29 December 2008

The Role of Government: Origin of Rights

The Proper Role of Government, by Ezra Taft Benson
-- read the full text.
My commentary as I study his article:
Part I (Foundational Principles, Origin of Rights)
Part II (Separation of Church and State)
Part III (Source of Governmental Power)
Part IV (Powers of a Proper Government)
Part V (Government = Force)
Part VI (The US Constitution)
Part VII (Local Government)
Part VIII (Legalized Plunder)


THE PROPER ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
by The Honorable Ezra Taft Benson
Former Secretary of Agriculture
[The Eisenhower Administration – ed.]
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.


Summary: High profile folks talk about "the issues." In many ways it's a popularity contest, and politicians' jobs depend on winning the contest. This makes it very difficult to make a principled stand.

Commentary: What a sad state of affairs. I hadn't really thought about it before. But it really explains a lot about how we've moved so far away from the Constitution that it's not even really a part of the discussion any more. How many times this election season have you heard about the Constitution? Of those, (and I'll be it's not many) how many were, "Is your program Constitutional?" I don't think I heard that at all. How much do your candidates know? At least 1 of mine doesn't know much at all: "I have to admit, I'm not a Constitutional expert." That's what she told me, just about verbatim, though I'll admit that I'm not great at remembering things word for word. Those "issues" have drowned out the larger principles almost entirely.


GOVERNMENT SHOULD BE BASED UPON SOUND PRINCIPLES
Such an approach to vital political questions of the day can only lead to public confusion and legislative chaos.


Exhibit One: The 2008 presidential election.
Exhibit Two: Any recent session of Congress.


Such an approach to vital political questions of the day can only lead to public confusion and legislative chaos. Decisions of this nature should be based upon and measured against certain basic principles regarding the proper role of government. If principles are correct, then they can be applied to any specific proposal with confidence.


“Are there not, in reality, underlying, universal principles with reference to which all issues must be resolved whether the society be simple or complex in its mechanical organization? It seems to me we could relieve ourselves of most of the bewilderment which so unsettles and distracts us by subjecting each situation to the simple test of right and wrong. Right and wrong as moral principles do not change. They are applicable and reliable determinants whether the situations with which we deal are simple or complicated. There is always a right and wrong to every question which requires our solution.” (Albert E. Bowen, Prophets, Principles and National Survival, P. 21-22)


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.


Summary: Governmental decisions need to be based on the principles of right and wrong and upon principles guiding the proper role of government.

Commentary: I long for a government that behaves in this way!



THE CORRECT ROLE OF GOVERNMENT
I should like to outline in clear, concise, and straight-forward terms the political principles to which I subscribe. These are the guidelines which determine, now and in the future, my attitudes and actions toward all domestic proposals and projects of government. These are the principles which, in my opinion, proclaim the proper role of government in the domestic affairs of the nation.

"(I) believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society."

"(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…"


Commentary: Look at all the things that are NOT listed here: education, health care, auto bail-outs, a whole myriad of things that our government does, usually in violation of our Constitution.



"(I) believe that governments were instituted of God for the benefit of man; and that he holds men accountable for their acts in relation to them, both in making laws and administering them, for the good and safety of society."

"(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 FUNCITION OF GOVERNMENT
It is generally agreed that the most important single function of government is to secure the rights and freedoms of individual citizens. But, what are those rights? And what is their source? Until these questions are answered there is little likelihood that we can correctly determine how government can best secure them. Thomas Paine, back in the days of the American Revolution, explained that:

"Rights are not gifts from one man to another, nor from one class of men to another… It is impossible t discover any origin of rights otherwise than in the origin of man; it consequently follows that rights appertain to man in right of his existence, and must therefore be equal to every man." (P.P.N.S., p. 134)


Summary: Rights don't come from one person to another, they originate with existence and thus are universal among all men.


The great Thomas Jefferson asked:

"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?" (Works 8:404; P.P.N.S., p.141)


Summary: Rights come from God and can only be secure when people acknowledge that fact.


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)



Summary: The rights to life, liberty, & property come from God. Laws are created to protect these rights. If these rights were to come from the government, then it would also be true that the government could take them away if it wanted to.


There is lots more to come on this: President Benson had a lot to say on the matter. But I can only digest it in small chunks, so I'll post part two another day, and likely continue with more parts after that! The full text of his paper is available here.

Go to Part II: Separation of Church and State.

2 comments:

Carissa said...

Wonderful post! I love this talk. It has changed my views so much and I wish I could tell everybody about what I've learned.

Ritsumei said...

It's something that I've been working on getting posted for a while now, but this sort of reading takes a fair amount of time. Plus, I like to have some time to digest what he said as well. Hopefully I can get part 2 up here pretty soon. I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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