The first thing every civic-minded citizen must do, if order to more easily make up their mind concerning governmental policies, is to decide what the purpose of government is. The answer to this question is so important, it cannot possibly be overstated. If you know why you want or need a government in the first place, you will know better what its goals should be. If you know what its goals should be, you will be better equipped to decide which tactics are most appropriate to attaining those goals.
Let’s look at the origins of government. If you are by yourself, you don’t need a government. You are a society of one. A pair also do not need a government, merely agreements between the two. If we move quickly, we see that families become tribes. These typically function in a sort of monarchical system where the most decision making ability rests in the hands of elders who possess the life experience and wisdom to guide the group. Already, however, we see the budding government in a primary purpose. Why do we need a group at all? The family exists to protect children until they are old enough to protect themselves. Why stick together beyond that? Of course, we have affection for one another but we also crave a certain amount of personal freedom. Isn’t it true that tribes stick together primarily for safety? When others come to prey on your weaker members and take your possessions, there is safety in numbers. We choose who we let in our tribe based on the bonds of blood and friendship. There is no denying that. We remain close in proximity, however, to protect one another in a crisis by banding together quickly. This is the basis of society.
The larger the society becomes, the more disagreements emerge within it. The amount of geography the society occupies also rapidly increases. Threats to the members of the society begin to come from within as well as without. It becomes necessary for the society to establish rules that everyone in that society must adhere to if it is to survive and prosper. This is the point at which a more formal declaration of government occurs. It’s first two mandates are very simple: protect the citizens from outside threats to life, liberty, and property and protect them from internal threats to life, liberty, and property. It should be noted that liberty at the base point means “not enslaved to another person” in the literal sense. Also, as we have seen in history, the mandate to protect property says nothing about who owns the property. Those are topics for further discussion elsewhere. In a general sense, however, it is difficult to argue that the fundamental purpose of government is protection. It would seem that it is even more necessary a thing for the protection of citizens from one another than from outside threats. Societies generally don’t need much prodding to band together in defense of one another from hostile outside forces. They tend to choose sides when their neighbors are in dispute, however. Government exists to establish a code of conduct designed to keep the peace. There are a ton of different ways that can be achieved but history shows us that, ultimately, every government must have the tolerance, if not the blessing, of the citizenry in order to remain in power. To thwart the will of the people is to invite revolution.
Once we understand why we established a government in the first place, we can constantly refer to it when contemplating some new function or policy of said government. We should always ask if the new policy violates the, forgive the phrase, prime directive. Does the new policy help protect citizens from one another or not? If it doesn’t come from a place of compassion towards and defense of the citizenry, is it really a policy the government should adopt? It is also important to establish how far the government’s power should extend. Is individual freedom important? To what extent? Should the government protect a citizen from himself? This is obviously where it begins to get messy. It should likewise be obvious, however, the importance of establishing a baseline for why your government exists at all.