What is the Purpose of Government?

During an election year, people who would otherwise not be involved are suddenly more in tune with politics. Their thoughts turn to the candidates, and the coverage of their campaigns. They may even engage in debate about the issues of the day. But one issue is seldom ever discussed, and since it forms a foundation for virtually every other political issue, it deserves careful attention: what is the purpose of government?

A candidate or a politician may ask questions like, why can’t our government offer the people a particular service? The answer in most cases is that it certainly can – our government is extremely powerful, after all. But they never bother asking the question of whether or not it should. They don’t ask the question because they don’t want to hear that the answer is usually no. Telling a politician no means taking away some of the good will of their constituents who would have been helped if this particular service were enacted. It means taking away some of their power, and that is not something that most politicians enjoy.

As the abolitionist Wendell Phillips is quoted as saying, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty–power is ever stealing from the many to the few.” Our Constitution was designed to sharply limit the powers of our government to protect our liberties. But without an eternally vigilant populace to constantly ask the government if it should be providing a particular service, ambitious politicians are free to continue slowly increasing the government’s power (and by extension their own), while at the same time slowly eroding our liberties.

So while we are evaluating the candidates this election season, participating in the democratic process that has made our country so unique, it is important for us all to remain vigilant and to view the candidates with skepticism and suspicion. That is not to say that we should all be paranoid. But we also should not be afraid to pointedly ask our candidates, what is the purpose of government? Likewise, they should not be afraid to answer such a question. They may try to avoid it because they simply don’t know the answer. Or they may be afraid that their answer will be different from what we are expecting to hear. In any case, a candidate that avoids answering this question does not deserve our trust.

So what answer should we expect? We need look no further than our very own Declaration of Independence to define the purpose of our government: to secure our unalienable rights. No more, no less. A candidate or politician that is ignorant of this fact, or not in agreement with it, does not deserve our support. Quite the contrary, they deserve our scorn and derision for attempting to take away our liberties in order to make themselves more powerful.

But even more importantly, a candidate must have an understanding of the rights that government is intended to protect. We should be equally wary of a candidate or politician whose aim it is to create new rights for us where previously none existed. Government cannot create rights, and a politician who promises to do so should be the primary target of our eternal vigilance. The purpose of government, and the purpose of the people we elect to represent us, is to protect the things we have, not to give us things we don’t.


  1. This is my first time I have visited here. I found a lot of interesting stuff in your blog. From the tons of comments on your posts, I guess I am not the only one! keep up the great work.

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