Government. Perhaps no other word in the English language carries with it such feelings of controversy, fear, fury, passion, dread and hope. Though there are amble more words to describe this strange system in which humans organize themselves these are some of the most commonly associated with government. This is especially true in the United States, where two hundred and thirty years after its creation, how much power the government has along with when and where do the powers of the federal government, state government and the people begin and end is still heavily debated. In fact this complicated triple venn diagram of rights has kept political activists, politicians and political scientist busy since the inception of the United States. The most bitterly fought political battles within the United States have been over these rights and powers.
Though this debate predates that of the United States one could reasonably argue that no does it quite so passionately as Americans. History would agree as this argument as the country has torn itself apart in civil war once already and threated to it do it more times than most can count. The Hartford convention and the Nullification crisis are two of the more famous examples. However, if one wishes to understand this debate from an American perspective then it would be best to start with the Federalist and Anti-Federalist debate of the late 18th century. Even today they are still some of the best examples of the big government vs. small government debate. However, this maybe because the debate has failed to move anywhere productive, but that is beside the point. Over the years the argument has latched onto new issues such as slavery and economic rights. Today the battleground is centered around medical and gun rights.
The Federalist and Anti-Federalist of course argued over how much power the Federal Government should have, how much power the states governments would have, and how much power the people ought to retain. Reading through the multiple essays that both produced, one can almost see Rousseau on the Anti-Federalist side and Locke and Hobbes on the Federalist. While this debate centered itself around the idea of liberty and whether it is positive or negative in origin, it ultimately steamed from more basic human emotion. Perhaps the most base of all emotions. Fear.
The irony of this situation verges on hilarity because with the exception of Anarchist and Marxist Communists, everyone accepts the need for some form of government to exist. Yet most people, Americans in particular, fear government almost to the verge of paranoia. The Anti-federalists, and those that have a fear of government do have point though. History does support the argument that government can be oppressive, evil things. As Regan so famously said “Government is not the solution to our problems, Government is the problem,” Granted this is perhaps as less eloquent copy of what Thomas Paine said but the basic message is still the same. However, this view of government is wrong.
This debate plays a distinguished misunderstanding of what government is. Or in fact could be. Government should be viewed much like that of a tool. A tool that is wielded by the people. Much like a tool it can be used to harm or to help the public. However, that fear of what could should not paralyze us from realizing the potential good that government has. The people of modern democratic nations have an unprecedented opportunity to seize government and use it to better society. To give opportunities to those that would not normally have it, to help prevent poverty, to give care to the sick, to provide protection to those who besieged by crime, and to pick up those that have fallen along with the way. In short, it should be used as force for good. Government can be a powerful tool, one that should be used to help society. Not be the bureaucratic nightmare that is today because we are shackled by the fear of government could be.
The idea that we should fear the government is as archaic as the idea that we should fear fire. Like that idea that we need to move and realize the power that government can have should be used to better society. Though the first in America, the Federalist and Anti-Federalist papers are part of a much larger debater over the role of government and how much power they should wield going back well over two thousand years to the ancient Greeks. Like the cavemen with fire, it is high time we learn not to fear government and shy away from it. The people need to understand the good that it can do. Ultimately the people should respect the power that government can have and understand the lessons of the past. But they should not fear it as for the most part the fear is unjustified and living in a modern democratic country, theirs is the hand that has not be burned by the fire of government.