By Tibor Machan: Freedom New Mexico columnist
As I listened to reports from India with reactions of people to last month’s terrorist attacks, I noticed that nearly every civilian interviewed — other than government officials — raised the issue of why the Indian government didn’t prevent the attacks.
The concerns resonate with me because wherever I have encountered government failures, they tend to be about security, meaning freedom from violent crime and foreign aggression. And that makes sense to me. As I understand the proper role of government in a society, based on my reading of the American Founders and other studies, as well as personal experiences with tyrannies, it has to do with protecting or securing the rights of citizens.
This is very much a topic of debate among those concerned with politics. A great many theorists believe governments should take care of people, help them out when they have unmet needs, etc. And no doubt a good many citizens do turn to government when they want something they have difficulty in getting, something that is too expensive or requires too much work on their part.
But when the chips are down it seems many citizens consider government not so much a nurse or nanny but a bodyguard. And it is in this capacity the Indian government seems to have failed, just as the American government did when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred.
My impression is if we had governments around the globe that focused on their proper and properly limited job — namely the securing or protection of our rights — and they eschewed involvement in the undertakings that are none of their business, there would be less terrorism by far. To put it plainly, a bodyguard who is also one’s cook, valet, nanny, dentist, coach and travel guide will simply do too much multitasking.
I know these are generalities, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t exactly the ticket. Several think tanks have given plenty of evidence of the truth of this stance. The fact that many comments from India chide the police for failing to have protected the citizens there suggests that in common-sense terms, too, at least within democratic countries, government is seen mainly or primarily as a protector of rights. It was interesting how clear that message was in all the comments I came across.
What if this became a reality, if our cops focused, with due process, on securing our rights. Or is this all a dream? I don’t believe it is. More likely, this conception of the role of government in a decent, free society is slowly but surely emerging as the preferred one.
If one looks at the sweep of political history, it seems clear that gradually, and at times rather suddenly, the idea of government as limited to the securing and protection of rights is emerging and is even being implemented.
Even in times of economic downturn such as the world is now experiencing, the belief that vigorous government action will remedy matters is questioned by many. This idea, for example, that the U.S. Treasury is simply bottomless in its ability to funnel funds to failing firms is no longer treated as self-evident, at least not by all, not even every politician.
Limiting government to a professional commitment to providing security is a good idea, both in India and in America.
Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: TMachan@link.freedom.com