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Paul McKeever

Debate: A Charter for Government

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The following is a work-in-progress. I am not at liberty to say, at this point, the use to which the following document might be put, so I name it, provisionally, “A Charter for Government”.

I am interested in any meaningful comments, criticisms, or suggestions you may have. No matter what may be your personal philosophy, and no matter what might be your personal beliefs, I would like to hear from you. Please submit your comments in the comments section:

http://blog.paulmckeever.ca/2009/01/18/deb...for-government/

Insults and flame-bait will be discarded: please avoid ad hominem attacks toward me or toward other commenters, but do not be afraid to express a judgment that something in the document is true/false, good/evil, virtuous/vicious.

A Charter for Government

- FIRST DRAFT -

Definitions

1. In this Charter:

Reality means: that which exists.

Fact of Reality means: something that is true about Reality.

True belief or claim means: one consistent with the Facts of Reality, as identified by a strictly logical process of thought about that for which there ultimately exists physical evidence that has been perceived by a human being.

Arbitrary belief or claim means: one for which no physical evidence has been perceived by a human being.

False belief or claim means: one that is contrary to the Facts of Reality because it is illogical, or because it is contrary to physical evidence as a determined by a strictly logical process of thought.

Government means: a number of governed individuals who, jointly or severally, have and rationally exercise the authority to make, interpret, and enforce objective laws.

Reality

2. The conclusions, decisions, actions, words, deeds, policies, proposals, laws and regulations of government always must be founded solely upon, and always must be consistent with, True beliefs and claims.

3. Government must never express or imply any False or Arbitrary belief or claim.

4. Government must never expressly or implicitly sanction, and must never cause or allow itself appear to sanction, in any way, any False or Arbitrary belief or claim.

Reason

5. Government must never attempt to discourage or prevent any individual from thinking or acting rationally and must never condemn or punish any individual for thinking or acting rationally.

6. Government must never attempt to persuade or coerce any individual to think or act irrationally, and must never praise or reward any individual for thinking or acting irrationally.

7. Government must never condemn or punish any individual for his rational thoughts, words or deeds.

8. Government must never praise or reward any individual for his irrational thoughts, words or deeds.

Self

9. Government must never attempt to persuade or coerce any individual to make other individuals’ survival, relief, or happiness a higher value or priority than his own survival, relief and happiness.

10. Government must never in any way attempt to condemn or punish any individual for making his own survival, relief and happiness his highest purpose or priority.

11. Government must never attempt to praise or reward any individual for making other individuals’ survival, relief, or happiness a higher purpose or priority than his own survival, relief and happiness.

Consent

LIFE

12. Government must use force to ensure that no individual does anything to another individual’s body without the latter individual’s consent (i.e., that no individual violates another individual’s life).

13. Government must not violate any individual’s life.

14. Government must not use force to penalize in any way an individual’s rational attempt to defend against another individual’s attempt to violate the former individual’s life.

15. Government must, and only government may, use force in a retaliatory manner to ensure justice prevails when an individual has done something to another individual’s body without the latter individual’s consent.

LIBERTY

16. Government must use force to ensure that no individual restricts or directs another individual’s actions without the latter individual’s consent (i.e., that no individual violates another individual’s liberty).

17. Government must not violate any individual’s liberty.

18. Government must not use force to penalize in any way an individual’s rational attempt to defend against another individual’s attempt to violate the former individual’s liberty.

19. Government must, and only government may, use force in a retaliatory manner to ensure justice prevails when an individual has violated another individual’s liberty.

PROPERTY

20. Government must use force to ensure that no person does with a thing that which a property right allows only another person to do with the thing, unless the former person has the latter person’s consent so to do it (i.e., that no person violates another person’s property).

21. Government must not violate any person’s property.

22. Government must not use force to penalize in any way a person’s rational attempt to defend against another person’s attempt to violate the former person’s property.

23. Government must, and only government may, use force in a retaliatory manner to ensure justice prevails when a person has violated another person’s property.

Justice

24. To ensure justice prevails, when a person has violated another person’s life, liberty or property, Government shall impose a negative consequence of no greater or lesser magnitude than that which resulted from the violation.

Law

25. All laws must be objective and objectively justifiable so that individuals know clearly, and in advance of taking an action, what the law requires or forbids persons to do and why; what constitutes a wrong, an offence, or a crime; and how force will be used against a person who commits a wron

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Justice

24. To ensure justice prevails, when a person has violated another person’s life, liberty or property, Government shall impose a negative consequence of no greater or lesser magnitude than that which resulted from the violation.

On first reading, this just jumped out at me.

The phrasing here seems problematic. I gather that your intention is for the consequences to fit the crime, but it reads like a restorative approach to justice. So if a criminal were to steal a fifty cent candy bar the fine could only be fifty cents. This would ultimately not act as a deterrent because the criminal would only get caught a certain percentage of the time. Crime would "pencil out" in a way. I would recommend changing that so it doesn't get redfined a la "General Welfare."

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On first reading, this just jumped out at me.

The phrasing here seems problematic. I gather that your intention is for the consequences to fit the crime, but it reads like a restorative approach to justice. So if a criminal were to steal a fifty cent candy bar the fine could only be fifty cents. This would ultimately not act as a deterrent because the criminal would only get caught a certain percentage of the time. Crime would "pencil out" in a way. I would recommend changing that so it doesn't get redfined a la "General Welfare."

I generally agree with this. It would be my biggest disagreement with it.

I'm sure you as a Lawyer could give us a better explanation of this.

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Please submit your comments in the comments section:
Instead, I'll post my comments here for our use and discussion, and you can take them into consideration. Some points for contemplation...
Government means: a number of governed individuals who, jointly or severally, have and rationally exercise the authority to make, interpret, and enforce objective laws.
That's not correct -- what you have defined is "a governed society", not "a government". A government is the institution established by these individuals for that purpose -- it's not the set of individuals being governed. So we're zipping along fine (albeit a bit abstractly) up to this point:
12. Government must use force to ensure that no individual does anything to another individual’s body without the latter individual’s consent (i.e., that no individual violates another individual’s life).

13. Government must not violate any individual’s life.

Being a rigid literalist and legalist, I wonder what it means to violates another individual’s life. Here is a possible counterexample to your claim: I have the right to use force against an individual without their consent, if they have attacked me. I strongly argue that it's a mistake to redefine "consent" so that the act of initiating force is in fact an act of consenting to self-defensive force. Clause 12 should distinguish the initiation of force from self-defensive and retaliatory uses of force. Clause 13 can be understood as contradicting clause 12, since 12 requires the use of force and 13 forbids it. BTW by stating 12 in terms of initiation of force, you also include a prohibition against threats, whereas as stated, the "do anything to another individual’s body" phrasing does not generalize to threats. I recognize that clause 14 attempts to separately cover self-defense, and I'm urging revision of clauses 12-13 so that they are consistent with the other clauses.
14. Government must not use force to penalize in any way an individual’s rational attempt to defend against another individual’s attempt to violate the former individual’s life.
A small quibble here: that means that I cannot rightly defend another person, which is surely the wrong conclusion.
15. Government must, and only government may, use force in a retaliatory manner to ensure justice prevails...
Let me point out that you defined reality (which initially seemed a bit out there, I mean what controversy can there be, but it's not a bad idea to be explicit), but you didn't define justice. Do you mean "social justice"? (Of course not, but leaving this really important concept up in the air in any way can have devastating consequences later on).
16. Government must use force to ensure that no individual restricts or directs another individual’s actions without the latter individual’s consent (i.e., that no individual violates another individual’s liberty).
I think this has to go, or at least be massively elaborated. My property rights define things that I may do; you may have an interest that intersects with my property, and I can rightfully restrict your actions w.r.t. my property. I do not want a constitutional clause saying that I can't thwart a person's interest in my property without their permission. Your proper liberty stops at my property line: that's what is missing from this clause. I do see clause 20: again, I'm looking for total integration. My suggestion is that matters of property must be defined first and that questions about liberty follow from that -- and are stated in terms of property.

WRT the section on justice, there needs to be a bit more development of non-punitive aspects of justice I'm specifically speaking of civil matters (torts and contracts), where properly understood a judgment does not impose a penalty, but states what the objectively just state of affairs should be. The court will determine that in order to avoid a violation of plaintiff's rights, respondent must perform in such-and-such fashion.

I also happen to agree with aequalsa about the problem of restorative-only views of consequences, though I understand that this is not a given among Objectivists. Crime should not be profitable, and it could easily be if the most you are subject to is the requirement to return the stolen property. If you get arrested and convicted 50% of the time, it's still a profitable enterprise. This is where some elaboration of "justice" could help.

Anyhow, it's an admirable work.

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On first reading, this just jumped out at me.

The phrasing here seems problematic. I gather that your intention is for the consequences to fit the crime, but it reads like a restorative approach to justice. So if a criminal were to steal a fifty cent candy bar the fine could only be fifty cents. This would ultimately not act as a deterrent because the criminal would only get caught a certain percentage of the time. Crime would "pencil out" in a way. I would recommend changing that so it doesn't get redfined a la "General Welfare."

Ah yes. Well, I had given that some thought. It's a bit tricky, because - at least in Canada, but probably in all common law jurisdictions - theft is both a civil and a criminal wrong. At common law, it's referred to as a "conversion", and the remedy is chiefly compensatory (i.e., pay the 50 cents for the candy bar), though, in exceptional cases, the wrong-doer may be required to pay the victim damages for mental distress or to pay him punitive/exemplary damages (i.e., money paid to punish the wrongdoer and make an example out of him...this usually requires more than just theft, and will normally require something such as malice).

Yet the very same act is also criminal and the punishment there may well be different. For example: the government could impose a fine, or imprisonment. I do not believe that that implies that the eye-for-an-eye principle is violated. Rather, the criminal law is taking into account the cost to everyone in society, rather than just to the chocolate bar vendor in question (which is why, as a matter of criminal law, the chocolate bar vender is not a party, but simply a witness...the head of state is a party, and it is suing the alleged criminal under criminal laws).

As you might imagine, given the above, it would be easy to get very bogged-down in defining justice within this Charter. I went the 'broad strokes' route, but there may be a better wording that remedies your concern. Having spent the last 3 or 4 hours shoveling snow, that wording eludes me at the moment.

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Hi David:

Thanks for giving this so much thought.

Re: the Definition given for "Government", David writes:

That's not correct -- what you have defined is "a governed society", not "a government". A government is the institution established by these individuals for that purpose -- it's not the set of individuals being governed.

Hmmm. That was not my intent. Perhaps the phrase "governed individuals" confuses? I used the adjective "governed" to make it clear that no individual is "above the law", as it were.

...Here is a possible counterexample to your claim: I have the right to use force against an individual without their consent, if they have attacked me...Clause 12 should distinguish the initiation of force from self-defensive and retaliatory uses of force.

That's a very good point. I don' t have a quick solution just yet, but I will certainly give it some thought.

I will also have to think back to why I avoided using the "initiation" wording. It is probably due to the fact that my experience with it is that, too often, the underlying principles are ignored in its interpretation, such that the "initiation" wording leads some people to think all that matters is "he started it"...which is insufficient to accommodate such things as pre-emptive strikes where there is evidence that an attack will otherwise occur.

BTW by stating 12 in terms of initiation of force, you also include a prohibition against threats, whereas as stated, the "do anything to another individual’s body" phrasing does not generalize to threats.

Another excellent point. Thank-you. I most certainly will have to address threats.

Re: Clause 14, David writes:

A small quibble here: that means that I cannot rightly defend another person, which is surely the wrong conclusion.

I agree with you: I do not think it right that you cannot defend another person. Perhaps "...another individual’s attempt to violate the former individual’s life, or the life of any third individual"?

Re: Clause 15, David writes:

Let me point out that you defined reality (which initially seemed a bit out there, I mean what controversy can there be, but it's not a bad idea to be explicit), but you didn't define justice. Do you mean "social justice"? (Of course not, but leaving this really important concept up in the air in any way can have devastating consequences later on).

Re: Clause 16, David writes:

I think this has to go, or at least be massively elaborated. My property rights define things that I may do; you may have an interest that intersects with my property, and I can rightfully restrict your actions w.r.t. my property. I do not want a constitutional clause saying that I can't thwart a person's interest in my property without their permission. Your proper liberty stops at my property line: that's what is missing from this clause. I do see clause 20: again, I'm looking for total integration. My suggestion is that matters of property must be defined first and that questions about liberty follow from that -- and are stated in terms of property.

David: I must thank you some more. Your comment - with which I agree - reminded me of that nightmare of a song "Sign, sign, everywhere a sign".

I'll have another look at the justice section, in light of your comments concerning it. Thanks.

Edited by Paul McKeever

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