Government is good



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THE STATE

Related or contrasting ideas may be found in the following sections: Community, Freedom, Individualism, International Relations, Majority Rule, Rights, Rule of Law, and the Social Contract.


Government is good


The political community aims for the greatest of goods

Aristotle (Greek philosopher, 384-322 B.C.), The Politics, Section One

“Every state is a community of some kind, and every community is established with a view to some good; for mankind always acts in order to obtain that which they think good. But, if all communities aim at some good, the state or political community, which is the highest of all, and which embraces all the rest, aims at a good in greater degree than any other, and at the highest good.”
The state is naturally the greatest development of independence

Aristotle (Greek philosopher, circa 384-322 B.C.), “The State,” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 245

“Or the naturalness of the State may be proved in another way: the object proposed or the complete development of a thing is its highest Good; but independence which is first attained in the State is a complete development or the highest Good and is therefore natural.”
Aristotle means that only in an organized society can humans reach peak potential

Anthony Quinton (emeritus prof. of philosophy, Oxford Univ.), “Political Philosophy” in The Oxford History of Western Philosophy, ed. by Anthony Kenny, 1994, p. 284

“Aristotle begins with his famous remark that man is by nature a ‘political animal.’ That does not mean that all men are by nature politicians but that only in a politically organized society can human beings realize their natural potentialities of excellence. The lesser groupings of family and tribal village, merely economic and productive associations, are not enough.”
The state is bound to look out for the happiness of its citizens

Henry Sidgwick (1838-1900; British moral philosopher and prof. of philosophy at Cambridge) in Morals and Values, ed. by Marcus G. Singer, 1977, p. 324

“It is sometimes frankly affirmed, and more often implied, in discussions on the principles of foreign policy, that a State is not properly subject — as an individual is commonly held to be — to any restraint of duty limiting the pursuit of its own interest; that its own interest is, necessarily and properly, its paramount end; and that when we affirm that it is bound to any rules of international duty we can only mean, or ought only to mean, that such conformity will — on the whole and in the long run if not immediately — be conducive to its national interests. In my view all such statements are essentially immoral. For a State, as for any individual, the ultimate end and standard of right conduct is the happiness of all who are affected by its actions.”
The Progressive movement considered citizens to be the state

Charles R. Kesler (prof. of government, Claremont McKenna College; editor, Claremont Review of Books), “Limited Government: Are the Good Times Really Over?” Imprimis, March 2008, p. 5

“The Progressives believed that freedom did not come from nature or God, but instead is a product of the state and is realized only in the modern state. Far from being the people’s servant and, therefore, a possible threat to freedom — because servants can be unfaithful — the state is the full ethical expression of a people. The state is the people and the people are the state.”
Government is indispensable for the happiness and good life of the community

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research; member, board of editors, Encyclopedia Britannica), The Common Sense of Politics, 1971, p. 80

“I can sum up what we have learned so far in a single, though somewhat complex proposition: government, with the authority to make laws, to adjudicate disputes, and to issue administrative decisions, and with a monopoly of authorized force to coerce where it fails to persuade, is an indispensable means, proximately, to the peace of communal life; and ultimately, to the happiness of its individual members, to whatever extent a good human life for each of them depends on their being able to live together, work cooperatively for their common good, and interact peacefully with one another.”
Government must assist the citizens by doing what no individual can do

Henry George (1839-1897; U.S. economist and land reformer), Social Problems, 1883, p. 242

“Out of the principle that it is the proper end and purpose of government to secure the natural rights and equal liberty of the individual, grows the principle that it is the business of government to do for the mass of individuals those things which cannot be done, or cannot be so well done, by individual action.”
The social contract says that government is a positive moral force

Peter A. Facione (prof. of philosophy, Calif. State Univ. at Fullerton), The Student’s Guide to Philosophy 1988, p. 64

“Under the social contract theory, governments exist because people have agreed among themselves to surrender some of their individual prerogatives in order to form a government that will insure their fundamental human needs are met. So, forming a government is not immoral. On the contrary, it’s the rational thing to do.”
Anarchy destroys the community

Peter A. Facione (prof. of philosophy, Calif. State Univ. at Fullerton), The Student’s Guide to Philosophy 1988, p. 65

“The justification for having a government is to assure that the fundamental needs of each individual are met, that everyone’s human rights are guaranteed, and that the safety and security of the community is maintained against threats from both internal and external forces. In an anarchistic society, no way exists to defend against vicious criminals and powerful invaders.”
It is unrestricted human autonomy, rather than government, which is evil

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research; member, board of editors, Encyclopedia Britannica), The Common Sense of Politics, 1971, p. 81

“The only reason that might be given for thinking the contrary would be the view that complete autonomy on the part of every individual is an absolute good; for if this were the case, then government, by taking autonomy away from the individual in certain matters, while leaving it intact in others, would necessarily be evil. This line of argument can readily be shown to be self-defeating. To be a necessary evil, government has to be necessary in the first place. But why is government necessary? Because, as we have seen, complete autonomy on the part of individuals is incompatible with their effective cooperation for a common purpose and with their peaceful interaction in communal life. Hence if the effectiveness and peace of communal life is itself something good — good as a means to the good life of human beings — then complete autonomy, not government, is to be judged intrinsically evil.”
The survival of the state is more important than individual survival

Peter A. Facione (prof. of philosophy, Calif. State Univ. at Fullerton), The Student’s Guide to Philosophy 1988, p. 69-70

“Survival and safety are important fundamental goals all individuals share. But the survival of the state, for its own sake and for the sake of present and future generations, is a more important goal. Pursuing the interests of the state keeps the community spirit alive, preserves the traditions and values of a civilized society, and gives direction and meaning to the lives of individuals. Thus government ought to have absolute and complete authority to pursue the fundamental goals of the state even if this overrides the safety and security of particular individuals.”
The state is the completion of progress from family and community

Aristotle (Greek philosopher, circa 384-322 B.C.), “The State,” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 245

“As the State was formed to make life possible, so it exists to make life good. Consequently if it be allowed that the simple associations, i.e. the household and the village, have a natural existence, so has the State in all cases; for in the State they attain complete development, and Nature implies complete development, as the nature of anything, e.g., of a man, a house, or a horse, may be defined to be its condition when the process of production is complete.”
Government is the natural condition of humanity

Aristotle (Greek philosopher, circa 384-322 B.C.), “The State,” in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 245

“Thus we see that the State is a natural institution, that Man is naturally a political animal and that one who is not a citizen of any State, if the cause of his isolation be natural and not accidental, is either a superhuman being or low on the scale of civilization, as he stands alone like a ‘blot’ on the backgammon board.”
Government is a component of every gathering of people

John Dewey (American philosopher and educator, 1859-1952), “Democracy,” (1937) in Readings in Philosophy, 3rd edition, ed. by J.H. Randall, Justus Buchler, and Evelyn Shirk, 1972, p. 291

“There is some kind of government, of control, wherever affairs that concern a number of persons who act together are engaged in. It is a superficial view that holds government is located in Washington and Albany. There is government in the family, in business, in the church, in every social group. There are regulations, due to custom if not to enactment, that settle how individuals in a group act in connection with one another.”
There is an innate human potential and need for society and government

Mortimer J. Adler (director, Institute for Philosophical Research), Ten Philosophical Mistakes, 1985, p. 167

“One of man’s inherent potentialities, and therefore, innate propensities, is to associate with his fellows. He is by nature a social animal and needs to live in society. Another inherent potentiality is the capacity for engaging in government, and this, too, gives rise to an innate tendency and a natural need.”
Government enables the great private projects of its citizens

Stephen Holmes (teacher, New York Univ. School of Law), “Practically Wisdom,” The New Republic, March 11, 1996, p. 42

“[John] Dewey’s approach ‘made it possible to think of other enemies to freedom than government.’ He did not conceive government solely as ‘an enterprise for mopping up the negative consequences that our voluntary actions may have for strangers.’ He viewed it in a more positive light, as facilitative rather than simple prohibitory and remedial. Liberal government must tax and spend to build bridges, to enforce contracts, and to create schools, since in doing so it lowers the transaction costs that fall upon individuals who desire to cooperate voluntarily for their mutual advantage. The ultimate raison d’être of government, in short, is ‘to enable the infinitely various private projects of the citizenry to flourish alongside and in interaction with one another.’”
Government is the guarantor and foundation for rights

Alan Wolfe (contributing staff editor), “The Good, the Bad, and Gingrich,” The New Republic, May 1, 1995, p. 35

“Every American knows that rights protect individuals against arbitrary government power. But rights also depend on the existence of organized political power, a fact more rarely appreciated in American political discourse. Leave people alone and, subject to the mercies of nature and each other, they will never be free. Freedom is a social condition. To be able to exercise individual rights, people must strengthen the very government against which rights are asserted.”
Thomas Aquinas saw the state as the natural flourishing of divine order

Anthony Quinton (emeritus prof. of philosophy, Oxford Univ.), “Political Philosophy” in The Oxford History of Western Philosophy, ed. by Anthony Kenny, 1994, p. 300-301

“Although moderately papalist in his sympathies, Aquinas accords a substantive and independent authority to the state. Man is naturally social, in that he cannot achieve the perfection of which he is capable, which comprises happiness as well as virtue, unless he is a member of a community; and government, Aquinas holds, is necessary to a community. Goodness is a unity, the common good, and should be pursued by something unitary, a monarch, an earthly analogue of the universal monarch, God. The state is not, therefore, a result of man’s fall and loss of innocence; it is part of the divinely instituted nature of things, prior to man’s exercise of his freedom.”
People pay taxes because they believe in the legitimacy of government

Amitai Etzioni (German-Israeli-American sociologist, known for his work on socioeconomics and communitarianism; founder of the Communitarian Network) “Spent,” The New Republic, June 17, 2009. p. 20

“What’s more, in many of those areas that are covered by law, the likelihood of being caught is actually quite low, and the penalties are often surprisingly mild. For instance, only about one in 100 tax returns gets audited, and most cheaters are merely asked to pay back what they ‘missed,’ plus some interest. Nevertheless, most Americans pay the taxes due. Alan Lewis’s classic study The Psychology of Taxation concluded that people don’t just pay taxes because they fear the government; they do it because they consider the burden fairly shared and the monies legitimately spent. In short, the normative values of a culture matter.”
Trust in government and its leaders is a key lesson of the American experience

John Updike (1932-2009 American novelist, poet, short story writer, and critic), “The future of the American idea: The individual,” The Atlantic Monthly, November 2007, p. 14

“Not only are ordinary citizens to be trusted, in the American idea, but leaders of government, too. Those who have lost the people’s trust can he voted out. To be sure, there is a lag in the process, but a process more immediately responsive to the people’s will might have ousted Lincoln and Washington in their unpopular moments. A certain trust in a nation’s overall soundness and stability is implied in the contract between the governed and the governors. American democracy speaks not just in votes and policies, but in the buoyancy, good nature, and mutual tolerance of its people. These qualities persist even in difficult times — and what times are devoid of difficulties, of contention and conflict and challenge? The American idea builds them in, creating not a static paradise but a productively competitive section of the Earth’s humanity.”



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