Why is there, today, such a broad and deep divide in public opinion about the necessary and proper role of government?
In this web space, that is the matter I want to exchange ideas and opinions with you about.
It won’t serve us well to hold this discussion by working backwards from our existing positions. I hope you agree. If our goal is to listen and possibly learn a bit from each other, then let’s try to avoid tendentious logic. Let’s be brave enough, you and I, to find some starting common ground and then work forward to see where it takes us. That’s the only way minds can be changed.
I believe unalienable rights, consent of the governed, and separation of powers are fundamental principles we might be able to start from. They sprout from a single basic fact about human nature that has always been true, and will always be true: When it comes to knowing right from wrong and behaving in an ethical way towards others, individual men and women are corruptible. Over the long term, this is not a repairable flaw – human nature can never be permanently fixed. I believe this fact is not debatable, but if you disagree, help me understand why.
Most of us know a few people whose nature is nearly flawless. And at the other extreme, some people’s nature is almost always despicable. The greatest portion of us are in between those extremes. I freely admit I have bad days, full of bad judgment, bad decisions, and occasional bad behavior. Even my best days aren’t flawless.
So why do I bother pointing out such an obvious fact about the human race?
Based on what I’ve learned in a couple years of self-study on government theory, here’s how I have come to view the row of “thought dominoes” that tumble, each into the next, as we follow a train of thought…starting with the obvious fact:
- Due to our flawed human nature, it will always be true that individuals will sometimes act “badly” towards others. Some individuals will act “badly” often.
- Therefore, to protect society from human nature, the following first principle is obvious: One individual has no right to forcibly demand subservience from another individual. Each person has natural rights that cannot be infringed upon or taken away by another individual. That is what unalienable rights means.
- However, no person can claim a right that, in order to be enforced, requires the infringement of another person’s unalienable rights, against his/her will. To do so is the opposite of a right…it’s a wrong. By the way, I’ve learned this is a useful test to tell the difference between “natural rights” and “artificial or contrived rights.” If the fulfillment of your “right” must be paid for in some way by others, it is not a natural right.
- Broadening outwards from individuals to groups: No group of people can impose governing authority over another group, against the will of the majority of the governed people. That is what consent of the governed means.
- In setting up the arrangements of consensual government, the arrangement must continue to recognize the original fact that individuals are corruptible. This fact applies to members of the governing group as much as, if not more than, the governed group. So governing arrangements must ensure that the authority is not abused.
- To establish a durable arrangement, governing power must not be concentrated in the hands of just a few people, or just one person. It must be distributed broadly and evenly enough to allow checks and balances, to prevent one corruptible person or small group from abusing the governing power. This is what separation of powers means.
- Separation of powers is necessary regardless of whether the governing group is actually acting corrupt in any given period of time. The mere fact they are corruptible men and woman requires that our system of government exercise separation of powers at ALL times.
This train of thought lays a foundation for many other things I want to discuss with you. But first, here’s what I want to ask you:
- Have I started from a useful and valid piece of common ground, from which to work forward?
- Is each person’s sense of right vs. wrong, and their resulting behavior towards others, perfectible in the long run? Based on your answer, how do you think American society should be organized and governed? What is your row of “thought dominoes”?
I invite you to leave a comment.