When I first think of this question, I immediately turn to the widely discussed philosophies of Hobbes and Rousseau. While Rousseau argues that “man is born free, but everywhere he is in chains,” arguing that less government is necessary for the people to exercise their birthright civil liberties, Hobbes argues that man is naturally evil and a strong central government is necessary in order to keep both mankind and civilization from descending into chaos. While both of these philosophers argue completely opposite extremes on a large scale of the power concentrated within the central government, the question of the amount of power a government should have over its citizens seems to be a fundamental question born out of these two philosophies. While my beliefs in government control aren’t fully formulated as of yet, American culture would make me lean more towards a more controlled and organized central government. Even though many dispute that this puts too much hands in the power of too few, the fact of the matter is that if a formal body of elected officials is not in complete control of this nation then a less formal body of corporate executives would be responsible for our well being.
In America, we have been the first to see what has resulted from this. A minimum wage that is barely able to sustain life, systematic racism in all aspects of society, and the top 1% controlling a majority of the wealth. The best example I can think of which points to the necessity of a strong central government would be during the Johnson era in the 1960’s. His Great Society programs were able to substantially shape virtually every aspect of American society. From financial and trading regulations to conservationist efforts, Johnson’s program were compared to the scope and effect of the New Deal and practically changed the way Americans lived there lives. However, like all major initiatives, there were many who were unhappy with Johnson’s Great Society programs and felt that the government was simply intruding in places where it was not welcome to. They believed that government was in complete control of American lifestyle and that welfare was taking away money from America’s honest and hard-working taxpayers.
However, this proved to be quite the opposite; the programs themselves were based off of a book written by Michael Harrington titled, “How The Other Half Lives.” The book was the first of its kind to bring to light what we now know to be called “The Poverty Cycle.” The concept behind the poverty cycle is that the environment that you grow up in is a direct result of what you end up doing for the rest of your life. In a nutshell, if you’re born poor you’re going to stay poor. Johnson sought to change this narrative by affecting the environment which the lower class grew up in and subsequently giving them an opportunity to rise out of the poverty cycle. And this eventually proved to be true; over the next few decades, millions of Americans were able to reap the benefits of The Great Society programs which in turn created a more prosperous society.
I know that I went off on a little Johnson-fueled tangent there, but there was a point to all of this. I wanted to use Johnson’s Great Society programs as an example of the good that a strong central government can do for its society. While I understand not all leaders will use this power wisely, the thought of having laws without a formal government (or simply an unwillingness from the central government to assist those who need it the most) seems highly ineffective. Instead of a civil society, we will instead have a world where the top 1% control all of the wealth and everybody else is trapped in the poverty cycle. If there is no strong government to control the regulation of activities such as trade, then a lawless society would quickly transform into the very thing that Johnson sought to prevent. However, I do want to emphasize that there is a limit to how much a government should control. I do believe that a significant amount of power should also be placed in the governed (since they are the ones who are ultimately affected by these laws) and, as the saying goes, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” While a government should be allowed to have some order over its people, it is (and always should be) the people’s responsibility to ensure that their officials’ control only extends to a certain point. As a whole though, I believe that there is no law or order without a central state; only a constant and unregulated fight for power.