Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Government's Purpose

Citizens of organized groups have been trying to impose standards, processes, and rules on each other since the beginning of structured societies. Many, like David Hume and George Berkeley, theorized on the purpose of these standards, and who should be given the task of enforcing them on the populous. They discussed the role of government and the powers that they would have to assume, or be given. Of those that started this journey, John Locke was the man whose ideas on the relationship between the people and their government, as outlined in his Social Contract Theory, outlines the most convincing argument. It is an argument that proves to be the most relevant in relation to the current criminal justice system that exists.

Locke’s ideas had an enormous influence on the development of political philosophy. His writings influenced the American revolutionaries, and his ideas had the most impact in framing the precepts of the modern justice system and it’s responsibilities to the people. Labor creates property, but it also contains limitations to the accumulation of property. When the accumulation of property began to tip the equilibrium scale, Locke believed that it was government’s responsibility to re-allocate wealth equally. This idea resonates in current existing Anti-Trust Laws that prohibit companies and individuals from controlling a certain market, and maintain a certain “equal fairness” in business practices and asset accumulation.

Locke believed that the value of property is created by the application of labor to it. According to his theory of value, humans make objects into property by applying labor. In this view, the labor involved in construction and uses accounts for the large majority of the property value of an object. He believed property was more important than government, and that government cannot dispose of land owned by its citizens arbitrarily. The consistency from this concept to the very foundation of the criminal justice system in the United States, the constitution, can be found in the Fifth Amendent, which states that no person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation. Some have even referred to him as one of the earliest supporters of capitalism because of his views on ownership of private property. Locke refers to property in both a limited and expansive way. Expansively, property can cover a wide range of human interests and endeavors. In a limited sense, it specifically refers to material possessions. He believed that all men had the natural rights of life, liberty, and property.

Locke’s Social Contract Theory stated that government ruled with the consent of the people. The consistency of the above idea can be traced to the Ninth Amendment, which states that the enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people (Legal Information Institute, 2006). It is also evident in the Tenth Amendment, which states that the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people (Legal Information Institute, 2006). Ultimately, to live in a free society, people must give up certain rights to the government in order to be protected by foreign invasions, their personal interests, and their property. The relationship between the people and government is maintained with the understanding that if government is not performing, or operating in the best interest of the people, the people will have the ultimate authority to change leadership collectively.

It is understandable why John Locke’s Social Contract Theory is still very relevant to today’s criminal justice system and political diaspora. He covers issues concerning the accumulation of property by a certain group, the right of citizens to own private property as well as the rights given to government by the people and the people’s ultimate reserve of that power. Human nature doesn’t change. Individual interests will always be a major goal of citizens. Government’s job is to make sure that individual and collective pursuit for wealth and resources is a fair and lawful one.