Are Society And Government The Same?

On a different post, I received a couple of comments from a very thoughtful and well spoken individual. This blog is my response to one of his comments. Please take a look at the exchange. The last comment is my blog post.

Hi Adam. I agree that the President is not my leader, but my reason has to do with principle, not with which particular person is President at any given time.

In our system of government, the President is the administrator of the executive branch of government. The government is a subset of our overall society, and the government exists by the consent of the governed. Government employees, including the President, are public servants. Americans, taken as a whole, are the leaders of the government. The President works for us. He is not our leader. He is who we have “hired” to administer the subset of our society called government.

In the United States of America, the sovereignty rests with the people, not the government. If We The People lose sight of that proper order of things, we run the risk of being turned topsy-turvy into a different kind of country. Many people might THINK they would like such a country, and a few actually would like it. But I believe most of us would not ACTUALLY like it if it came to pass.

First of all, thank you so much for your thoughtful reply. Yes, I understand the theory behind how the executive branch of government is supposed to work. However, I must disagree wholeheartedly with your assertion that in the United States, or anywhere else in the world really, that ” the government exists by the consent of the governed” and that ” the sovereignty rests with the people”. There is so much that our government does that I do not consent to: war, torture, spying, ridiculous welfare schemes etc. and there is no way for me to opt out of the situation. If I, one of the people, were truly sovereign, I’d be able to execute my will. That is clearly not the case. So, while our current system is certainly better than many others, it is by no means the be all end all of proper government. In my opinion, no government can be considered just unless a citizen has a right to secede without having to relocate geographically. Then and only then could you speak of the sovereignty of the people.

Adam, wouldn’t that be anarchy? How could there even be a society if it’s all a “free for all.” There are something like 320 million Americans now. How can the government enact 330 million different sets of policies, in order to individually please each of its citizens? I don’t understand the practical theory that underpins your desired scenario. You said yourself that there is no place in the world that operates the way you wish. That may be because it’s impossible. Are you just venting? Or do you have an innovative new gov’t system in mind that can actually work the way you envision, where every citizen in a society gets to feel like their government responds to their individual wishes and never does anything they personally disapprove of? I don’t see how that could work for societies with more than about 10 people in them.

Going back to my phrases you disagreed with: My response it that there’s a difference between a government that EXISTS by the consent of the governed (my assertion), and a government whose every ACTION must have the consent of each individual member of the governed (your assertion). Ancient Greece was the best historical examples of an attempt at pure democracy, and it didn’t work. There’s a saying that “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner.” That saying is a perfect illustration why there are natural, inevitable reasons why different people want different things.

Thank you again for your thoughtful response. No, it wouldn’t necessarily be anarchy. Or if it were, it would likely be temporary and on a small scale. Personally, I would prefer to only participate in my city government. I almost never leave a 5 block by 5 block area. We pay a small sales tax an I am alright with that. State and federal services are utterly useless for me and actually harm my sense of well being and material prosperity. I don’t want their services and don’t feel that I should be forced to participate. I’m dead serious about that, not just venting. However, my position is not strictly anarchistic. It is the logical conclusion of the notion of the consent of the governed. I only consent to a very limited local government. Anything else is forced on me and I would prefer not to have it. Or, if I am to travel outside of my city, charge me tolls or send me a bill so that I can make a choice about whether to participate.

You are conflating government and society, which is clearly false and inappropriate. I direct you to any online dictionary definition of society and government. Society is generally described as any voluntary and friendly relationship between individuals or groups of individuals. Therefor social behavior can be described as friendly, voluntary, mutually beneficial. Government is usually defined as an agency that has control, is the authority, and directs or enforces certain behaviors. It easy to see that government and society are almost opposites in terms of their definitions. One definition involves freedom, voluntary interaction, and amiable relationships. The other force and control.

To think about it a different way, which would you say came first? Society or government? Were people interacting voluntarily, were traditions and norms being developed, was society functioning before the existence of political states and governments? Of course they were. In fact, in the American sense, government was created to suppress anti-social behavior, to eliminate any actions that weren’t strictly based on voluntary consent such as theft and violence. But the key question is this: what is to be done when the government itself acts in a way that is anti-social? What to do when the government is the principal robber and perpetrator of violence.

In fact, the most murderous outrages in the history of the world have been carried out by rogue governments and many times with the consent of the majority. What is the minority to do in such situations? Should their rights be protected? The notion of the consent of the majority can easily morph into the famous tyranny of the majority.

It is explicitly stated in our founding documents that any person or group of people have the right to throw off an existing government and form their own. To deny that is to sound the death knell of a free society and to make a laughingstock of a noble idea: the consent of the governed. But this only works if each individual is the arbiter of their own fortune and is allowed the right to choose, without any restriction whatsoever, who they will be governed by or if they will be governed at all.

There are various examples of this. Of course, the American colonists threw off the English yoke. Many states, Pennsylvania perhaps being the leading example, lived in a state of almost total anarchy and yet Philadelphia came to be one of the leading cities in the colonies. It is where the constitution was ratified and where many of our founding fathers resided. Again, society and government are not the same. Pennsylvania was a fully functioning society, without a government.

Finally, just because something hasn’t happened, or perhaps can’t happen, doesn’t mean that it isn’t an ideal worth striving after. World peace, the elimination of hunger, the end of child abuse, and the list goes on, may not be realizable in this imperfect world that we live in. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t recognize the superiority of such a world, could it exist. It doesn’t mean that we can’t set those goals as our lodestar and strive towards them. If you truly believe in the consent of the governed, then a world in which each individual can choose for themselves which political arrangement they belong to must be your guiding light.



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