According to the American Founders, the proper role of government is to protect inalienable rights equally for everyone.
In other words, the government’s job is not to provide equal things, but rather to protect equal rights.
Competing views include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The role of government is to distribute all things equally (communism).
- The role of the government is to take care of its subjects (democratic socialism).
- The role of the government is to expand its empire (martial societies).
- The role of the government is to help the little guy (democracy).
- The role of the government is to promote the interests of big business (capitalism).
We are born with inalienable rights — as the Declaration of Independence puts it broadly, we have the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Thomas Paine explained,
“Rights are not gifts from one man to another, nor from one class of men to another…It is impossible to discover any origin of rights otherwise than in the origin of man; it consequently follows that rights appertain to man in right of his existence, and must therefore be equal to every man.”
Our inalienable rights come from God, and government is created to secure and protect them.
As Frederic Bastiat wrote,
“Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.”
Thomas Jefferson added,
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?”
Differing views on the proper role of government spring from the belief that rights are granted by the government. This is cause for tyranny.
If rights are granted by the government, then rights can also be taken from citizens by the government.
By definition, government is force. Behind every government policy is a gun to the heads of citizens saying, You will do this, or else…
Therefore, anything other than the philosophy than the proper role of government is to protect inalienable rights always has and always will lead to tyranny.
The more government tries to help society, the more tyrannical it becomes. Since the government does not produce, it can only take what others has produced to fulfill its aims.
If it wants to provide welfare, it cannot do so without taking from one person or group of people to give to another. And since government is force, this is, as Frederic Bastiat put it, legal plunder.
Redistribution of wealth is a violation of rights, because the government cannot rightfully do anything that an individual cannot rightfully do.
In other words, if it is wrong for an individual to steal another’s property, then it is wrong for the government to do the same thing.
As John Locke explained in his Second Treatise on Government,
“For nobody can transfer to another more power than he has in himself, and nobody has an absolute arbitrary power over himself, or over any other, to destroy his own life, or take away the life of property of another.”
Therefore, the proper role of government is limited only to those things that individual citizens have the right to do.