Monday, November 14, 2011

Pol. Ideology 21: The Nature of Government

This paper was written by a good friend, Ed Coronel or "Citizen Kori" 10 years ago, and posted in the MG yahoogroups. Great ideas from Kori and should help clarify more issues on why we need (and not need) government on certain sectors and issues.

On the Nature of Government:
Some Commentaries on Governance in Crisis

F. Kennedy Coronel
24 October 2001


This paper has been prepared in response to a serious query if it is at all possible to completely "privatize" government. Debilitating problems of government, as well as issues on governance has led a number of private citizens to venture that perhaps market mechanisms are better means of delivering public goods. The question is not at all novel, as this has been posed even by classical thinkers.

What is perhaps new is the global setting that we find ourselves today. What you see around you is a phenomenon i'd like to call as a return of "hunting-gathering" societies. More powerful, perhaps more desperate, nations prey upon those less able to defend themselves. This predatory nature is reflected in the capital markets, global trade, human migration, and of course military conflict.

The very nature of an efficient market is predatory, the mechanism hunts the weak and the slow. Why, it's even natural-selectionist. If perhaps man does not have the faculty of choice, reason and aspiration, the market is the perfect mechanism as one would see among lesser mammals.

But the institutions that man has built indicate he is far removed from the world of animals, even if he does exhibit some of the instincts and tendencies. But then again, criticisms on government may use metaphors similar to feature stories in the National Geographic channel.

That government has been failing, albeit others seem to be succeeding elsewhere, does not negate the reality that government is necessary. Perhaps the issue is how much or how less of government do we want. But what we want we do not always get. What is necessary does not always turn out as we expect. One learns to live with what is available. But the beauty, value, importance of what is available is up to us. One can look at what is available as used clothing, or as vintage wine. Our perspective determines to a large extent the happiness or contentment that we get.

Setting a Personal Perspective

Before I offer my comments on the persuasions presented on the "privatization" of government and the development of a "voluntarist" society, I would like to cite my basic perspective on the subject. I will do so by quoting portions of postings I made to the egroup Pilipinas Forum on the subject of Government

Below is a post made last 15 May 2001.

Ahhh! We who discourse on matters of consequence, do we not wonder to no end whether the egg came first or the chicken? Good government first before citizenship? Since the time man first pondered on the need to put order into his existence and contemplated on the need to establish a means to provide for his personal needs and that of the growing number of his kind, he has always made a distinction between himself and that means . . .

When that means, that mechanism he established to take care of his and his community's needs fail, he blames it: "Ah, it is government's fault". When that mechanism provides him and his community with what is needed, he claims it was his own efforts.

Why so? My thesis today brings up the subject "Rights and Responsibilities". Man, when he blames government is being sequential, linear in his thinking. That government must first shape up and rise to his expectations before he fulfills his duties towards it. Ever wondered why the great civilizations perished despite their achievements, despite their conquests, despite their advances? I reason to you that among the reasons is that man washed his hands of his responsibility towards himself and his community.

The people cannot isolate themselves from government because they are the government. Thus, when we encoded in our fundamental law the concept of Rights, we also imbedded in it the essence of Responsibility. Therefore, when we invoke our right to fair and effective government, we must also perform the Responsibilities of Citizenship. At the same time. . .

Why do we not talk about Responsibility in the same sentence as Rights? Because it is hard. Because it is difficult. Because it means we have our part to do. Because we are part of the problem. Because often we do not want to be Responsible. But we would scream shrill and loud to demand all of our Rights, would we not?

In the world we live . . ., we cannot pause Citizenship and fast-forward Government because they exist in the same frame. The tapestry of our lives is unlike weaving where we attach first the warp which run lengthwise, and then we shuttle the weft that run crosswise. We must take ownership of government which the man who first established it denied.

It is when we do take that course of action can we begin to understand that to reform government, we must first reform ourselves. That is the lesson of communism in Russia and elsewhere. They thought that by changing the system, their societies will progress and reach utopia. They forgot to change themselves. They forgot that they and the system are one.

Rights and Responsibility. Sense and Sensibility. We are the people; we are government. Once we have fully understood that, then we would have truly become Citizens.

Below is another posting to the same egroup dated June 24, 2001.

Government, when it is constituted by a sovereign people, enters into a contract with its constituents. Its basic responsibilities are as follows:

1. Provide a bureaucracy that efficiently and effectively responds to the social, economic and cultural needs of the people.

2. Preserve the rights of citizens embodied in the fundamental law of the land.

3. Enhance the quality of life of its people through governance that is inclusive, enabling and empowering.

4. Protect the property and persons of its people against crime and injustice.

5. Represent the people in the international community of nations.

In turn, the people commit to:

1. Defend themselves and their government against external aggression, internal unrest of misguided elements, and ideologies, ways and beliefs contrary to their way of life.

2. Support the means of Government to carry their duties to the people.

3. Perform duties expected of a responsible member of the nation, foremost of which is to provide for their family and the upbringing of their children to become upright citizens.

4. Elect leaders who are competent, compassionate and possessing integrity worthy of the people's trust.

5. Ensure that Government remains true to its contract with the people.

When, by acts of mortal men, and by their willful, continuous, wanton and unrepentant ways, Government fails, the People shall have the obligation, repeat, obligation under its fifth commitment, to censure Government. It is this nature of the relationship between the People and Government that I seek to bring to your attention, my dear friends and esteemed colleagues.

The People have divinely ordained rights to seek RECOURSE from a Government that has failed to perform its contractual obligations. These rights do not emanate from the contract they have with Government, neither do they spring from any law written by the hands of man. But rather they are provided for by that supreme source of all human rights, the Dignity of Man. These rights include among others:

1. The right to suffrage under which the people, by a vote of the majority choose to change their leaders. But even that right can be corrupted by Government. Thus the next right.

2. The right to seek fair judgment from the Court. But even the Court can be corrupted by Government. Thus the next right.

3. The right to nullify its contract with Government, either by peacefully forcing the abdication of a Government, or by taking up arms to fight the oppressive might that may be brought against the people.

When a situation necessitates the exercise of the third right, a people must impose upon themselves a period of reflection, a time of prayer, a season of reckoning about their own shortcomings. It should be faced with honesty, with humility. In the end, their Government has failed because they the people have failed collectively.

Once that period of cleansing has been completed, the people must vigorously pursue the establishment of a Government that shall reflect their aspirations, their hopes, their convictions. They must guard, not just against another failing Government, but against themselves.

One's View of Man Determine One's View on Government

In my mind, one must not isolate government and people, or humans because government is basically a human institution. Therefore, to understand government, its nature, behavior, weaknesses and strengths, one must first generate an understanding of man. Conversely, one's perspective of the nature of man determines the world-view that one takes on his affairs, particularly the affairs of government.

A "zero" government position views government as a necessary evil. It argues that government must be treated as an unnecessary given that must be shrunk to its bare minimum. It forwards the assertion that free markets or "opportunities" constitute the desirable mechanisms to govern the affairs of man and his society. If I were to derive the anthropological perspective of this position, the following views may be the probable formulation.

1. Man is viewed as inherently rational, capable of assorting ordered responses to the stimulation of his environment.

2. Because of the first view, Man is defined as a nature of choices and decisions based on an individual determination of what one thinks is "best" or "advantageous.

3. Man is a responsible being in his exercise of "freedom".

I take the position that the views derivable from the "zero" government position present only one side of man. I will go farther to say that it conveniently avoids discussing that man is capable of making decisions contrary to rational, ordered and responsible behavior.

The historical record of these tendencies is far more compelling that any assertion that man is basically good. Take the few realities for a while:

* Child abuse has grown to be global phenomena cutting across social, religious and political classes
* Drug abuse has been a growing and profitable business afflicting both developing and developed countries.
* Crime has different shades; blue-collar, white-collar, collarless, etc.
* Hundreds of wars have been fought over such irrational causes as monarchical whims, greed for material possessions, political power and beliefs on the superiority of one's religion or culture.

These facts and many more point out to a nature of man that is far from that defined by a "zero government" position. In fact they point to the opposite. Billions of dollars are spent yearly to curb criminality, terrorism and corruption.

With this background, I would like to present my views on man.

1. Man is basically a creature of comfort, who, while endowed with the facility to make choices, would normally choose that which is comfortable.

2. Man recognizes power and ability of individuals, groups or institutions to wield power.

3. The dynamics of the behavior of man is largely determined by two factors:

(a) By his experience with power wielded over him whether at home by his parents and elders, or outside by social, political and economic forces.
(b) By the degree to which he values his personal comfort vis-à-vis the choices available to him.

Given this perspective, it is my belief that government is defined by the dynamics between the comforts of the individual and the power of external forces wielded over him.

My perspective is however shaped by a fourth view of man, and that is man is a learning creature. As a learning creature, the balance with which he views his comforts vis-à-vis the external forces confronting him shifts back and forth, building an experience that tends to favor a healthy sacrifice of his comforts in order to better control the effect of external forces upon him. This explains the postings I made cited earlier.

Furthermore, I believe that the Philippines is a relatively young country. By the standards of western countries, I tend to believe we are still somehow in the period similar to Dickensian England.

Concluding Note

Given this perspective, I believe that Filipinos must approach development from a strategic perspective. I believe certain Filipinos should concentrate not on solving the problems of the day, but on preventing them to perpetuate themselves from generations to generations.

This undertaking may not attract government support. But it will definitely be able to attract private resources. These resources should be committed to the following:

1. Conduct anthropological studies on the political, economic and social nature of Filipinos in the context of globalizing trends in politics and economics.

2. Based on this understanding of the anthropological make-up of the Filipino, design the economic system and values that can be developed over a generation and inculcated at home, in school and at the workplace.

3. Develop a curriculum of national consciousness that is conducive to inquiry, productive work ethic, accountability, transparency and personal responsibility.

The redemption of the Filipino people lies not in solving the problems today, but in understanding them and laying down the foundation of decisions to be made in the future that will bring prosperity and social harmony.

See also:

Pol. Ideology 12: Lao Tzu, Cooperative Individualism, February 07, 2009
Pol. Ideology 13: Liberty and Liberty Forum, the LP, March 19, 2009 
Pol. Ideology 14: Liberalism, Democratism and Coercion, January 18, 2010

Pol. Ideology 15: Socialism, Conservatism and Liberalism, March 08, 2010
Pol. Ideology 16: Liberalism and Social Opportunity, July 29, 2010
Pol. Ideology 17: The LP and the Philippine President, November 03, 2010
Pol. Ideology 18: John Lennon and Liberty, Purpose of the Law, December 15, 2010
Pol. Ideology 19: What is the Role of Government?, March 08, 2011
Pol. Ideology 20: Liberalism and the Squatters, May 17, 2011 
Pol. Ideology 21: The Role of Civil Society, November 02, 2011 
Pol. Ideology 22: Diskurso sa Kapitalismo, Sosyalismo at Gobyerno, November 15, 2011 
Pol. Ideology 23: 25 Years of Liberalism in the Philippines, December 07, 2011
Pol. Ideology 24: Democratism and Coercion, December 16, 2011

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