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 V
GOVERNMENT – PART B
In the last chapter, I established the fact that whenever man found it impossible or impractical to defend his rights, he has delegated this defensive function to an agency called government which is purely and simply organized force.
In view of that fact that government is force and force is harmful to man’s nature and best interest, the force exercised by government must be limited if the individual is to enjoy his rights without undue interference. Joseph Cotton in his essay: “Limitation of government” wrote:
“It is necessary therefore, that all power that is on earth be limited, Church power or other: If there be power given to speak great things, then look for great blasphemies, look for a licentious abuse of it. It is counted as a matter of danger to the State to limit prerogatives, but it is a further danger, not to have them limited. They will be like a tempest if they are not limited.”
The force exercised by government should be limited to that of defence as opposed to that of aggression. The organized force of government should be used for the protection and defence of those individual rights I wrote about in the previous chapter, that is, life, liberty and property. This force should also be used to protect and defend against fraud, theft, murder and depredation. In whatever other areas that are not covered by the above-mentioned, the force of government must be constrained. Government should never interfere in the peaceful and creative pursuits of the individual, unless the pursuits of the individual are a threat to the life, liberty and property of another. The general philosophy of freedom does not provide for coercion.
Each individual has the right to protect his own life. In order to ensure this protection, the individual has delegated this responsibility to government. Therefore government has the legitimate responsibility to exercise this function. Conversely, no individual has the right to force another to associate with him, or sell to him or provide a service for him. It is my view that an individual has the right to associate with whomever he chooses. This, however, does not mean that I support the concept or practice of segregation, in any form or fashion. Government’s function, in this particular regard, is a dual one: It must protect the right of the individual to associate with whomever he chooses without giving the impression that it is an advocate of separation or segregation. In the 1950s and 1960s the most popular term that was used was “civil rights.” I take the view that the term “civil rights” when used together are contradictory. It must be remembered that rights are natural or inherent in each individual and came before government. I have pointed out time and again, that the only rights, that any individual has, are those of life, liberty and property. The term “civil” implies that government is the source of rights. Let there be no misconceptions, government is sometimes the inhibitor of rights. Government may be the source of privileges. In reality, privileges are “civil rights”. These privileges are made possible through government’s infringement on the rights of others.
The question, that now arises, is: what causes government to engage in activities that are not its proper function? Government engages in activities that are not its proper function because it has as its weapon the threat of organized force. Through the threat of force, people can be made to act in a way they would not act voluntarily. In addition, they can be made to pay for services that they would not normally subsidize. In all societies, there are those who are always prepared to impose their will on others. If these persons were able to seize political power, they would use the agency of government to achieve their selfish goals. This kind of perversion can only be made possible when members of the society lose sight of the proper function and scope of government. In order to prevent totalitarianism, we need an informed citizenry, intent on limiting government to its proper role: The protection of life, liberty and property.
Some members of society are of the opinion that if government does not take action in certain areas, no action will be taken. This may be true in some instances and false in others. There are willing individuals in the society, who of their own free choice, may decide not to support a particular activity, this being the case, the activity should not be attempted. Where there is an absence of demand, this is an indication, that the project is inadvisable. In cases where the government must be used to initiate an effort, it simply means that people are not prepared to do so of their own free choice, and are therefore, forced to act against their wishes.
Conversely, there are thousands of voluntary organizations and associations, hospitals and millions of individual endeavors. The voluntary organizations are proof that constant interventions may be seen as a negative factor, preventing the progress of man and society. Let us consider those countries of the world where government exercises the greatest degree of control over the lives of its people. It is in these countries we find stagnation, poverty and discontent. On the other hand, those countries where government interferes least in the creative affairs of the people, it is these countries that have the highest degree of progress, prosperity and contentment. It is also possible to have some “free” countries where progress and prosperity are limited to certain individuals because of race, class, creed, religion and national origin.
In the Bahamas, we live in a country, which utilizes the democratic process to choose our representatives and enact laws. However, there is a tendency to believe something is right for government to do so simply because we voted for that government.