Being a part of the modern political discourse, as someone who believes that the discussion has turned into character attacks and identity politics, is not easy in the 21st century. Conversations have turned from the merits of ideologies and ideas, to the merits of individuals who represent political options in the field. One discussion that has been put aside, especially after the 1930s and the Great Depression, is the correct role of government.
In the simplest of terms, everyone can agree that there are three key roles of government: inside protection, outside protection and infrastructure. Those three, according to Scottish philosopher Adam Smith, are non-negotiable and even the most radical libertarians cannot argue against them, with the caveat that there are fringe movements of anarcho-libertarians who argue for the complete abolishment of governments as entities. However, that is where the different political ideologies differ.
Ideologies such as socialism, and more radically communism, are built on the reality that the government is the overbearing ruler of everything, from national defence, to the procurement of employment. These societies, although rare in their true form, have existed all throughout the 20th century, but most have, with the exception of North Korea, Cuba, China and Venezuela, either split up, such as the Soviet Union or Yugoslavia, or democratized, such as Poland, Albania and Romania.
On the other hand, libertarians and to some extent conservatives, believe that the correct role of government should stop at the three principles outlined in the work of Adam Smith. These societies have mostly never existed in their truest form, with the closest one being the United States of America before the Great Depression, after which the US government introduced the Federal Reserve as some sort of insurance policy for the failings of complete free-market capitalism.
The current situation is somewhere in the middle. In most societies of the Western world, the government assumes the aforementioned three key roles, with the addition of education, social norms, internal affairs and healthcare, to name a few. However, it is my belief that the government should be completely ousted from everything, other than the key roles, as outlined above.
My reasoning is simple – the government is a group of democratically elected individuals who have been chosen as guardians of rights. Guardians is an important term, since we have to differentiate protection and procurement, in this discussion. If a citizen allows their government to provide them with rights, that allows the government to also take away those rights from them – which is a scary concept. It is scary, because we have seen societies, such as the 1930’s Germany, where if the wrong people get elected for whatever reason, they have incredible strength at their disposal. That strength, at least in this example, was used to take away rights from citizens based on their religious background, ethnicity and sexuality – but that has only happened because the government has been given that strength.
A more recent example is same-sex marriage. I hope that everyone can agree that no one should be involved in the private life of a citizen. Especially not people, whom that individual has never even met and for whom he or she does not care much. However, in today’s world, due to the power of governments, it is happening, and same-sex marriage is something people have had to fight for.
The same goes for abortion, which should not be something that can be outright outlawed by the state or federal government of any country in the world. It should be left to be a private decision of the people involved. These two issues are simple examples of how we as a society collectively allowed elected officials to enter our private lives to the extent where the free will, which includes the choice of life partner and the choice of adding new life on the planet, has to be fought for.
The examples of abortion and same-sex marriage have, hopefully, taught us a lesson on how expanding the grasp of governments on our private lives can have major consequences. It can severely limit our choices and, more importantly, it can create an over-reliance on elected officials for our rights.
Now, it may always be argued whether our rights as human beings are God-given, or simply a set list of rights we have which was agreed on at a moral level. However, the point remains that, if we renegade that power onto elected officials, we have to do so knowing that those same officials can also, for whatever reason they find as relevant, strip certain individuals off those rights, or even whole groups.
In the end, I would like to reiterate the point that governments are constituted by individuals, elected by other individuals, to ensure their safety and a level-playing field in terms of rights provided to those same individuals. That does not mean that those elected hold any sort of moral high ground. It simply means that they were deemed worthy by enough individuals to uphold and protect their rights.
While it is understandable that the original view of limited government has shown its flaws in dealing with crisis, like in the example of the Great Depression, I still firmly hold the belief that it is the only path forward. Almost all advancement in society has been done by individuals without government help or involvement, which is in line with the political philosophy of individualism and libertarianism. This is because, at the end of the day, government is a very complicated body that is not very efficient and, more importantly, it is not driven by the advancement of society, but rather by the desire to remain in power, which is the most important point that can be made. If we decide to allow governments to control our society, what will almost always happen is that the desires and rights of the majority are the priority, since they are the biggest voting bloc. And that is not the point of democracy, after all.
Benson, E. (1976): The Proper Role Of Government, https://fee.org/articles/the-proper-role-of-government/, Accessed 29 September 2020
Hobart, P.J. (2016): Same-Sex Marriage: A Libertarian Perspective, The Prindle Post, https://www.prindlepost.org/2016/01/same-sex-marriage-a-libertarian-perspective/, Accessed 29 Sep. 2020
Staff (2019): Libertarians: Abortion is a matter for individual conscience, not public decree, Libertarian Party, https://www.lp.org/libertarians-abortion-is-a-matter-for-individual-conscience-not-public-decree/