The best description of the purpose of government comes from the Preamble of the U.S. Constitution:
...establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our PosterityESTABLISH JUSTICE
Governments since the beginning of recorded history have carried the burden of resolution dispute. Our legal system is needed for this purpose, and this purpose alone.
People have always had conflicts with other people, ever since the first caveman took a branch to the head of another caveman who angered him. When a justice system fails, it can lead to everything from riots to vigilantism (although there are times when a justice system is put in a no-win situation, and these kinds of things will happen regardless of a court decision).
INSURE DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY
Once justice has been established, what is left for the government to do to "insure domestic tranquility"?
Alexander Hamilton described the problem best in "The Federalist Papers":
It is impossible to read the history of the petty republics of Greece and Italy without feeling sensations of horror and disgust at the distractions with which they were continually agitated, and at the rapid succession of revolutions by which they were kept in a state of perpetual vibration between the extremes of tyranny and anarchy.The key, as Hamilton describes it, is to maintain a balance of power between the individual states and the federal government. If one state should descend into anarchy, the other states can prop it up. If one state should take advantage of another, then the other states can mediate the dispute.
In addition, Hamilton (quoting Montesquieu) left an opening for the states against the federal government:
Should abuses creep into one part, they are reformed by those that remain sound. The state may be destroyed on one side, and not on the other; the confederacy may be dissolved, and the confederates preserve their sovereignty.In essence, you have a natural justice system for the states and the federal government, thereby insuring "domestic tranquility".
PROVIDE FOR THE COMMON DEFENCE
If a government cannot defend itself against other governments, it risks becoming a mere vassal to another government, subject to that other government's political sytem and laws.
Obviously, this applies to the military, but it should also include foreign intelligence gathering, as well as counter-intelligence, without which we leave ourselves just as vulnerable to other nations.
If a government does nothing else, it MUST do these things, or else it is pointless.
PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE
This is the economic aspect of government, applying to everything from coinage to the regulation of interstate and international trade.
To promote the general welfare, the federal government must provide an economic "level playing field" for all the states. But the key is in the word "promote": If the federal government places too many restrictions on trade, then it is working against trade, and no longer promoting the general welfare.
SECURE THE BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY TO OURSELVES AND OUR POSTERITY
While this may seem like flowery language, it does serve a point. A government which serves itself is a tyranny, regardless of whether it does so with popular consent. What happens when the consent is no longer popular? In other words, if you hand over your own liberty to the government, you are also handing over the liberties of your children.
Ironically, this last part puts the onus of government on the governed. It is up to YOU to secure the blessings of liberty for yourself, and your children.
But what is "liberty"?
freedom from control, interference, obligation, restriction, hampering conditions, etc.; power or right of doing, thinking, speaking, etc., according to choice.As long as one person's liberty does not impede upon another person's liberty, then that person should be allowed to do whatever they please, within the framework of government as mentioned in the previous sections.
But the key here is that it is up to the individual to utilize their own liberty to keep the government at arm's length.
(NOTE: I could do a whole post on the implications of individual liberty within the framework of government. Suffice it to say that there are many specific situations, as well as subjective views, where individual liberties are called into question, because of the question of whether they impede upon another person's liberties. That is NOT the purpose of this post.)
It is within the framework of all of these items that we must view government actions. Any government action which falls outside of these purposes should be opposed.
When I go on anti-government tirades, it is because I believe a government action has exceeded the government's purpose. Sadly, there are far too many government actions today to which this applies.