The role of Government is one that must be defined generation to generation, people to people. At one time, tribal chiefs reigned but gave way to monarchies. These sovereigns have given way to a people convinced they are little lower than the angels, democrats. Each form of government has its certain good points and its disastrous pitfalls, but what we must discover first is the proper role of Government.
Humans in their natural form are little more than murderous beasts who are active in their rebellion against nature and nature’s God. To curb this plague, we must establish governments so as to preserve society. The role here is not one of force, although force is certainly a part of government. It is to act as a barrier between the powerful and the weak, and in many cases, act to equalize the genesis of each group. We might call his ineloquently “leveling the playing field.” The role of Government is not to take from one and give to the other, unless justice is served, but to prevent oligarchy.
To that end, the Government has no unnatural proper bounds. It has no unnatural limitations. Where it has natural limitations is not in code, written upon some mythical rock, but in the extent that the Government is the Governed. If a Government is separated from the Governed, then this is a natural limitation. It must be restrained then, back to the governed.
The role of Government is not theocratic, nor moral. It has no real cause to govern individual morality nor to validate religious institutions. The best example of this is the role of Government in marriage. Marriage is a Christian sacrament. To say otherwise is to be ignorant of the history of marriage. But we have allowed the Government to step away from the governed and instead absorb instead a power that is foreign to it, that of God. We would not ask the Government to validate Christian baptism or to control who receives the Eucharist; yet we are able to surrender to the Government the control of who enjoys another Christian sacrament. This is not the role of Government.
However, it is the role of the Government to enforce proper honoring of contracts, either individual or corporate. Because contracts necessitate a community cohesion, Governments must oversee certain aspects of them, including the fairness to each party as well as to ensure what the appropriate response to a failed contract. The dissolution of marriage is one such instance — as is the contract between an employee and the employer. Governments must insure that fairness, justice, and rights are honored.
In the cases of individual morality, the Government has no role. If a person wishes to remain home and invest his body with large amounts of legal or illegal drugs, the Government should not stop it. However, if the same person who uses his natural rights to do bodily harm to himself presents himself in a situation that possible harm may be caused to another, then the role of the Government is to stop this person, with whatever force may be necessary. It is unnatural to limit a Government’s response to secure the rights of the Governed, including life. Or death, as the case may be.
The role of the Government is likewise economic. It must insure that an equitable starting point is provided. It must also suppress extreme wealth and extreme poverty, using one to equalize out the other. There is equal danger in the Government separating from the Governed and the Governed separating from the Government. Here, it is best to surrender almost completely to Thomas Aquinas who has written on the subject of private property and excess wealth. Where teaching of the rich does not lend them to “distribute and share readily” (1 Tim 6.17-8), the Government must ensure that such a distribution is not onerous. After all, as Thomas writes, “And so the natural law requires that superfluous things in one’s possession be used for the substance of the poor.” This is not theft, he assures us, if it is done lawfully and with necessity. The Government’s role here is to foster neither poverty nor excess wealth.
Finally, the role of the Government is to be the Governed. This is a rather simple concept. As I have stated before, a Government apart from the Governed is unnatural and must be restrained as a rabid dog. Instead, the Government must derive from the Governed and the Governed from the Government to affect a better perichoresis. A Government separating itself from the Governed becomes an occupying force; the Governed separating itself from the Government is soon given to anarchy. Neither leads to any kind of wholeness, but only to more rebellion.