I wanted to take a few moments today, for the occasion of Independence Day, to reflect on the institution of government, philosophically speaking.
Government was viewed with a certain level of cynicism by philosophers in times past, especially during the 18th century Enlightenment. In Western society, this perhaps goes all the way back to when the Ancient Hebrews demanded a king from the prophet Samuel.
The passage below is worth considering:
From 1 Samuel 8 (ESV):
Samuel's Warning Against Kings
10 So Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking for a king from him. 11 He said, “These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen and to run before his chariots. 12 And he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants. 15 He will take the tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and to his servants. 16 He will take your male servants and female servants and the best of your young men and your donkeys, and put them to his work. 17 He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. 18 And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
Until this time, Israel had functioned under a leadership construct quite often seen in 'pre-civilized' societies, that of a religious order who ministered to the population (relying on the power of cultural values and peer pressure to enforce compliance), a informal court system (a less sophisticated version of common law) and independent religious teachers (aka the prophets) designated by Divine dispensation, but recognized by their merits.
It appears that while this setup was working just fine, the population preferred the prestige associated with a more formalized governmental apparatus. Samuel described the slavery inherent in this option, with its gradual, yet total diminishment of personal liberties, and constrasted it with their former freedoms.
Why do people prefer chains to liberty? Because liberty requires a certain level of collective personal moral effort to maintain, and it does not provide an easy means to wealth and recognition. Merit-based societies, like early America, have always considered governments to be a necessary evil, not requiring them to be the bedrock of the societal fabric.
Governments in themselves are not evil, the Founders of our United States did an outstanding job of designing and implementing one. But, what we must always remember is that government is a man-made institution, crafted to be a postitive tool for mankind, it is not mankind that is created to be a resource for a fictitious entity.
As ever, the answers to our collective and individual problems are within us, primarily because that is the well from which the ills spring from in the first place. To solve the question of collective governance, we would do well to concentrate on the development of personal self-discipline, rather than attempting to overthrow or modify an external system. Those with greater self-discipline will become natural leaders, driving culture to the point where political change is a natural and obvious (peaceful) conclusion.
In short, we must each earn the world we wish to deserve.