Some men seem to want to be rulers. How to keep them in check?
German sociologist [url=http://cepa.newschool.edu/het/profiles/weber.htm]Max Weber[/url] wrote that there are three basic ways a ruler legitimizes himself:
1. By heredity
2. By a contest
3. By charisma
Sometimes a ruler will cement his power by two, or even three, of these means.
Jefferson and Franklin wrote in the United States Declaration of Independence in 1776,
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,--That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
Government has to do something, otherwise, why isn't anarchy any better?
Anarchy is a system favored by the rich and strong, but even then, a government begins to form.
Take medieval kings/barons/war lords/princes and other satraps. At first they were not much more than brigands riding around extorting food and other things from the local farmers. Then two things happened, sometimes together, sometimes one after the other.
One was, rather than have the war lord (I'll use this title for the satraps) attack to take crops, the farmers (and others) said they would pay "tribute" to the war lord and dispense with the annual burning and looting and this turned out to be rather efficient.
The other was, if another war lord showed up and also demanded tribute, the farmers would say "I gave at the office." No. Actually, the first war lord would have to run off the second war lord.
We saw this in the gangsters on the 1920's and 1930's in the United States when the merchants had to pay "protection money," or the gangsters would bust up the merchant's shop. But part of protection was that if another gang muscled in, the crime boss in the area had to run off the new gangsters, otherwise, he'd be the one who was run off or rubbed out. Hence, "protection" was protection against other "war lords" or "crime lords."
Then the war lord got sucked into handling local disputes. Not just other war lords, but locals got into some nasty stuff and this had to be handled by someone with "the muscle." There were crimes, sometime capital crimes, and the war lord could exact money - literally "blood money" - and soon the war lord was performing justice and convening elders who recalled the local (village level) traditional "laws," fines, and customs, and even swear to the character of the people before the bench and, in effect, the "jury" came into being.
Soon justice was being handled by representatives who arrested criminals, as Sergeant Preston said, "I arrest you in the name of the Crown." No longer a brigand, the war lord was keeping order, running courts, collecting taxes to pay for all this administration, and soon government evolved out of all this.
But one great war lord could have an idiot son or another war lord might want in and so succession became part of the deal. Weber's "three ways power was legitimized" came more into play as succession and continuity became more important to commerce and peace and emotionally stabilizing to the people being ruled.
Elsewhere, we discussed the Constitution of 1789. In the American system, at least in theory, government has NO power except powers given by the people who are given power from God. The loyalty sworn by citizens and soldiers is not to the Commander-in-chief or even to the government of the United States, but rather to the Constitution. A strange oath, yet one that appeals.
What is this Constitution? It is the talisman we have chosen. It is a Rorschach Test of what we see ourselves to be.
When rich and powerful men, like war lords, want to rule, they want to keep government down as it gives them freedom.
When people want to curb excesses, they want more government.
Sometime despots and dictators set up totalitarian regimes and people think of this as "big government," but it's not. Sometimes, as in the Soviet Union, it is state capitalism.
More to the point. What is the government charged to do? Do the citizens want it to do nothing? As the farmers of old who paid their tribute, did they want something in return? Perhaps a war lord might say, "the war lord that governs best, governs least," so "I'll take the money and run." Yet, what of all the taxes? What legitimizes the war lord's rule? Who needs him, anyway?
It gets back to the Rorschach Test and the Constitution really is vague on most things. It allowed slavery. It prohibited alcohol. It allowed states to deny women the vote. It allowed a poll tax. It allowed state legislatures to select senators (since Senators represented states, after all), and it set up an Electoral College where a man who did not win the popular vote could be President. It forbade income taxes. And, it could all be brought back, too. Just like the amendment prohibiting the consumption of alcohol, any amendment can be reversed if there are enough people who want it changed.
Thus, to speak of obligations by citing the document of 1789 and its amendments really does not get us to a substantive discussion on what citizens want from a government. Two people can want a very different governments, and yet they use the same Constitution as their common reference point.
Law and juries evolved away from a system of trial-by-combat and trial-by-ordeal when the carnage in settling matters was quite high. Law and governments have evolved since they serve to reduce violence and civilize forms of punishment and make trails less a matter of brute force.
So, then,what is the obligation a government has? To merely settle disputes and fight other war lords? Some of the "strict constructionists" believe that that is all the government should do. The welfare of the people is not even on the radar.
I don't know for sure, but it has to be more than lining the pockets of the "lords of the manor." History teaches us with unmistakable emphasis, that when governments serve only a narrow class, the people rise up and take it away. Will Durant's books spoke to this.
The rules of ALL governments should take note and while they might ride high for a while, they always end up in the dust bin of history. Always.