Wednesday, March 29, 2017
Societies exist under three forms sufficiently distinguishable. 1. Without government, as among our Indians. 2. Under governments wherein the will of every one has a just influence, as is the case in England in a slight degree, and in our states in a great one. 3. Under governments of force: as is the case in all other monarchies and in most of the other republics. ... It is a problem, not clear in my mind, that the 1st. condition is not the best. But I believe it to be inconsistent with any great degree of population.
- Thomas Jefferson
He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his servants…He will take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves…and in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves...
- I Samuel, Ch 8.
There is a singular challenge that we face as human beings, living, working, and being together. A challenge that, as Mr. Jefferson points out, starts as soon as there is any degree of population. Or probably to be more accurate, any degree of sufficiently dense population.
The challenge is that we want to (rightly) optimize for freedom – the latitude of control over their own existence that a given individual has. This optimization needs to be balanced against the potential for this given individual to encroach on the freedom of any other individual. It’s not immediately apparent for a small number of people in close contact, but tends to become more and more obvious the greater the number and proximity of individuals are within a population.
In the time of Samuel, prior to choosing its King, Israel began asking for a government “like everybody else has”. They wanted to have a consolidated point of control – a single individual actually - since that was the hip thing to do at the time. In my view, this really shows the immediate pressure they felt to have a government that they could readily see and put their faith in. God’s design for them was a minimal human government – with him as the ultimate authority. This lines up with Jefferson’s idea of a perfect situation, but carried with it the caveat that it required a degree of faith that Israel was ceasing to measure up to.
That’s not to say that God is making the same offer to us today. But he was to Israel at that time. And in a way Israel was and could have “cheated” a bit – having very sparse government (and thus high degree of individual freedom) due to the fact that the one who had his eye on the ball was actually omniscient.
Looking back at that quote from Samuel – we see that a King will “take the tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves…” Undoubtedly, autocratic rulers for a very long time have been enriching themselves at the expense of the people they are charged to rule. Jefferson and the other founding fathers understood this paradox – that in order to provide freedom and latitude for a dense group of people, it is necessary to consolidate power to a certain extent. But at the same time, consolidating power almost inevitably creates corruption in the individuals that hold it (in the case of human beings anyway). That is – the Freedom and Safety that we want usually come at a price in terms of both Freedom and Safety.
The wisdom and genius of our founders was in creating, under some serious pressure I might add, a system that was controlled enough to distribute authority as widely as possible while at the same time consolidating it enough to keep things from flying apart.
The thing for us to remember in our time – is that this isn’t a static system. We are ruled by ourselves and the more we forget that or rely on others to rule us, the more consolidated power becomes. The more consolidated power becomes – the more corrupt we are. The more corrupt we are, the worse our lives get, but more importantly, the further from God we become.
The responsibility of participating in our government isn’t just a platitude that our grade-school teachers talk about to help us honor the long-dead geniuses that built the foundations. It’s a moral imperative that we all must square ourselves with.
To ignore the state of our own freedom is to create the corruption that would destroy us.