military and local police forces for protection against loss of life, loss of property, and loss of liberty at the hands of either foreign despots or domestic criminals.
THE POWERS OF A PROPER GOVERNMENT
(2) The establishment of a monetary system and a standard of weights and measures so that courts may render money judgments, taxing authorities may levy taxes, and citizens may have a uniform standard to use in their business dealings.
My attitude toward government is succinctly expressed by the following provision taken from the Alabama Constitution:
An important test I use in passing judgment upon an act of government is this: If it were up to me as an individual to punish my neighbor for violating a given law, would it offend my conscience to do so? Since my conscience will never permit me to physically punish my fellow man unless he has done something evil, or unless he has failed to do something which I have a moral right to require of him to do, I will never knowingly authorize my agent, the government to do this on my behalf.
I realize that when I give my consent to the adoption of a law, I specifically instruct the police – the government – to take either the life, liberty, or property of anyone who disobeys that law. Furthermore, I tell them that if anyone resists the enforcement of the law, they are to use any means necessary – yes, even putting the lawbreaker to death or putting him in jail – to overcome such resistance. These are extreme measures but unless laws are enforced, anarchy results.
As John Locke explained many years ago:
I believe we Americans should use extreme care before lending our support to any proposed government program. We should fully recognize that government is no plaything. As George Washington warned, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master!” (The Red Carpet, p.142) It is an instrument of force and unless our conscience is clear that we would not hesitate to put a man to death, put him in jail or forcibly deprive him of his property for failing to obey a given law, we should oppose it.
THE CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES
I am especially mindful that the Constitution provides that the great bulk of the legitimate activities of government are to be carried out at the state or local level. This is the only way in which the principle of “self-government” can be made effective. As James Madison said before the adoption of the Constitution, “ (We) rest all our political experiments on the capacity of mankind for self-government.” (Federalist, No.39; P.P.N.S., p. 128) Thomas Jefferson made this interesting observation: “Sometimes it is said that man cannot be trusted with the government of himself. Can he, then, be trusted with the government of others? Or have we found angels in the forms of kings to govern him? Let history answer this question.” (Works 8:3; P.P.N.S., p. 128)
THE VALUE OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT
It is well to remember that the states of this republic created the Federal Government. The Federal Government did not create the states.
THINGS THE GOVERNMENT SHOULD NOT DO
To be sure, there are times when this principle of the proper role of government is most annoying and inconvenient. If I could only FORCE the ignorant to provided for themselves, or the selfish to be generous with their wealth! But if we permit government to manufacture its own authority out of thin air, and to create self-proclaimed powers not delegated to it by the people, then the creature exceeds the creator and becomes master. Beyond that point, where shall the line be drawn? Who is to say "this far, but no farther?" What clear PRINCIPLE will stay the hand of government from reaching farther and yet farther into our daily lives? We shouldn’t forget the wise words of President Grover Cleveland that "… though the people support the Government the Government should not support the people." (P.P.N.S., p.345) We should also remember, as Frederic Bastiat reminded us, that "Nothing can enter the public treasury for the benefit of one citizen or one class unless other citizens and other classes have been forced to send it in." (THE LAW, p. 30; P.P.N.S., p. 350)
THE DIVIDING LINE BETWEEN PROPER AND
THE NATURE OF LEGAL PLUNDER
"How is the legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime…" (THE LAW, p. 21, 26; P.P.N.S., p. 377)
As Bastiat observed, and as history has proven, each class or special interest group competes with the others to throw the lever of governmental power in their favor, or at least to immunize itself against the effects of a previous thrust. Labor gets a minimum wage, so agriculture seeks a price support. Consumers demand price controls, and industry gets protective tariffs. In the end, no one is much further ahead, and everyone suffers the burdens of a gigantic bureaucracy and a loss of personal freedom. With each group out to get its share of the spoils, such governments historically have mushroomed into total welfare states. Once the process begins, once the principle of the protective function of government gives way to the aggressive or redistribute function, then forces are set in motion that drive the nation toward totalitarianism. "It is impossible," Bastiat correctly observed, "to introduce into society… a greater evil than this: the conversion of the law into an instrument of plunder." (THE LAW, p. 12)
GOVERNMENT CANNOT CREATE WEALTH
"Neither you nor I, nor would 99 percent of the farmers, walk up and ring a man’s doorbell, hold out a hand and say, ‘Give me what you’ve earned even though I have not.’ We simply wouldn’t do it because we would be facing directly the violation of a moral law, ‘Thou shalt not steal.’ In short, we would be held accountable for our actions."
The free creative energy of this choice nation "created more than 50% of all the world’s products and possessions in the short span of 160 years. The only imperfection in the system is the imperfection in man himself."
The last paragraph in this remarkable Evans book – which I commend to all – reads:
THE BASIC ERROR OF MARXISM
THE REAL CAUSE OF AMERICAN PROSPERITY
In 1801 Thomas Jefferson, in his First Inaugural Address, said:
A FORMULA FOR PROSPERITY
1. Economic security for all is
impossible without widespread abundance.
AN EXAMPLE OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF
DISREGARDING THESE PRINCIPLES
The economic and social cannibalism produced by this communist-socialist idea will destroy any society which adopts it and clings to it as a basic principle – ANY society."
THE POWER OF TRUE LIBERTY FROM
IMPROPER GOVERNMENTAL INTERFERENCE
BUT WHAT ABOUT THE NEEDY?
THE BETTER WAY
WHAT IS WRONG WITH A
THREE REASONS AMERICAN NEED NOT FALL
FOR SOCIALIST DECEPTIONS
HOW CAN PRESENT SOCIALISTIC TRENDS BE
Obviously, not all welfare-state programs currently in force can be dropped simultaneously without causing tremendous economic and social upheaval. To try to do so would be like finding oneself at the controls of a hijacked airplane and attempting to return it by simply cutting off the engines in flight. It must be flown back, lowered in altitude, gradually reduced in speed and brought in for a smooth landing. Translated into practical terms, this means that the first step toward restoring the limited concept of government should be to freeze all welfare-state programs at their present level, making sure that no new ones are added. The next step would be to allow all present programs to run out their term with absolutely no renewal. The third step would involve the gradual phasing-out of those programs which are indefinite in their term. In my opinion, the bulk of the transition could be accomplished within a ten-year period and virtually completed within twenty years. Congress would serve as the initiator of this phase-out program, and the President would act as the executive in accordance with traditional constitutional procedures.
SUMMARY THUS FAR
America was built upon a firm foundation and created over many years from the bottom up. Other nations, impatient to acquire equal abundance, security and pursuit of happiness, rush headlong into that final phase of construction without building adequate foundations or supporting pillars. Their efforts are futile. And, even in our country, there are those who think that, because we now have the good things in life, we can afford to dispense with the foundations which have made them possible. They want to remove any recognition of God from governmental institutions, They want to expand the scope and reach of government which will undermine and erode our economic and personal freedoms. The abundance which is ours, the carefree existence which we have come to accept as a matter of course, CAN BE TOPPLED BY THESE FOOLISH EXPERIMENTERS AND POWER SEEKERS. By the grace of God, and with His help, we shall fence them off from the foundations of our liberty, and then begin our task of repair and construction.
As a conclusion to this discussion, I present a declaration of principles which have recently been prepared by a few American patriots, and to which I wholeheartedly subscribe.
FIFTEEN PRINCIPLES WHICH MAKE FOR GOOD
AND PROPER GOVERNMENT
(1) I believe that no people can maintain freedom unless their political institutions are founded upon faith in God and belief in the existence of moral law.
(2) I believe that God has endowed men with certain unalienable rights as set forth in the Declaration of Independence and that no legislature and no majority, however great, may morally limit or destroy these; that the sole function of government is to protect life, liberty, and property and anything more than this is usurpation and oppression.
(3) I believe that the Constitution of the United States was prepared and adopted by men acting under inspiration from Almighty God; that it is a solemn compact between the peoples of the States of this nation which all officers of government are under duty to obey; that the eternal moral laws expressed therein must be adhered to or individual liberty will perish.
(4) I believe it a violation of the Constitution for government to deprive the individual of either life, liberty, or property except for these purposes:
(b) Protect the right and control of private property;
(c) Wage defensive war and provide for the nation’s defense;
(d) Compel each one who enjoys the protection of government to bear his fair share of the burden of performing the above functions.
(5) I hold that the Constitution denies government the power to take from the individual either his life, liberty, or property except in accordance with moral law; that the same moral law which governs the actions of men when acting alone is also applicable when they act in concert with others; that no citizen or group of citizens has any right to direct their agent, the government to perform any act which would be evil or offensive to the conscience if that citizen were performing the act himself outside the framework of government.
(6) I am hereby resolved that under no circumstances shall the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights be infringed. In particular I am opposed to any attempt on the part of the Federal Government to deny the people their right to bear arms, to worship and pray when and where they choose, or to own and control private property.
(7) I consider ourselves at war with international Communism which is committed to the destruction of our government, our right of property, and our freedom; that it is treason as defined by the Constitution to give aid and comfort to this implacable enemy.
(8) I am unalterable opposed to Socialism, either in whole or in part, and regard it as an unconstitutional usurpation of power and a denial of the right of private property for government to own or operate the means of producing and distributing goods and services in competition with private enterprise, or to regiment owners in the legitimate use of private property.
(9) I maintain that every person who enjoys the protection of his life, liberty, and property should bear his fair share of the cost of government in providing that protection; that the elementary principles of justice set forth in the Constitution demand that all taxes imposed be uniform and that each person’s property or income be taxed at the same rate.
(10) I believe in honest money, the gold and silver coinage of the Constitution, and a circulation medium convertible into such money without loss. I regard it as a flagrant violation of the explicit provisions of the Constitution for the Federal Government to make it a criminal offense to use gold or silver coin as legal tender or to use irredeemable paper money.
(11) I believe that each State is sovereign in performing those functions reserved to it by the Constitution and it is destructive of our federal system and the right of self-government guaranteed under the Constitution for the Federal Government to regulate or control the States in performing their functions or to engage in performing such functions itself.
(12) I consider it a violation of the Constitution for the Federal Government to levy taxes for the support of state or local government; that no State or local government can accept funds from the Federal and remain independent in performing its functions, nor can the citizens exercise their rights of self-government under such conditions.
(13) I deem it a violation of the right of private property guaranteed under the Constitution for the Federal Government to forcibly deprive the citizens of this nation of their property through taxation or otherwise, and make a gift thereof to foreign governments or their citizens.
(14) I believe that no treaty or agreement with other countries should deprive our citizens of rights guaranteed them by the Constitution.
(15) I consider it a direct violation of the obligation imposed upon it by the Constitution for the Federal Government to dismantle or weaken our military establishment below that point required for the protection of the States against invasion, or to surrender or commit our men, arms, or money to the control of foreign ore world organizations of governments.
These things I believe to be the proper role of government.
We have strayed far afield. We must return to basic concepts and principles – to eternal verities. There is no other way. The storm signals are up. They are clear and ominous.
As Americans – citizens of the greatest nation under Heaven – we face difficult days. Never since the days of the Civil War – 100 years ago – has this choice nation faced such a crisis.
In closing I wish to refer you to the words of the patriot Thomas Paine, whose writings helped so much to stir into a flaming spirit the smoldering embers of patriotism during the days of the American Revolution:
I intend to keep fighting. My personal attitude is one of resolution – not resignation.
I have faith in the American people. I pray that we will never do anything that will jeopardize in any manner our priceless heritage. If we live and work so as to enjoy the approbation of a Divine Providence, we cannot fail. Without that help we cannot long endure.
ALL RIGHT-THINKING AMERICANS SHOULD
NOW TAKE THEIR STAND
I urge all Americans to arouse themselves and stay aroused. We must not make any further concessions to communism at home or abroad. We do not need to. We should oppose communism from our position of strength for we are not weak.
There is much work to be done. The time is short. Let us begin – in earnest – now and may God bless our efforts, I humbly pray.
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