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Nature of Man and His Relationship with Government

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As a Conservative (capital letter used to to attempt to denote difference between false association of fiscal conservative from traitorous neoconservatives,) I have a belief which you may or may not agree with. I'll get into it if anyone responds.

As Alexander Hamilton once "If men were angels, they would need no government." Here, Hamilton was expressing the need for a central, strong government with powers to curtail the passions of the People. He was one of the most ardent advocates of amending the Articles of Confederation and transforming the states from a loose confederation into a federal body checked by a Constitution. As one of the most radical proponents of federalism, Hamilton's message was opposed by those like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry (Republicans), who favored the confederational approach, and who, with the memory of English rule still in their minds, were wary of any tendencies centralizing authority. Ultimately, my historical hero, James Madison, and of course, George Washington, were able to gather enough delagates to discuss these things at the Constitutional Convention. And, ultimately, what came of their deliberations became the foundation for our country's Constitution in 1787.

All of this history is given, not to bore the reader, but to prepare him for a discussion as to the nature of man. Jefferson and Hamiltonm, while both patriots, differed greatly in how the states should be governed. And how a people should be governed is question cannot innitiated without some prior thoughts as to the very nature of man. Therefore, it is not at all a surprise that Jefferson and Hamilton also differed in their understanding of man. Hamilton was so distrustful of 'the unbridled passions of mob rule' that he first proposed the creation of an American monarchy. Meanwhile, on the other side of the aisle, Henry wanted to restrict the powers of the US Government to the controversial Articles of Confederation. As I said, the patriotism of these men cannot be questioned. Hamilton served bravely under Washington in the War for Independence and Henry gave a fiery speech which the moved the hearts of the American colonial to fight independence. Both had a role to play in our fight for independence and each passionately loved the colonies. Yet, at the same time, each man took a radically different position on government. Hamilton, that the People were fickle and could be a danger to their own ordered liberty. While Henry warned that governments were fickle and a possible threat to ordered liberty.

The question, therefore, which I present to you Objectivists, is this: Specifically, would you prefer to live now under the Articles of Confederation as they existed, or do you favor the currently existing the US Constitution? Secondly, what does this say about the Objectivist belief of man and his relationship with government? Keep in mind that one of the major criticisms of the Articles during the 1780s were 1) inability of federal government to tax, 2), no federal authority to formally make treaties, 3) no authority government of coin money--among a host of others.

Now, keep in mind that I'm asking you this, not because I'm a Collectivist or liberal, but because I'm curious how you're philosophy relates to the Federalist and Anti-Federalist (Republican) debate which we Conservatives engage in. Right now, both Conservatives and Right Libertarians are leaning toward a less centralized national government such as that in the Articles, and I suspect you will do the same (even though, admittedly, I know little about your ideology beyond what I've read in Atlas Shrugged. From what I know afer reading that book, you take a very anti-Collectivist approach to government, and are therefore temporary allies in the Conservative cause against Big Government. I'm fascinated to know more about the differences and similarities between my principles and yours. It was very obvious from Atlas Shrugged that Rand was pro-Free Market (possibly even a student of Austrian economist FA Hayek??) But outside that, the clarity of her belief in the proper role of government and the relationship of man to government left much to be desired. Nor do I fault her for this. So far as I can tell, her aim in Atlas Shrugged was crticize the folly of interventionist government policies, and thus her focus on how governments should govern is likely to be found elsewhere. But where to find it? I have no idea. I've head that We The Living is a criticism of Communism (something the Conservative hates with a passion.) But this still doesn't seem to address the proper role of government and practical application. Perhaps non ficiton works might make the concepts less abstract and more black and white?

Edited by James Madison Fanboy
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Good questions. I appreciate your historical knowledge; it's nice to see someone who doesn't think the country was founded in 1968.

I think your question poses a false alternative, from the Objectivist perspective. Objectivists draw a distinction between the function of government and the structure; only the former is dictated by philosophical politics. The function of government is the protection of individual rights. The structure of government is validated by its ability to enable the government to perform that function. If a strong centralized government is best for that, so be it. If a decentralized government is best, that's fine too. Figuring out which structure best serves the proper function is a question for political science, not philosophy, and as such Objectivism doesn't take a fixed position. Rand herself was a strong supporter of the Constitution, but typically in contrast to unlimited government -- I don't know of a place where she explicitly contrasted it to the Articles of Confederation. I suspect she viewed that as a secondary issue -- like us, she lived in a time when people had lost sight of the proper function of government, and without that debates over structure are largely pointless.

Objectivists definitely reject the government's interference with the money supply and consider taxation morally illegitimate, so those two aspects of the Articles are more consistent with the principle of individual rights. But the lack of ability to make treaties, and the seemingly inadequate provisions for military defense make the Articles look structurally flawed in other ways.

Speaking personally, I think the system of checks and balances built into the Constitution by Madison and others is pure genius. Authority should be distributed and balanced because it makes it harder for a small number of men to co-opt the power of government for corrupt ends. That said, though, it is quite possible for a local government in a decentralized system to violate the rights of its citizens locally, and when that happens it is just as wrong as when a centralized government does it. The root issue is always whether rights are being violated. We should not be debating whether government should be centralized or decentralized; we should be debating whether it should be limited or unlimited -- and, if limited, by what and to what?

I'm fascinated to know more about the differences and similarities between my principles and yours. It was very obvious from Atlas Shrugged that Rand was pro-Free Market (possibly even a student of Austrian economist FA Hayek??)

Rand knew of and often recommended the works of Ludwig von Mises, although she had reservations about his neo-Kantian epistemology. She was much less supportive of Hayek. Rand's project goes much deeper than politics. She once described herself as not an advocate of capitalism but of egoism, and not an advocate of egoism but of reason. She argued that if one accepted reason as one's sole means of knowledge and guide to action, with everything that presupposed and required, that egoism and capitalism followed as a matter of course. You can't really understand what Rand was trying to do by focusing on her politics, because the politics are a mere consequence of a much more profound system of thought.

But outside that, the clarity of her belief in the proper role of government and the relationship of man to government left much to be desired. Nor do I fault her for this. So far as I can tell, her aim in Atlas Shrugged was to criticize the folly of interventionist government policies, and thus her focus on how governments should govern is likely to be found elsewhere.

Rand's aim in Atlas Shrugged was to explore the role of the mind in man's existence -- morally, socially, culturally and politically. Far and away the best analysis of the novel is the collection Essays on Ayn Rand's _Atlas Shrugged_ edited by Robert Mayhew.

Perhaps non fiction works might make the concepts less abstract and more black and white?

The two best short sources for the core of Rand's views on politics are her two essays "Man's Rights" and "The Nature of Government". For the core of her ethics, read "The Objectivist Ethics".

If you're interested in concrete applications of Objectivist principles to cultural and political issues there are a number of essay collections: _Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal_, _Return of the Primitive: The Anti-Industrial Revolution_ and _The Voice of Reason: Essays in Objectivist Thought_ provide a decent cross-section. The Ayn Rand Institute has a vast amount of material up on their web site. Oh, and the Ayn Rand Center has a site up called Principles of a Free Society that discusses... well, I'm sure you can figure it out. :)

One final thought -- since you seem to dislike neo-conservatism, I wonder if you're aware of C. Bradley Thompson and Yaron Brook's Neo-Conservatism: An Obituary for an Idea?

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Also, isn't it the case that the quote: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." originated from James Madison in Federalist 51, not Alexander Hamilton?

Edit: I wrote a response too, hopefully it will help.

Anyways, Knaight is right, before you can write an constitution, you must have certain principles on which you are forming the government in the first place. This is what Rand dealt with, not the specific aspect of constitution-writing. Objectivism holds that man is a rational being of volitional consciousness, he has inalienable individual rights, and because man has free will, there will always exist those in society who survive not by reason, production, and creating values, but survive parasitically by expropriating values from others, the robbers, muggers, rapists, power-lusters, etc. This is the nature of man, the human condition, man then has a need for security and protection, therefore every society must figure out a way to deal with these people.

The men of reason in society then must form an agency to protect men from depredations upon their person and property. Because a man's right to life can only be violated by physical force, this agency must be tasked with restraining force-initiators. Because this involves the use of force, this agency must be limited in its actions by absolute objective law, that is, rationally-derived principles regulating the use of force to protect the innocent. Therefore a proper government would be a limited constitutional government consisting of nothing but the police, courts, and armed forces. Only a proper agency can use force, thus the Objectivist rejects anarchy or "no police" "no government" or "private law" "private justice" etc. The proper agency may not initiate force for any reason whatsoever, therefore it would not have the power to tax, seize property, redistribute wealth, or intervene in the society or economy in any way, except to execute criminal justice against force or fraud.

It must gain its revenue only by the voluntary consent of each man. It exists only at the permission of the men in society. The second it oversteps its limits, it is illegitimate, and the men of society may stop funding it, abolish it, and reform a new agency to protect their rights. The government's relationship to man is that of an agent, the man's relationship to the government involves the man who delegates his right of self-defense to this agency to protect him in society.

This, essentially confining the apparatus of coercion to retaliatory and defensive use only, and only according to strict regulations and limitations. This doesn't say “how to write a constitution” but only what writing the constitution must accomplish. This may be something more like the Articles with a Bill of Rights added than the Constitution, but ultimately different from both in that it is fully consistent with rational philosophical principles throughout in order to achieve a fully free society.

However, the Objectivist must generally reject “states rights” at any level, since only individual men have rights and it is just as possible for local governments to violate rights as centralized ones. The proper government must therefore simply have no apparatus for voting in the form of coercive decision-making over the individual man, thus confining governmental action only to a criminal justice system, a system of civil courts to arbitrate property disputes, and a (volunteer) military to defend men from external invasion. Thus, the Objectivist would generally disagree with Alexander Hamilton's philosophy regarding man and the State, but would agree in one regard: Objectivism is opposed to democracy. In fact, there are several aspects of monarchy (private ownership of government) that are superior to democracy (mob rule), but to achieve a proper relationship between man and government, the result would be something more like: "Each individual man is the monarch of his own life and private property." Thus the task of government is nothing more than to protect man's person and property against internal and external assaults and aggressions, i.e. to crack down on those who do not know how to behave and keep their hands to themselves. Other than that, the government itself must be limited in order to keep its own hands off and not to go beyond the physical restraint of rights-violating criminals, i.e. "laissez-faire."

So the quote: "If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary." is a pretty succinct way to sum up the nature of man and his relationship to government.

Highly recommend reading some of those links, such as "Man's Rights" and "The Nature of Government" and also you might enjoy "Textbook of Americanism" written for a conservative/anti-communist publication (see attachment.)

Textbook of Americanism.pdf

Edited by 2046
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...

I know little about your ideology beyond what I've read in Atlas Shrugged. From what I know afer reading that book, you take a very anti-Collectivist approach to government, and are therefore temporary allies in the Conservative cause against Big Government. I'm fascinated to know more about the differences and similarities between my principles and yours. It was very obvious from Atlas Shrugged that Rand was pro-Free Market (possibly even a student of Austrian economist FA Hayek??) But outside that, the clarity of her belief in the proper role of government and the relationship of man to government left much to be desired. ...

Actually, she (Rand) cleared that up very succinctly.

As suggested by 2046, I'd point you to two crucial essays. I think you'll find your answers about the Objectivist's position in the following short essays by Ayn Rand:

&

Do those leave any further gaps in your understanding of the Objectivist's fundamental principle on the subject? Do you see any errors or flaws? If so, let's discuss further.

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The previous responses have been excellent and thorough in discussing government and the Objectivist views on it. I read into your question a little more emphasis on human nature and will focus on that aspect.

Man is biologically the rational animal. He must use his mind to survive. He must learn and think and judge, and those are functions of the individual's mind. Liberty, in Objectivism, is based on man's being a thinking being. The importance of the freedom of speech is obviously derived from this. Freedom of religion, as one example of freedom of speech, comes not from any assigned value to religion, but in recognition of man's intellectual nature. It is the mind that makes freedom important.

Thus, those conservatives who would enforce their religious precepts on government, are working against man's nature to think, because to think means to think for oneself. Objectivism would protect the right to think religiously, or altruistically, or sadistically. But Objectivism does not support any behavior, no matter what system of thought it aligns with, if it initiates force against others. Religious thoughts may range all the way to genocide, but religious thinkers may not act that way. Altruists may dream of economic equality, but they may not steal from the rich to give to the poor. In this way, Objectivism identifies the social/political line in the sand among different individuals, with their different beliefs and personal interests: the initiation of force.

Most people recognize that might does not make right. What they don't realize is that right doesn't need might. You don't have to impose the right on people, you only have to restrain might. This puts Objectivism in a class all alone, in terms of political theory. Objectivism recognizes that government is there to stop forceful interferences, not to force people to be good, do right, etc. Government is only needed so that might doesn't over-run its own province. That your muscles work on your skeleton, and don't impose on mine. And that other countries don't impose on either of us.

The genius of the U.S. Constitution is its concept of the government as protecting the freedom of people, with innately self-limiting and self-correcting (check and balances) structure. Its being self-limiting and correcting is key to protecting freedom, from itself. The U.S. Constitution is a document written out of respect for men and mankind. Anthropologically, it expresses a "laissez-faire" attitude towards the individual. It prizes man's mind in two ways. By opposing any force brought to bear against an individual, and by regarding men as self-sufficient economically. The Objectivist ideal of limited government recognizes the fundamental perversion of a government that acts beyond its proper functions. The emphasis on limited government is not due to dislike of government or the desire to avoid wasteful bureaucratic spending. It is the crucial matter of what is proper for government to do. Nothing a government does, that is not its proper, protective function, is benign. Governments are force itself. A proper government is force self-restrained. Any excess function is force unleashed against innocent people.

The unthinking, wrong-thinking, violent, depraved, etc. people that exist in any large group are not of concern to a proper government until they behave so as to initiate force on someone else. Otherwise, they are harming only themselves. So a proper government doesn't have to worry about ideological or psychological variations. It doesn't take a paternal attitude towards people or culture, doesn't presume to lead them or supply them or nurse them. It is important to keep in mind that everything done by a government is done at the point of a gun.

Mindy

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