Assailing government as abusive and hostile to the civil society for which it is responsible is not infrequently countered by an assertion that the government is us. This assertion is understood to suggest that the critic ought not to figuratively (or literally) topple government by reviling its essence and deeming it a counterpoint to civil society, but rather satisfying himself with only calibrating its contemporary machinery; for it seems the premise is that the government is not the enemy, and no presumption should exist that its restrictions or imperatives should be viewed with suspicion or skepticism. With this assertion I am unable to concur.
At least three (3) reasons seem to suggest this conception is without rational support. These can be categorized as follows:
I. “Government as Us” — The Threshold for Tyranny
First, the oppression of the body polity is a necessary consequence of such a conception. Preliminary to the discussion of the basis for this danger, an explication of the evolution and nature of the body polity ought first be examined. However, as the writer is in the process of gradually developing this thesis, the reader’s indulgence, in permitting later reference thereto as an introduction to the following, is requested. Presently, the writer will address only the state of
Civil Society and Government in Unpeaceful Coexistence
In any community there exist two (2) levels: civil society; and the government which is a creature of it. Civil society, though, encompasses every facet and component of the activities of the lives of the persons of which it consists — civil society then being vast, touching all elements of those lives and activities within the geographical boundaries constituting its periphery, and being inseparable from those component lives. These activities, while not technically infinite, are innumerable, consisting of every minor and major solitary action of each person as well as each minor and major interaction they might have with a constantly-varying ensemble on a daily, weekly and annual basis.
Thus, if government is us, viz, civil society, then it would follow that it should be parallel- engaged in every detail of the solitary thoughts and activities of each, and the interaction between every, member of the polity; for, if civil society is not independent and the primary forum for interaction, but rather subordinate or even tangential to a paramount influence upon the polity from government, then must it not mean government is integral and inextricable? But is not this then the very definition of Tyranny?
Such a scenario of course introduces an additional tension. The greater the scope or volume of social interaction that is impacted or regulated by government, the greater the stake in the government of the various power centers; for, in any civil society no matter how primitive or complex, there is a necessary differential in power between self-identifying sets of its members (or, at least, until the theoretical arrival of the state of entropy at the “end of history”) — as constant exact equality of power is impossible to either attain or maintain. And the greater the stake, the greater the propensity of the stakeholder to insert itself into governmental determinations and outcomes — as the greater the level of its power, the more the interest of the stakeholder is impacted by governmental operations. And the more frequent and the more intense the insertion of the stakeholder into governmental determinations and outcomes, the greater the likelihood of corruption of government thereby.
This corruption occurs in two (2) forms and senses: one, the common sense of moral contamination through favors of some sort from a power center; but also, two, the disruption of and diversion from what would have been the prescribed functioning, as measured either by process or outcome, of the governmental personnel or agency. In either sense, though, there will have been a deviation of the focus of its functions and operations toward a subset or subsets of the civil society. Thereby, will the other sets thereof be neglected and, by definition, consequently oppressed.
II. The Breadth of Civil Society Inherently Inhibits and Restricts Governmental Competence
Second, if we do not view government as essentially isolated from, but rather coexistent with and integrated into the social structure, then it would follow — as above discussed — that it would be expected, if not explicitly sanctioned, to express judgment or opinion, either imperative or precatory, on all aspects of these interactions. But in that event its magistracy would have to be both as numerous and intensely knowledgeable as the number of members of the society. But this, by definition, is impossible.
If the magistracy was of this numerical extent, then it would consist of all members of the polity, and the civil society would be wholly subsumed within and virtually abolished by the government. But government is a creature of civil society and instituted to perform functions of which civil society is incapable of efficiently or expeditiously performing on its own. It then would not only have exceeded its mandate but destroyed the very reason and justification for its existence.
It then must be concluded that preservation of the rationale for government’s existence necessitates some restriction upon and confinement in the growth of its magistracy. In that event, though, this limit on the number of magistrates will likewise limit both its capacity and expertise in the regulation of the full scope of activities of the members of its polity. Instead, its capacity and expertise will be properly confined only to influence or regulate those activities of members that affect, or the impact upon them by, persons with whom they are not in direct contact1 — the original rationale for the creation of a government.
Thus, both by physical principles and to adhere to the purpose for its creation, the competence of government is innately limited and incapable of being treated as other than a subset of “us”.
III. The Consensus vs Competition Principles
Third, and most significant, a civil society does (or at least should) operate on the consensus principle. Government however operates upon the majority principle. By nature, they then are wholly inconsistent with and hostile to each other. This alone renders one the opponent, rather than the associate or counterpart, of the other.
Mankind first congregated in civil society from, and to enhance and serve, mutual self-interest. Such an objective by definition requires and involves complementary interaction between those in direct contact with each other; if not then their respective actions would be in conflict and therefore not to their mutual self-interest. With complementary interaction, the actions of each benefit both. To determine how these actions will generate mutual benefit, each must express to the other which result is in their primary interest — or, rather, which of their primary interests will not conflict with a primary interest of the other. Thus, this necessitates consensus by both on which of those interests are least in conflict and the particular action that will attain realization of the respective harmonious interests.
If consensus failed, or perhaps even antagonism developed between these participants, then mutual self-interest would dissolve. As this was the reason for the formation of civil society, then as a result it would itself commence disintegration. Ergo, consensus is the operative principle of civil society.
Ideally, government would operate likewise. However, except for the occasional imposition of super-majorities, history and experience demonstrate that legislative and judicial decision-making operate upon the majority principle.2 For how else could it? While unanimity might be ideal, except in a exceedingly-small body of members — an option possible only for a equivalently-small body politic (though this factor might well be deemed to constitute evidence of the superior benefits of a smaller, rather than a larger, community) — requiring unanimity would paralyze the operations of such a council, as it would provide each member a veto on any action by the balance of the members.
Thus, to avoid this prospect and to enable the law-making or law-adjudicating body to perform whatever functions are legitimately within its purview — the performance of this function being the reason for its creation and, thus, also the very justification for its continued existence — they traditionally and generally operate upon a majority rule principle. Such a principle, though, necessarily excludes, at least in part, the interests or preferences of a portion, and sometimes a substantial portion, of its body politic.
For expedience, as well as the means to implement policies that benefit the interests and preferences of the larger portion of its body politic, such a principle is generally the better operative principle. Nevertheless, it further belies the claim that Government is Us.
1 These persons may be either internal to – as a result of, in a geographically-extensive community, being substantially removed from the respective members – or external from, the body politic.
2 Philosophically, it is possible to categorize only the executive functions as the government, whereas the legislative functions are the expression of the sovereign body politic and the judicial functions the exercise of immutable logic operating on eternal truths and positive law. Employing such a categorization should enable more comprehensive and incisive analysis of the within issues. However, a full exploration would unduly expand this discussion and is best deferred for separate consideration.
WAYNE A. SMITH
Forester Twp, Michigan USA
15 April 2017