The Purpose of Government

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Q:  What is the distinguishing feature of government?

A:  Government has a legal monopoly on the use of coercive violence.

In formulating that Q & A, I attempted to use very precise language. Thus, it is “the distinguishing feature of government”, not “a distinguishing feature…” Similarly, it’s “coercive violence”, not all forms of violence.

Q:  Why do we grant this awesome power to government?

A:  This power is granted so that government is able to protect our rights.  (Contrary to a somewhat common belief these days, the purpose of government is NOT to hand out “free stuff”).

Our Founders understood the central purpose of government and they stated it clearly and eloquently in the Declaration of Independence.

“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.  That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”

That point bears repeating.

The purpose of government is to secure our rights.

(BTW – they are OUR rights.  Our UNALIENABLE rights.  Government doesn’t give them to us, but it is the primary duty of government to protect these rights.

Q:  How is government’s awesome power implemented in the real world?

A:  It is applied by

these guys

and these guys

and, if necessary, even these guys

These agents of government perform the core function of government.  They protect our rights from threats such as


and this

and this

and this

We the People have assigned a truly awesome power to our government.  This power is to be used to guard our rights.  It is NOT meant to be used willy-nilly upon the citizenry according to the fashion of the moment.

(this essay was first published 2/19/2010)

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