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What is Government?

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The most basic definition of government is the organization or administration of the state.

But much has been written about government from many voices with varying points of view, it might be said that our own personalities are defined by how we define it.

Abraham Lincoln said "This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. When they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or exercise their revolutionary right to overthrow it."

The often quoted Thomas Jefferson said "When the people fear the government, there is tyranny. When the government fears the people, there is liberty."

"For in reason, all government without the consent of the governed is the very definition of slavery" according to Jonathan Swift.

A part of the American consciousness is the suspicion of government as revealed by Henry David Thoreau "That government is best which governs least."

The notion that government is a handicap, brought to the new world from England by Thomas Paine is suggested in this quote. "The instant formal government is abolished, society begins to act. A general association takes place, and common interest produces common security."

Even worse, that government is our teacher. It ... "teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy" (Louis D. Brandeis)

Or it "reflects the soul of its people. If people want change at the top, they will have to live in different ways. Our major social problems are not the cause of our decadence. They are a reflection of it." says Cal Thomas 

"Freedom isn't free" says Bill Maher. "It shouldn't be a bragging point that 'Oh, I don't get involved in politics,' as if that makes someone cleaner. No, that makes you derelict of duty in a republic. Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn't insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable."

Easier said than done.  Noam Chomsky is more sympathetic. "If you are working 50 hours a week in a factory, you don't have time to read 10 newspapers a day and go back to declassified government archives. But such people may have far-reaching insights into the way the world works."

Government has been studied for many centuries, so we should be getting close to electing good governments, shouldn't we?  Especially as there is no shortage in wisdom expressed on the subject. George Monbiot does it frequently:

"Just as taxation tends to redistribute wealth; regulation tends to redistribute power. A democratic state controls and contains powerful interests on behalf of the powerless. This is why billionaires and corporations hate regulation, and – through their newspapers, thinktanks and astroturf campaigns – mobilise people against it."

Although there is a shortage of quotes by women, this doesn't mean women don't comment on government. Perhaps we think of how the structure of government and power affects our society, and so the last word goes to Frances Moore Lappe in an article that appeared in Straight Goods News.

"Maybe we begin here: recognizing that our crisis is not that we humans are too individualistic or too selfish. It’s that we’ve lost touch with how deeply social we really are. Easing the fear at the root of so much pain and violence that generates more fear — from suicide to child abuse to school massacres — comes as we embrace the obvious: We are creatures who, in order to thrive individually, depend on inclusive communities in which all can thrive."
This sensitivity to what is around us, is government of the mind and the soul. 


  1. Roberto Esposito puts forth a radical and provocative thesis: the triumph of the category of "the person" that, since the end of World War II has accompanied the discourse on human rights, is not the source of its success, but rather of its failure.

    You might find this review and book of interest.

  2. Thanks Bob. This link is very interesting, and I read it through quickly. Will go back for a closer reading when I can. It reminded me of Martin Buber's remark that with each decade or generation turns the 'I' and 'Thou' into 'its'. And there is a quote by someone whose name I cannot remember but the words go something like "what happens if we are led to believe we are isolated units competing for the most of what each of us wants. He was a philosopher at Wisconsin and he wrote a book called 'Science and the Moral Life'.


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