The Government is the Only Thing We All Belong To

One of the themes coming out of the Democratic National Convention last week is the idea that government is the one institution that unites us all as one nation. The idea being, that we go to different churches, work for different employers, have different racial or ethnic origins, speak different languages, and so on, but we all have the national government in common. I think this short video put out by the DNC illustrates what they are trying to say.

Conservatives have generally interpreted this to mean that the Democrats believe that we belong to the government in the sense that we are all slaves or serfs of the government. This is not accurate. What they seem to mean is that the government is the one institution that all Americans have in common and the one institution that makes us Americans. This confuses the difference between the nationality and the government or the state. In fact, our shared culture and history is what makes all of us part of the American nation, the idea that we are a separate and unique people, distinct from every other nation. We would all still be Americans even if our government were changed or destroyed, so long as we had that shared feeling of nationhood.

I dealt with this sort of idea once before when I explained that Barack Obama’s statement, “you didn’t build that” seemed to ultimately be derived from the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s ideas that the state embodies the hopes and aspirations of the people and nation and even creates the nation. The statement that we all belong to the government is another expression of that mode of thought and while I do not believe that the Democrats mean that we should all be enslaved by the state, this is an idea alien to the ideals of the founding fathers.

The men who wrote the Constitution saw government as a tool. The purpose of that tool was to protect our rights given to us by our Creator. Consider Thomas Jefferson’s words in the Declaration of Independence.

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 rights 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, that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such forms, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

And the Preamble to the Constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

If government is just a tool or a social contract for the purpose of protecting the rights we already possess than a government that does not do its job can or should be replaced. If government is some overarching entity that we all belong to and which gives our lives meaning, than we have no rights, except what the collective grants us and we certainly cannot work against the institution we all belong to. I don’t think the Democrats mean any harm by expressing these kinds of sentiments, but this really is another step on the road to tyranny.

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