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I suggest that the proper role of government is to do three things:
  • protect human life
  • protect liberty
  • protect individuals' freedom to pursue happiness
This suggestion is not new; it comes from the second and third sentences of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. This fact does not make it correct, but hopefully mentioning it will give critics enough pause to consider the idea. What, then, does make them true? Trying to answer this question opens a huge can of worms, but there's no help for it if we want an answer. Let's dive in.

By "human life", I refer to the capacity for sentience. This begins at some point after conception (at which time humans do not have brains) and it must end at brain death (which may precede the death of other bodily tissues). By "liberty", I mean a state of affairs in which no one suffers an arbitrary or unjust threat of violence. By "happiness", I mean the fulfillment of a person's basic human needs.

Obviously, human life is a necessary prerequisite to exercising any right (or, for that matter, for doing anything). The right to liberty can be justified by an appeal to fairness; this is something that everyone can have without dispossessing anyone else of the same. My definition of happiness is unusually narrow, but it does have the virtue of being (by definition) necessary. For these reasons, I argue that the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the fundamental political goods.

Why is government protection of these rights necessary? I believe that without government protection, human life, liberty and the freedom to pursue happiness cannot be assured. This is essentially a rejection of anarchism. It seems to me that while an anarchist society is possible, it is also vulnerable to military domination from without. History seems to support this idea (eg anarchist Spain in the early 1900s), although of course a historical tendency is not a proof.
    I probably should also mention what I think government is. I agree with Max Weber's description of government as that portion of society which possesses a monopoly on violence. This makes sense; in the end, the only way to enforce laws when people simply will not comply is to use violence against them (i.e. to arrest them).
What sorts of policies do these principles imply? It should go without saying (although unfortunately it doesn't) that if you accept the forgoing, then you must also agree that arresting, torturing and killing people without due process must lie outside the proper role of government.

What about taxes, social programs, infrastructure investment, corporate regulations and gun control? I argue that these sorts of things would only lie within the proper role of government if they can be shown to be necessary for the fulfillment of basic human needs. That's a tall order, but for specific laws it might be possible.

What about outlawing things like contraception or specific sexual techniques? Well... no, because they don't help protect life, liberty or the freedom to pursue happiness. What about imposing stiffer penalties for the motivation one has for committing a crime? Again no, because that doesn't help protect life, liberty or the freedom to pursue happiness.

"I believe that without government protection, human life, liberty and the freedom to pursue happiness cannot be assured."


Government is by definition a coercive institution. Aside from the fact that the philosophy of John Locke upon which these "inalienable" rights is inherently flawed, there are other problems here.

Any time we give people the power to coerce others, we create injustice. Perhaps not initially, and perhaps not blatantly, but it will inevitably happen. We see this clearly in the monarchies of ages past. The difference between monarchy and democracy is not as large as you might think: whereas monarchy imposes the will of one person upon others, democracy imposes the will of several people (or a majority) upon others. Neither form of government guarantees equality because they are based upon the rule of PEOPLE as opposed to the rule of LAW.

I could cite numerous injustices done by governments here, but I don't think it's necessary. It should be common sense that if you give any human being the power to coerce, they will abuse it. Again, perhaps not initially and perhaps not blatantly, but it will happen.

Government is an institution born to create "more fairness." If you ask me, any amount of unfairness and inequality is too much, especially if a society collectively sanctions it.

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