“Men must be governed; often not wisely I’ll grant you, but they must be governed nonetheless.” -Captain Aubrey, Master and Commander
One of the biggest debates that has ever raged within human societies is determining which form of government is best suited to provide the kind of environment most of us seem to prefer. Many kinds have been tried since we first started gathering into large groups, from iron-fisted dictatorships like medieval kingdoms to full on democracies like ancient Greece. As we look back through time at the various ways in which people have chosen to regulate their lives, it’s impossible to come up with an option that satisfies everyone. There are simply too many people with different ideas of what they want to have one government for everyone.
The problem we tend to run into these days is one of arrogance. We get a notion in our head of what we think government should look like, and then rather than figuring out a way to join a group of like minded people and then live our lives the way we choose, we tend to think our way is so much more superior than any of the others that we have to “save” people from themselves by imposing our ideals onto others. This is true of nearly every government, including we Americans.
In reality, there is no perfect form of government. No matter how hard we try, there will always be some kind of negative that comes along with whatever form we choose to participate in. This isn’t because we can’t come up with a great system; the American form of government is quite amazing as written on paper. Our issues today come from not living up to those rules and expectations. It is because we are human beings that government always fails.
Every type of government is going to have some level of evil contained within it because it involves human beings. Many people seem to think that we can regulate people into being good, but they simply don’t understand human nature. We are selfish, uncompassionate beings who only really care about others when there is some kind of benefit to us, either because the person or people are important to us in some way, or it makes us look or feel good to help others. It is rare to see a truly altruistic act from a human being. If we understand this as a basic starting point, then we understand that any form of government we choose is going to have evil in it, and when you peel back all the different variables it pretty much comes down to the evil of imposition versus the evil of apathy.
Evil of imposition governments include any type that has some kind of overt compulsion by violent force to make people do what they’re told. Any form of oppressive state, from dictatorships to fanatically communist or socialist governments, can fall into this category. Power is typically concentrated around a small group of individuals who are charged with making decisions for everyone and then forcing everyone to comply. This form of evil reaches out to impose a specific way of life, often at the cost of the lives of those who disagree. It is an active evil that exists with the expectation that some people will end up dying for “the greater good”.
On the other side of the coin, evil of apathy can be found in any government where the people have decided that the individual takes priority over the group, such as we see in democratic governments. Quite different from imposition, the evil that ends up stemming from this kind of social configuration comes from people in society selfishly worrying only about themselves and ignoring the plight of others. It is a passive evil that pervades society, not actively hurting anyone, but leaving those behind who can’t figure out how to survive on their own.
Obviously, neither option can be viewed as an acceptable means of governing people. At least, it can’t if we share a common idea of what it is to be good and want that idea to pervade our social consciousness. If we can’t go all in on one form of government, then the uncomfortable reality is that there has to be some kind of mixture of systems that gets us as close as possible to what works best for we flawed human beings. There has to be a mix of individual freedom combined with some measure of forceful compliance.
That said, human beings have a natural tendency toward craving freedom of choice. A great many of the rebellions of history have been fought over people who have no power desperately fighting to gain even the smallest bit for themselves. It is one of the biggest repeated mistakes in history that power hungry leaders always seem to make, forgetting that people actually aren’t just drones to be controlled, but individuals with their own ideas about how life should be. They ignore that at their own peril.
Knowing this, it seems clear that whatever form of government we choose must lean heavily toward allowing people to live their lives as close to their own way as possible. This means they must have agency in the decisions that are made so they can feel like their voices are being heard and actually make a difference. This is the reason why the democratic republic form of government exists at all; it is a compromise between what is good for the nation as a whole and what is good for us as individuals. It is a careful balance that tries to satisfy both.
There is no perfect form of government because it involves people. Evil will exist in any system because evil exists in us. All we can do is choose the best system that has the best chance of working out based on human nature, not unrealistic expectations. We simply can’t conform to the oppressive will of others indefinitely, so it is better to simply let people live their lives and apply a system that encourages good rather than forcing it. It is only when we feel like we have a choice that we can be content. Otherwise, we tend to want to “rage against the machine”.
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