It Is Human Nature That People Are Corruptible

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: 

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.


About Necessary and Proper

Jeff believes in the Individual's ability to excel when liberty and freedom of choice are protected. Also believes in the Community's ability to take care of the vast majority of its own issues and needs when the federal government leaves the Community's resources and sphere of control alone. State and local choice produce better results than centralized federal control.
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10 Responses to It Is Human Nature That People Are Corruptible

  1. davidwithastick says:

    Indeed, you set forth a good foundation of logic, and I accept your premises save one. But the one I do not accept is the one that you have omitted; or perhaps more correctly I do not accept your premises without its inclusion.

    You make the same mistake of omission as Ayn Rand did in her great philosophical treatises/novels. It is, in fact, so important a foundational principal that without it the rest of your logic cannot stand.

    If there is to be any unalienable right, if there is to be a sense of morality, if there truly is right and wrong, there must be some definition of that morality, and some authority that preserves and enforces the rights from which no man can divorce another. I don’t think it necessary in the context of understanding Necessary and Proper Government to overly define the nature of God. I believe, however, that the founders as a group of men were content to concede to one another that there is a power greater than what man can claim, and that we are accountable to it. Yet to define the source of that authority in terms of a nebulous “nature” or the universe itself, is in contrast too conveniently obscure.

    The reason this particular point is so foundational as to say that without it the rest of your chain of dominos cannot even begin to topple, is that without the authority of a higher power, man is so corrupt as to not be trustworthy to even define for himself rights that he can claim as unalienable.

    James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers when defining a particular unalienable right:

    “It is unalienable; because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also; because what is here a right towards men, is a duty towards the Creator.

    “It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent both in order of time and degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society.

    “Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society, who enters into any subordinate Association, must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign.”

    He was writing about Religion as a matter of conscience that must reside within each individual, and that that is an unalienable right. What is relevant here is his thinking about exactly what makes a right unalienable. Madison clearly states that for a right to be unalienable, it must be authored by man’s Creator.

    Ayn Rand’s omission of this same principal is also her greatest folly, because in the world of a fallible and corrupt nature of man, it is foolish to think that the tyranny of one group of people can be replaced by the beneficence of another for any length of time. In Atlas Shrugged, she envisioned a Utopian existence for the true makers and doers of the world, leaving the usurpers to their own demise.

    But following your logic, these, too, were men. Man is corruptible. Perhaps not these men since there are some people whose morals are more pure than others. But they will be followed by others, and great power will be entrusted to them, and eventually they will not be so pure, and the nature of man will manifest itself once again.

    Thus, I can accept your premise only if you are willing to assert, as did the founders, that

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”


    • Hi, davidwithastick. Thank you for your comment and interest in my topic.

      I am at the beginning of a journey through this multi-faceted topic, with so many more posts to come. I will be striving to keep each of my posts to approx. the length of a newspaper column. Yet here I already encounter a commenter who finds something I didn’t cover within the first 750 words of my journey. And you required nearly as many words to cover that one point. There will clearly be no shortage of grist for the mill in this discussion space, and no rest for the weary author either.

      I see a blogger’s burden here: For every word I write, no matter what it is, I risk receiving objections due to the omission of the millions of other words I necessarily couldn’t write in the same space. Seems like a no-win proposition.

      I ask you to extend me some patience, by sparing the mosquitoes from the sledge hammer when a mere fly swatter will do. I also ask you to indulge my sense of congeniality here by considering sprinkling at least a couple “in my opinion” caveats in your comments. Your second paragraph comes across a bit strongly, as if you claim sole ownership of the only set of facts that exist.

      Objectively, I agree with your overall point. I am clearly no expert at theology — in fact I’m not even a novice. Yet I fully recognize that one point of genius of the Founders’ theory of gov’t (and others such as Locke who preceded them) was the identification of a higher authority that exists above all men, and I had already intended to take a hack at that aspect soon.

      However, it seems to me that while religious people may take umbrage at the omission of God in these discussions, non-religious people may take offense at the inclusion of God as well. Again, a no-win proposition. Luckily, I’m rescued from this dilemma by recalling the Ricky Nelson song Garden Party: “You see, you can’t please everyone, so you’ve got to please yourself,” thus: In my earnest attempt to find common ground, it seems useful to accommodate two approaches to explaining that ‘missing’ domino: one approach that can be respected by religious folks, and another approach that can be respected by non-religious-yet-still-quite-moral folks. There’s room for all of us under the tent, right? If not, I think we’re in trouble politically.

      – Jeff


      • davidwithastick says:

        Please consider my initial response to your initial post as a compliment in that I felt it needed to be as fully reasoned and well stated as yours. I made a strong formal statement, and then supported it as best I could. Besides, I’ve been waiting so long for an opportunity to articulate that point about the folly of Ayn Rand’s omission and I was eager to see how it might come out. (I also happen to know you like Ayn Rand.) But my goal was to answer your question about whether or not you had established a valid piece of solid ground. You have, as long as we agree that unalienable rights are only so because they are authored by God. I also purposefully stated that He need not be defined any more than that – this is not a theological discussion.

        Your writing is congenial, yes, but far from colloquial. It is thoughtful, weighty, and causes one to think. Don’t be surprised to get equally thoughtful and weighty responses. A short, light-hearted reply seemed inappropriate.

        You wonder (in your remarks about yourself) if your convictions are brave enough to hold up under fire. You are not alone. But there is a wonderful Proverb that illustrates exactly what is going on here: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.”

        I think this just might be a lot of fun.


  2. FreedmLvr says:

    I agree wholeheartedly with the above comment. The missing component is that the unalienable rights come from God not from man. I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” We are proving that to be true now. Without faith in God to govern our morality, there are not enough policemen in the country nor armed citizens to keep it a safe enough place to live freely.


  3. Welcome, FreedmLvr. Thx for your participation.

    I recognize that I oversimplified my Domino #2 when I only said “Each person has natural rights that cannot be infringed upon or taken away by another individual.” For that matter, I oversimplified every one of the dominoes, each being worthy of a master’s thesis. As I said in my reply to David, I intend to keep the length of my articles reasonably short. To do so, I must either pick one detail to focus on, or for multi-point pieces I must be like a flat stone skipping along the surface and softly touching the high points. For that first post, I chose the latter. You appear to be a fan of brevity, so I hope you understand.

    I am not a notably religious person, but I’m not an atheist either. I agree with you and David in your agreement with Jefferson and Madison that the “higher authority” is a vital block in the foundation of our Constitutional Republic. I will soon try to research and write something about it in a way that perhaps can be fully accepted by all advocates of limited government, regardless of their depth of devotion to religion. It’s probably a pipe dream, but in this space I honestly seek to influence independent thinkers of all varieties.

    I look forward to your further comments, and I invite you to click “Follow” so you can stick with me.

    – Jeff


  4. Notsopolitical says:

    I especially love the picture of your dog. You definitely give politics deep and careful thought. It has been a long time since I have thought of Ayn Rand. This is thought provoking.


  5. Piper A Sickmiller says:

    I agree there is the ability to be bad in all of us. (“Thats why we need God, whole either subject) With our freedom of the press/news today, a person canidate can’t sneeze without it being blasted everywhere. They are human just like us and they miss speak and do things wrong. Lets not hang them for every little infraction. I am not saying let anyone do anything and still run for office. Just give them a break for their humaness. We all are make mistakes and say things wrong. And we all can be corrupted if it gets us what we want. We may think I WOULD NOT DO THAT EVER. We all probably do it to some degree on a daily bases.
    Get a grip!


  6. Pingback: 8/5/2012: What are Human Rights, and Where do They Come From? | Well Spent Journey

  7. Pingback: 6/8/2013: Obviously It’s Abuse of Power – But Why Does It Happen? | Necessary and Proper Gov't

  8. Pingback: 9/21/2013: Using Judo in a Political Conversation | Necessary and Proper Gov't

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