During the early part of the decade of the 1980’s, I wrote a series of articles entitled “Freedom and Government” for the Bahamian Review Magazine and subsequently for the Freeport News. As was the case, in the early part of the decade of the 1980s, this treatise is still relevant to the basic understanding of the relationship between government and the governed. This being the case makes this work relevant to this present decade and beyond. It is my fervent hope that this series of six articles will provide all, who read and study them with the tools that are necessary to protect their fundamental rights and freedoms which are entrusted to those whom we allow to govern us.
One of the greatest issues in modern times is whether government is to be the master or servant of the people. For the greater number of Bahamians this issue was supposedly settled some thirty years ago with the “quiet revolution” and the ushering in of Black majority rule. For some, perhaps the issue was settled in 1992 when many Bahamians felt that “deliverance” had become a reality. For many others, the issue has not been settled at all. Whatever your view-point, I am sure, you would agree when I say that any Government that is formed by the people, of the people and for the people, is the servant and not the master of the people.
Freedom and Government Part IV
GOVERNMENT – PART A
by Dr. Donald M. McCartney, D.M.
“Government and cooperation are in all things the laws of life; anarchy and competition, the laws of death.” ~ John Ruskin (1819-1900)
“Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.” ~ Thomas Paine (1737-1809)
“An oppressive government is more to be feared than a tiger.” ~ Confucius (c. 550 – c. 478 BC)
Thomas Paine, one of the forerunners in American political thought in his essay: “Common Sense” clarified for us the basic difference between society and government when he wrote the following:
“Some writers have so confused society with Government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last is a punisher.”
In the previous chapters, I have pointed out the fact that the Bahamian philosophy, in theory, if not in practice holds the view that each individual is born with inherent rights to life, the enjoyment of liberty and the ownership and control of property. In order to enjoy these fundamental rights, man searches for a life style in which he finds security. To achieve this security, he endeavors to form a society in which there is stability and order.
A democratic society is one in which each individual has the right to defend his life, liberty and property. If a man cannot defend his rights, then those rights are meaningless. Wherever man has found it difficult or impractical to defend his rights, he has delegated this protective and defensive function to an agency, which we call government.
It follows logically then, that government derives its powers from those powers given to it by the individuals who create it. In essence, the individuals in the society must consent to the government, in order that, that government can be legitimate. Robert Dahl in his essay: “American Pluralism” conveys conventional political wisdom when he said:
“….government without one’s consent can be an affront to human dignity and respect. We see this most vividly in extreme cases – the hapless victim in a concentration camp, who is subjected to the utmost humiliation, degradation, deprivation, and torture, loses, thereby a part of his humanity.”
It is the view of this writer, that governments that “derive their just powers from the consent of the governed” are more likely to be stable and durable. There are unending reasons why one may wants table government, including the fact that revolutions are very uncertain affairs; with a few exceptions, among which, happily, the “quiet revolution” may be counted. History has shown that many times those, who start the fires of revolution, are consumed in the holocaust. To control the course of a revolution is almost as difficult as to direct the path of a tornado or hurricane. Whatever the reasons why one may want stability in government, it is reasonable to suppose that a government is less likely to create hostility, frustration and resentment – sentiments that breed revolution – if it acts with the approval of its citizens than if it does not. Common sense and modern history both lend substance to this judgment. In the past century, the most durable governments in the world have rested on wide spread suffrage and other institutions for popular control. It follows then, that no government can possess any fundamental powers or authority that is not inherent in the individual; nor can government exercise these fundamental powers or authority without the consent of the governed.
The life, liberty and property that the individual possesses does not exist because men have made laws. Life, liberty and property existed before men made laws. As a matter of fact, it was because of the prior existence of life, liberty and property that men were prompted to make laws.
Ideally, the sole purpose of government is to protect life, liberty and property; to serve as a common defensive force for those from whom it receives its delegated authority. To put the point more bluntly – the only legal and moral purpose of any government is to stand as a barrier against injustice.
If we were to reduce government to fundamentals, it would be plain to see that government is purely and simply organized force. History is full of instances where man has been brutalized by government for centuries. It was because of this brutalization that man decided to limit and control the organized force of government so that he could protect his freedom. For us in the Bahamas, this radical idea found expression in the "quiet revolution," ”the constitution of January 1964, the constitutional change of 1969 and the independence constitution of July 10, 1973. These basic documents in many ways limited the power of government and enhanced the concept of individual rights.