That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
--Thomas Jefferson

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Thesis of this Blog

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.— That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...
--The thirteen united States of America
This is the thesis statement of this blog. In other words, there are two sources for government power:
  1. Everyone's inalienable rights. Anyone can protect these, the government just as much as anyone else. Even if there was no constitution or law, I could stop someone from murdering you because you have the right to life. The government can't redefine your rights any more than I can, but, unless it's somehow forbidden to do so, it can protect them just as much (probably better) than I can.
  2. The consent of the governed. If someone tries to cut your chest open, he'll (we hope) be arrested for assault. But if you've tell your surgeon he can remove your appendix, he's allowed to cut your chest open - he's got your permission. Similarly, when everyone agree that the government may do something, it may do that. When all the people1 put this agreement in writing, it's called a social contract, or a constitution.
What this means is that the government can't simply do anything it wants. "The powers not delegated to the [government]... are reserved... to the people." Whenever the government wants to do anything, it needs to prove whether the action is protecting inalienable rights, or whether we the people have allowed it to do the action.

In this blog, I plan to try to determine what powers the US government legitimately has, as well as try to determine whether some specific actions were legitimate. I know I'm not going to get everything perfect; even the Supreme Court justices often disagree with each other. That's why the Court has nine justices, not just one, and that's why I'd appreciate your responses in the comment threads.

[1]Actually, not quite everyone agreed to the US constitution; I'll probably post about this later. But, when I'm commenting on US political events, I'm generally going to assume the Constitution is a valid social contract - it's convenient, and nearly everyone now agrees it's valid, so not assuming it's valid would be impractical.


  1. You write about the "two sources of government power," namely, our inalienable rights and consent of the governed. I prefer to speak of these as two "checks" on government. Either consideration can render a government illegitimate. If its actions fail to protect our rights, government has veered into the illegitimate zone. Same thing if we don't consent. (even if the action undertaken is apparently benevolent and/or rights-protective.) Though my view of the second contingency may seem hard to accept, no government should take parental control of our lives, even when they try to make us do something that's good for us. In other words, government shouldn't be a "Big Daddy" any more than it should be a "Big Brother."

  2. "Either consideration can render a government illegitimate."

    I disagree: I think either consideration can render a power legitimate. I think that government can stop someone from murdering you, even if he hasn't consented to have the government stop him. Similarly, I think that if everyone in the country agrees to Communism, it'd be okay for the government to enforce it even though it'd otherwise violate rights. (In other words, just as you can give up your property to another person by a free contract, you can do the same with the government. Whether this scenario has ever happened, though, is open to question.) I'll try to get more into this subject in future posts.

    Thanks for your comment!