The Pathos of Politics (75) The Role of Government

The Role of Government

Large societies are complex kleptocracies. ~ American anthropologist Jared Diamond

Since prehistoric times, human tribes have had social mores and taboos. A society ‘civilized’ itself once materialism seeped into its marrow via regular economic surpluses, and a government rooted itself in those surpluses.

The essence of all political ideologies lies not just in what government is supposed to do, but in what government is not supposed to do. The core issue is what responsibilities government has for the welfare of its citizens.

That government should maintain social order is relatively noncontroversial, yet this seemingly simple directive goes to the heart of the controversy about government. How far does “maintaining social order” go? If the mandate is merely preventing violence among citizens, then government is essentially a police state, reserving for itself a monopoly on violence. If instead the mandate is maintaining the social order as it exists, then government effectively forms a totalitarian state, in thrall to the private interests that hold power at present.

Given social stratification, the viscosity of strata practically defines how well a society functions as a meritocracy. If a society is not meritocratic, it becomes dissolute, with politics that smack of despotism, however democratic they may seem on the surface.

Where governments have failed to engender or maintain meritocratic fluidity among the populace, plutocracy reigns. This has long been the norm, regardless of regime.

Government is in reality instituted for the defence of the rich against the poor, or of those who have some property against those who have none at all. ~ Adam Smith in the 18th century

Societal malaise throughout much of industrialized world owes to socioeconomic stagnation, the responsibility of which ultimately lies at the doorstep of the polity that tolerates it.

In capitalist economies, private enterprise profits from the goods, while government acts as the janitor for the prodigious bads of the market system, particularly pollution and unemployment.

Inequality is an inevitability of capitalism, and it has vibrant political implications. If the proletariat cannot be misled about a society’s lack of meritocracy, they become deeply cynical. Such is Russia’s heritage and America’s future.

The United States is an outstanding example of kleptocracy in play. Because its people still generally believe that they can “get ahead,” rebellion musters in few minds, even as inequity festers as a societal cancer. Mirages matter greatly in politics.

The genius of our ruling class is that it has kept a majority of the people from ever questioning the inequity of a system where most people drudge along, paying heavy taxes for which they get nothing in return. ~ American writer Gore Vidal

That democracies fail to protect the public from well-organized corporate interests demonstrates that politics have not advanced beyond Rousseau’s identification of the problem 250 years ago.

The preamble of the US constitution ordained that the government “promote the general welfare.” This mandate was one of the most profound declarations in the document and has been studiously ignored like no other purpose set forth in any constitution.

Government should not assume for the people the inevitable burdens of existence. ~ President Calvin Coolidge in 1929