Some Unasked Questions

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In the forthcoming political campaigns, many questions will be asked of the candidates, but, almost certainly, not the most important ones: what is the purpose of government? has it succeeded?

A few of the political aspirants may remember the Declaration of Independence, which sets forth the aim of government thusly: "that to secure these rights (life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness) Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." Let’s take a look at a few of those rights, beginning with Freedom of Speech. How has it fared?

To begin with, from whom is the government protecting us, regarding free speech? Is there any organization that seeks to stifle free expression, or punish unpopular opinion? Well, as a matter of fact, there is — but it’s the government itself. At this moment, there are people in prison for expressing unpopular ideas — unpopular, at least, with the ruling class and its supporters. Thanks to legislation regarding "hate speech," you can be prosecuted for saying the "wrong" things. Or even, perhaps, the right things. And what if what you want to say is — nothing? Can you exercise your right to keep your mouth shut? Sure, about some things. We’ve all heard the Miranda warning. But can you decline to give your SS number to a functionary of the drivers’ license agency, or a clerk at the bank where you’re opening an account? (I was even asked for my SS number by a nurse at the blood bank when I went to donate. I told her she could have my SS number, or my blood, but not both. She seemed to resent that. Did the needle stick hurt more than usual that day? I thought so.)

The right to keep silent is closely linked to the right of privacy. Presumably, we all have both rights, not as gifts from government (people have rights before they have governments) but inherent in our very nature. If the right to privacy justifies a woman’s abortion, as the Supreme Court has indicated, shouldn’t it also justify her keeping private the financial information demanded by the IRS? I suspect that any woman trying to exercise the right to privacy regarding her taxes would find it had evaporated; and her claim would be dismissed as "frivolous;" the government’s favorite word for any serious challenge to its claims.

How about the right to life itself? To whom does your life belong? Consider that, if you retire at 65, after working for over 40 years, you will have worked almost twenty of those years for government, at various levels, and not knowingly as a volunteer. Almost half of your working life was claimed by government. Can any other organization even attempt such a thing? And, of course, if the government wishes to war against another government, you will be ordered to put your life on the line, if you’re of draft age. It’s referred to as "fighting for your country," but one might question how the "country" benefits from the loss of all those American lives, especially when America itself has not been attacked. You could suggest that the fighting benefits not the country, but the military/industrial/government complex, but watch out! That could be construed as hate speech.

Private property? Property was what the phrase "pursuit of happiness" designated. How fares private property? You may think you own your home or automobile, but that "ownership" is tenuous. Should you decline to pay the yearly tribute demanded by government, the real ownership of "your" property will become obvious, as it is taken from you by the very government that exists, in theory, to protect your right to property. You may not wish to support the institutions financed via property taxes, but it doesn’t matter. Pay up, or "your" home or car will revert to its true owner, regardless of that elaborately printed Title, or Deed.

And what about that description of governments in the declaration: "deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed?" What if the people don’t consent? Can one drop out? And if governments derive their power from the governed, then We, the People, must first have the power that the government derives from us. Do we? Can we compel our neighbor to work for us? Can we seize his property if he doesn’t give us what we regularly demand? Can we send him to fight our battles? We do not have those powers, yet; somehow, government derives its power to do those things from us!

So: has the U.S. government accomplished its stated objectives? Well, it has grown and prospered. It has become rich and powerful. It has extended its influence throughout the globe.

Does that make it a success? Or even legitimate?

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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