Jump to content
Objectivism Online Forum

What is the proper way to establish a government?

Rate this topic


Recommended Posts

As far as I know Rand never addressed the proper way to establish a government. She discusses the nature of government, but not how it would be formed. She does approvingly quote the Declaration of Independence saying that “governments derive their ... powers from the consent of the governed” This seems to imply that some form of democracy is needed. The problem I see with democracy is that if the voters do not think and vote rationally then the government will not be rational either.

Would it be morally acceptable for a minority of the people to seize power by force and establish a government that worked according to objectivist principles? The majority might not support such a government, but since it would protect the rights of everyone it would seem to be a legitimate government.

An imperfect but somewhat useful example is Turkey, where the military has stepped in to prevent religious parties from winning office and establishing a theocracy, even though that might be what the majority of voters want. In that case the value of democracy is outweighed by the desire to avoid a theocracy that would violate rights. (Note that I am not endorsing Turkish govt policy in general.)

Link to post
Share on other sites

All quotes from Godless Capitalist:

"The problem I see with democracy is that if the voters do not think and vote rationally then the government will not be rational either."

I agree with this. The fundamental problem in applying Rand's objectivist government is the fact at present, most people are not rational and therefore cannot be relied upon to vote rationally. Look at modern day political parties for confirmation of irrationality in politics.

"Would it be morally acceptable for a minority of the people to seize power by force and establish a government that worked according to objectivist principles?"

I don't believe initiatory force as a means justifies any end. An argument could be made that the 'Government' initiated force against its citizens long ago, and the use of force was retalitory. Though, I admit, I haven't given this avenue much thought.

"The majority might not support such a government, but since it would protect the rights of everyone it would seem to be a legitimate government. "

It would be an illegitimate government even though it wouldn't be supported by the majority, the only reason for its illegitimacy being initiatory force was used. The problem is the implementation of this government without the use of force. Before we can reach this position, we have to have a majority or rational individuals in government, these individuals must maintain some form of advantage (e.g.- superior technology) and then use this advantage only in defense of the current government against the waves of unwashed masses that are the irrationalists. We must have the power first, and barring initiatory force, its achieved at the ballot box. We must educate people first. To answer your question education is the answer not force.

"An imperfect but somewhat useful example is Turkey, where the military has stepped in to prevent religious parties from winning office and establishing a theocracy, even though that might be what the majority of voters want. In that case the value of democracy is outweighed by the desire to avoid a theocracy that would violate rights."

This is just a stop-gap measure. Without education of the Turkish citizens this is a losing proposition in the long term.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I don't believe initiatory force as a means justifies any end.  An argument could be made that the 'Government' initiated force against its citizens long ago, and the use of force was retalitory.  Though, I admit, I haven't given this avenue much thought.

Thanks, DAC.

I think that ovethrowing a gov't that violates rights would be considered a retaliatory rather than initiative use of force.

I agree with you that as a practical matter you cannot impose an unwanted system by force, at least not without violating rights. Objectivists will have to work through the ballot box and wait until they are a majority before they can take over.

A related question is how to determine whether a particular government is correct or not. Rand describes what a proper government's characteristics should be, but who decides whether a particular government meets those criteria or not? Each individual can form their own judgment, but there is no ultimate authority to say who is right, not even a vote (for reasons already discussed). If the vast majority of people are rational then this will not be a big problem, but I am thinking more of a transitional situation where many people are not very rational.

Link to post
Share on other sites
...but who decides whether a particular government meets those criteria or not? Each individual can form their own judgment, but there is no ultimate authority to say who is right, not even a vote (for reasons already discussed).
An individuals reason can fail to serve him for several reasons, some of which are completely innocent, with no evasion intended. You are right in the assertion that there appears to be no perfect solution. I agree with this. I think the best solution is the ballot box, as imperfect as it is when people act irrationally. What are the alternatives to the ballot box though... it is surely better than those.

A related question is how to determine whether a particular government is correct or not. Rand describes what a proper government's characteristics should be, but who decides whether a particular government meets those criteria or not?

In a free society the citizens would determine the proper government by vote. Does this mean that the majority vote can be irrationally motivated, yes it does. Each man can operate only within the sphere of his knowledge and experiences, what is unknown to him, is not a discredit to his rationality. Each individual is at a different 'stage of development'. These are facts that cannot be ignored. If we concede that Rand's form of government is the most rational, then the individuals each exercising their capacity to reason would determine if the government before them was true to these principles and cast their vote accordingly. If the majority were rational the result would be favorable. If not... We have our current American system.

but I am thinking more of a transitional situation where many people are not very rational.

This is precisely the position America is in currently. My one and only problem with Objectivism is the fact that it proposes a noble goal but then shows few means to practically acheive it on a grand scale. The greatest battles will be fought now, in the transition state. As long as people choose to act irrationally, nothing rational will convince them. I believe in resistance against the irrational (read my post in the taxes thread for clarification) is imperative. But it must be done wisely. As Rand says do not throw oneself in front of the Juggernaught to stop it, rational men are rare. To answer you question... I think the means to acheiving Objectivist ends globally are to Educate and Vote. This may take several cycles as the gains are usually small. But I believe America is heading in the correct direction.

Link to post
Share on other sites

The Founding of America was pretty close to what I think is the proper way to establish a government: A sufficiently large group of rational people should get together within some territory, assert their sovereignty over the territory, and agree on how to protect each other's rights--in other words, accept a constitution.

The government will be really legitimate if its constitution is accepted by each and every one of the citizens. Obviously, the larger the number citizens-to-be, the more difficult it will be to reach unanimous agreement; but it is possible for many smaller communities with different constitutions to be formed in adjacent territories, which communities can then in turn agree with each other to mutually defend each other. This is in fact how the United States has been formed: Power is delegated from the bottom up, in diminishing doses, as opposed to the European model of all power being assumed by some central authority and delegated from the top down--also in diminishing doses.

However, any community's government will only be as rational as the people comprising the community are. This factor comes into play as the citizenry is replaced by newer generations and through immigration and emigration. In order to stay rational, the community will have to make sure to admit only rational immigrants; further, it must not automatically grant citizenship to all children of the people who are already citizens, but only those of them who explicitly agree to be bound by the terms of the community's constitution. Basically, the children should be given a choice upon growing up: "You can live here in freedom and prosperity, but you have to accept that we're a capitalist nation, with no 'social justice' or 'collective rights' etc. If you don't like it here, you should go and live elsewhere."

This, I believe, is one of the most important lessons to be learned from the history of the United States.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks, CF. I see your point about irrational children, but what exactly would you do with them? What if no other country wanted them? Perhaps they should not be given the right to vote, but of course they could sign the agreement, get the vote, and then misuse it.

I think ultimately the only solution is continual education so that a majority of rational citizens is maintained.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I agree with Capitalism Forever, the establishment of the U.S. Constitution was the closest to the ideal method of establishing a new form of government:

1. Call a convention of delegates to draft a constitution

2. Submit the finished constitution to state/provincial/local conventions for ratification.

3. If the constitution is ratified, effect it on the appointed date.

Of course, the necessary condition for the preceeding steps to be successfully and peacefully carried out is that the government must not consider such a convention as treasonous and repress it or convict its members as traitors. Otherwise, the only other recourse for the establishment of a new government is a total bloody revolution.

Link to post
Share on other sites
The Founding of America was pretty close to what I think is the proper way to establish a government: A sufficiently large group of rational people should get together within some territory, assert their sovereignty over the territory, and agree on how to protect each other's rights--in other words, accept a constitution.

The government will be really legitimate if its constitution is accepted by each and every one of the citizens.

Are you saying that a government is illegitimate if a minority disagree with it? I doubt that's what you meant, but your statement seems to imply that.

Part of what puzzles me is that we are all saying that a legitimate govt must be established by citizen consent, ie some form of democracy, yet we are also saying that majority opinion in and of itself cannot tell you what is right. So a valid govt must seemingly be established by an invalid method. The validity of the system ultimately rests only on the individual rational judgments of the citizens. Correct?

CF's post gives me an idea that could be called a "corporate country" A group of rational people would acquire a chunk of land somewhere and declare it a country. (getting previously unclaimed land is a problem of course, but let's leave that aside for now) They would establish a constitution and allow in other people only if they agreed to abide by that constitution. Violators would be imprisoned or expelled. Here is the twist: the country would be essentially a constitutional dictatorship. There would be no voting; all power would reside with the original founders or those appointed by them. Anyone who did not like the constitution or the rulers' decisions would be free to leave, but would have no means of changing the constitution or the rulers.

Link to post
Share on other sites
I see your point about irrational children, but what exactly would you do with them? What if no other country wanted them?

I'm not very worried about that being the case. I'm sure the bleeding-hearts in the European Union or somewhere like that will be eager to grant asylum to these "refugees from capitalist exploitation."

But of course, they could be allowed to stay in the country as non-citizens if they pass some more basic test of eligibility. They would not be allowed to vote or serve on juries etc., but they could still live there as long as they respect people's rights.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Are you saying that a government is illegitimate if a minority disagree with it?

All the founders would have to accept the constitution, and the constitution could only be amended with the unanimous consent of all citizens. Essentially, the government would be established as a contract signed by many parties.

Of course, such an arrangement will only work in the long term if the citizens agree to disagree on some issues; that is, if the consitution allows for laws to be passed with less than unanimous consent of the citizens. However, the constitution should clearly limit the kinds of laws that can be passed, and it should be made clear that no law that violates any individual's rights to life, property, liberty, and pursuit of happiness may be passed.

Another way to allow citizens to disagree on some issues is, as I mentioned yesterday, to have many small communities with different constitutions. A group of people wants to put a ban on drugs into the constitution, but other people don't? Fine, they can set up their own community where drugs are banned, while other people who don't want drugs banned would join another community where they are legal.

However, the several communities so formed would recognize that they will be better able to defend themselves from the attacks of terrorists, communists, and similar miscreants if they unite their military efforts; thus, the soldiers of DrugFreeLand and Opium County would march together in defense of the Commonwealth of Capitalism when it's attacked by the Empire of Duty.

Link to post
Share on other sites
CF's post gives me an idea that could be called a "corporate country" A group of rational people would acquire a chunk of land somewhere and declare it a country. (getting previously unclaimed land is a problem of course, but let's leave that aside for now)

It doesn't have to be previously unclaimed; it can be bought from the previous owners.

They would establish a constitution and allow in other people only if they agreed to abide by that constitution. Violators would be imprisoned or expelled. Here is the twist: the country would be essentially a constitutional dictatorship. There would be no voting; all power would reside with the original founders or those appointed by them. Anyone who did not like the constitution or the rulers' decisions would be free to leave, but would have no means of changing the constitution or the rulers.

This is actually pretty much what I described myself, except that I referred to the "rulers" as "citizens." :) Note that if the rulers are to make any decisions, there has to be a way of making decisions in spite of disagreements between the rulers--i.e., voting.

Link to post
Share on other sites
It doesn't have to be previously unclaimed; it can be bought from the previous owners.

But if you just buy land you still have to follow the laws of the country the land is in. You can't just buy a chunk of land, declare independence, say in your constitution that there will be no drug laws, and start growing pot. The FBI will arrest you in no time. You would have to somehow convice a country to sell part of its territory and allow it to succede from the country.

The difference between my idea and yours is that I think the ruling group would have to be very small and well known to each other. In your system people could sign the agreement, but then turn around and vote to reduce freedom anyway.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest MichaelM

DAC complains that Objectivism "proposes a noble goal but then shows few means to practically acheive it on a grand scale." This is not true. Rand laid out in great detail exactly how to achieve a government consistent with the philosophy's principles. It goes like this:

1. Teach the children, and convert the intellectuals. 2. Enjoy your life.

After that, Capitalism Forever is concerned about how to keep the population rational.

The idea of giving the vote only to those who test positive for a rational understanding of the principles is golden. But the government could not otherwise influence the quality of the population, because it would have nothing to say about who does or does not come into, live in, or leave the country (initiators of force excepted, of course).

Burn into your brain the fact that in a free country, there is no such thing as "public property." No one or thing moves into, through, or out of the country except under the terms of private contractual agreements. Since such movement in and of itself is nonviolent, the government may not regulate it. Its sole job is to guarantee that those contractual terms will not be violated.

Link to post
Share on other sites

I was considering a small part of the previous posts and thought of Benjamin Franklin's response when asked what sort of government they were forming - he said something along the lines of: "A republic if you can keep it" (I don't know the exact quote - sorry).

A democracy is not the way to go unless the people cannot vote to remove anyone's individual rights (the republic). So, if you are going to redefine America without some of it's inherent problems the first step would be to narrowly define what can and cannot be voted on by the public in general.

If certain provisions of the constitution were not up for debate or vote but were ultimately pro-individual - that could possibly solve a lot of the issues we are faced with by non-educated people having the right to vote.

I hate listening to the current trend of democratizing the entire world - what good is that going to do when all of their philosophies are so inherently evil? Whenever I am arguing that point with people (because they stupidly accept that America is so great because it is a Democracy) I tell them that if 51% of the population decided to vote to commit mass suicide it would be considered morally alright because it was a majority decision - usually people just get mad and storm off, but I think that they get the gist.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ashley,

I agree with you, except that I would probably use a different counterexample to the greatness of democracy than the mass suicide one. It's a great example symbolically, of course, and I get the point. But if taken literally t brings in the confusion of whether suicide is something the government can legitimately legislate--in other words, if 51% of people wanted to commit suicide, they could go right ahead as far as I'm concerned; it's their life and they certainly don't have a duty to me to keep living it. Okay, that's a side issue, I know... :unsure:

Link to post
Share on other sites
I was considering a small part of the previous posts and thought of Benjamin Franklin's response when asked what sort of government they were forming - he said something along the lines of: "A republic if you can keep it" (I don't know the exact quote - sorry).

A democracy is not the way to go unless the people cannot vote to remove anyone's individual rights (the republic). So, if you are going to redefine America without some of it's inherent problems the first step would be to narrowly define what can and cannot be voted on by the public in general.

If certain provisions of the constitution were not up for debate or vote but were ultimately pro-individual - that could possibly solve a lot of the issues we are faced with by non-educated people having the right to vote.

I hate listening to the current trend of democratizing the entire world - what good is that going to do when all of their philosophies are so inherently evil? Whenever I am arguing that point with people (because they stupidly accept that America is so great because it is a Democracy) I tell them that if 51% of the population decided to vote to commit mass suicide it would be considered morally alright because it was a majority decision - usually people just get mad and storm off, but I think that they get the gist.

The only power the public has respecting the government is the power to elect public officials. It is not necessary to limit their power to vote on whatever issue because they never had such a power in the first place. Only Congress and the state legislatures have the power to determine by majority rule what law shall be passed as binding to the whole. Therefore, in order to secure the individual's rights, it is not the democratic power of the public that must be limited (since no such power exists), but the powers of all the legislatures state and national. This can be done most effectively and efficiently with a constitution in which all such powers are enumerated and in which all powers not enumerated are strictly prohibited.

It doesn't matter if 51% of the public votes to commit suicide. They don't need to vote to do that anyways. No popular vote is necessary to permit an individual to act provided that he not violate any other individual's right in the process.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest Godless Capitalist

So, Tom, if I understand you the Constitution should not have had a provision to allow for amendments? The problem with that of course is that then the Constitution must be absolutely perfect to begin with.

Also, there is the problem of the Supreme Court, which ultimately decides the constitutionality of laws. If they choose to make rulings based on illogical "interpretations" of the Constitution, what would be done about it?

I think in the end the only solution is constant education (or some sort of all-powerful rational robot to run the govt, which of course does not exist)

Link to post
Share on other sites
So, Tom, if I understand you the Constitution should not have had a provision to allow for amendments? The problem with that of course is that then the Constitution must be absolutely perfect to begin with.

Also, there is the problem of the Supreme Court, which ultimately decides the constitutionality of laws. If they choose to make rulings based on illogical "interpretations" of the Constitution, what would be done about it?

I think in the end the only solution is constant education (or some sort of all-powerful rational robot to run the govt, which of course does not exist)

I stated that "This can be done most effectively and efficiently with a constitution in which all such powers are enumerated and in which all powers not enumerated are strictly prohibited." I never said that amendments should not be made. From which clause(s) in my previous post did you construe that?

Link to post
Share on other sites

Tom, I construed that from the clause you quoted, although perhaps I read too much into it.

If amendments are allowed, as with our present Constitution, then the Constitution can be changed by a democratic process (a very indirect one, but democratic nonetheless). Thus the integrity of the system still rests on the rationality of the majority of voters. I don't really see any way around this.

Link to post
Share on other sites
If amendments are allowed, as with our present Constitution, then the Constitution can be changed by a democratic process (a very indirect one, but democratic nonetheless). Thus the integrity of the system still rests on the rationality of the majority of voters. I don't really see any way around this.

Of course the integrity of the government ultimately rests on the rationality of the majority of the voters--as any system of self-government must. There is no other way but the democratic means of checking the power of the government. That's why there is a system of checks and balances to ensure that a majority of the public does not immediately usurp power and establish tyranny. And that's why the amendment process was made very difficult--(at least 3/4 of the States must ratify the proposed amendment).

Link to post
Share on other sites
You would have to somehow convice a country to sell part of its territory and allow it to succede from the country.

Yes, that's right--so you probably couldn't do it in the United States, but it might be possible in some third-world country whose government is desperate for a little money. Or perhaps when the English-speaking parts of Canada secede from Quebec and there is a temporary vacuum in authority.

The Falkland Islands could be another opportunity--if the UK had had a Prime Minister who cared less about principles and more about "world opinion" at the time of Galtieri's invasion, the Falklands might very well have become "independent" from Britain. The idea is to find an area that will be easily given up by its current government.

Israel, Texas, and the thirteen colonies that founded the United States are examples of territories that have become independent in spite of a tyrannical organization's claim on them. Here, independence involved (or still involves) a good deal of forceful self-defense. This is a less pleasant way of attaining freedom than just buying some land no government cares too much about--but it's still very much worth it!

The difference between my idea and yours is that I think the ruling group would have to be very small and well known to each other. In your system people could sign the agreement, but then turn around and vote to reduce freedom anyway.

The constitution would not allow voting to reduce freedom. Laws could only be passed on subjects enumerated in the constitution, and the number and length of laws would be limited by the constitution. ("The total number of laws in force at any time shall not exceed 40. Each law shall be written in full English sentences, without using abbreviations, and shall fit on at most three pages, where a page is defined as...") The consent of a high proportion of the citizens (3/4 or more) would be required to pass each law. The constitution could only be amended by unanimous consent of all citizens.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Burn into your brain the fact that in a free country, there is no such thing as "public property." No one or thing moves into, through, or out of the country except under the terms of private contractual agreements.

My kind of constitution would be a private contractual agreement.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Yes, that's right--so you probably couldn't do it in the United States, but it might be possible in some third-world country whose government is desperate for a little money. Or perhaps when the English-speaking parts of Canada secede from Quebec and there is a temporary vacuum in authority.

The Falkland Islands could be another opportunity--if the UK had had a Prime Minister who cared less about principles and more about "world opinion" at the time of Galtieri's invasion, the Falklands might very well have become "independent" from Britain. The idea is to find an area that will be easily given up by its current government.

The constitution could only be amended by unanimous consent of all citizens.

Buying part of a 3rd-world country might be the best bet.

Believe me, the Canadian govt would squash any attempt to grab land just as vigorously as the US govt would. There are, however, huge areas of wilderness in northern Canada where you could set up a small town and nobody would know or care what you were doing.

I'm not sure how the Falkland Islands could have become independent. If the UK have not responded they would have become part of Argentina.

If you require unanimous consent to amend the Constitution then you either have to have a very small country or there will never be any amendments. Even "elections" in the USSR and Iraq only got 99% in favor of Stalin and Saddam.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Believe me, the Canadian govt would squash any attempt to grab land just as vigorously as the US govt would.

Nobody's grabbing any land, we're just asserting our sovereignty over land we own. Just to set the record straight! :)

I'm not sure how the Falkland Islands could have become independent. If the UK have not responded they would have become part of Argentina.
My point was that if there had been another Prime Minister, they would likely have become part of Argentina, because 1) it isn't considered politically correct for an English-speaking nation to forcibly defend its "colonial" territory from invasion by a "developing" nation; 2) they're a small, faraway group of islands that most British voters had hardly heard about before the invasion. An unprincipled, poll-oriented PM would not have bothered defending them. I mentioned them as an example for a territory under a government that doesn't care much about them.

If you require unanimous consent to amend the Constitution then you either have to have a very small country or there will never be any amendments.

Exactly. But, as I've been arguing all the time, those very small communities could form defensive alliances, confederations, or unions, agreeing only on those things they can agree on--which will obviously be fewer in number than the stipulations in the constitution of each sub-community. This is what I mean by delegating power from the bottom up in ever-diminishing doses. I don't think that's a bad thing; certainly, it beats the alternative of forcing anyone to live under a government they don't consent to.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest MichaelM

Capitalism Forever, the Constitution of a free country is not the same thing as a private contract made under its protection.

In this instance for instance, your Constitution may not regulate travel or immigration, while private contracts may. Your Constitution may not mandate any behavior whatsoever. It may only *prohibit* behavior, and only one kind -- initiation of force. A private contract may mandate any form of behavior that does not include the initiation of force.

The point that there will be no public property in a free country was squarely aimed at the practice of discussing how a government should do this or that while couched entirely in the context of contemporary politics. Such discussions are only marginally productive.

Any answer to the question "how should a government do ___, or be___ , or solve___" should be answered in the context of a government that *is* free. It is impossible to identify what a proper government policy should be on immigration, animal rights, air pollution, endangered species, capital punishment and so on without considering certain inherent characteristics of a free country.

When the government owns no land, sea or air, and is prohibited from prosecuting victimless "crimes", every one of the aforementioned topics requires a very different string of ideas to define it. The greatest difference is that vast segments of what is now regulated by government would pass to the control of private individuals. Economic and social discrimination would become primary regulatory forces.

Therefore, we should name the context of our political debates before we start. Are we talking about how we should struggle to replace a greater evil with a lesser evil today within the context of our present government(s)? Or are we trying to identify what is right? The more we know in the latter context, the less we will need to speculate about the former.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...