Well, this post has been a long time coming, and unfortunately it probably won't be an extremely complete post. Actually, it's more of a primer, and hopefully a conversation starter. Bits and pieces of my political philosophy have shown up all over the place, primarily in previous discussions about whether or not the government should "legislate" "morals" (separate quotes for those words). Anyway, here is a quick attempt at laying out my political philosophy. As of today. Sometimes my thinking on these things changes. Note the name of the blog.
The government is a body that derives it's power from the people (nothing revolutionary here; at least not in this day in age). As such, in order to determine the role of the government, we need to figure out a few things about the people. If we're trying to figure out people, it seems we've got ourselves a little question about human nature. That being the case, it's easy to see why much of my political philosophy is actual an extension of my thinking about human nature. Primarily relevant to this conversation is the idea that people are, by their nature, social beings.
The whole "state of nature" idea of Hobbes, et. al. is, at best, a terribly unrealistic fiction with only marginal philosophical utility. People are not simply individuals who enter into society because it's a useful arrangement for protecting their life (and/or rights). Rather, people are born into society. The natural consequence of our existing is that we are social beings. It is impossible to be born into a state of nature, and nearly as impossible to leave society to enter a state of nature. Any political philosophy based on the state of nature/social contract theory should be largely rejected.
If people are by their nature social beings, then government is essentially a natural outgrowth of our social functions. Government is the mind that directs our social existence. Just as we as individuals order our lives to achieve desired ends, so too does our government order our society to achieve desired ends. The desired end of government, it follows quite naturally, is the same as the desired end of any individual: the good life.
The idea that government exists for the purpose of making sure everyone plays nice seems to be almost all-pervasive. This is a philosophy that comes from the whole "state of nature" fiction. The people who hold this view allow for some essential "road building" though to be honest I question how that fits into the social contract/play nice theory. I want to throw this philosophy out and suggest that even without government people would, for the most part, play nice. History tends to bear this out. Because we are social beings, we function socially just fine, with or without a specific government telling us to get along. So if we get along just fine, what is the role of government?
As Aristotle put it: "The political partnership must be regarded, therefore, as being for the sake of noble actions, not for the sake of living together." The living together part is taken care of by human nature. Government then is for "noble actions" or those things which enable the good life.
Now, there are plenty of debates we can have about what specific attributes constitute the good life, and plenty of debates about the best way to achieve that good life. But I don't think it is too controversial to suggest that the good life encompasses the entirety of human experience: physical and mental health, economic and financial prosperity, moral virtue, education, family life, entertainment, cultural sophistication, and so on and so forth. All of these are thus proper subjects for government, let's say, "promotion." Because in order to promote the good life the government doesn't necessarily need to be making things legal or illegal (though certainly that will be the natural response to some areas), but rather they need to be engaged in enabling citizens to achieve the good life. So, for example, road building is a necessary and proper function of government (as is collecting the taxes to build those roads) because those roads enable people in their attempt for the good life.
Not only does the government serve as a tool for helping individuals achieve the good life by their own individual volition, the government is also concerned with creating a sort of social "the good life". The form this takes is that the government exists to create good citizens. A good citizen is an individual who facilitates the functioning of the government. Roads are a perfect example here as well. By creating roads the government makes it easier for people to come together and operate the government.
Well, I guess that's a pretty decent, quick, summary of my political philosophy. People are naturally social beings, and government is the natural outgrowth of that social nature. People orient themselves towards achieving the good life, and the natural orientation of government is also towards the good life. Government should properly function to 1. Help individuals achieve the good life in their own lives and 2. Create individuals who facilitate the proper functioning of government.
If you could make your own money, and then give it to everybody,
Would you do it?
If knew all the answers, and could give it to the masses,
Would you do it?