By: Tibor R. Machan
The central achievement of the American revolution was to demote government to a role of cop on the beat. The monarch stopped being the sovereign, the citizen became sovereign instead. Self-government became an aspiration for all people not just rulers.
The idea became prominent, at least for a while, that government’s proper role is to secure the natural rights of the citizenry. There was nothing there about a nanny or a regulatory state. John Locke, who identified the most principled version of the classical liberal conception of government, argued that since in “the state of nature”–i.e., prior to civilized society–some people may pose a serious threat others, a system of laws is needed so as to mark everyone’s sphere of authority, a region within which one is in full charge and which others must respect instead of trespass upon.
One’s life is the beginning of this sphere, one’s liberty follows as does one’s private property. What a government is needed for is to keep these safe, to secure the rights to life, liberty, property and whatever derives from these. That is the point of government, nothing else. It is a vital function since without it criminal conduct would very likely go unchecked. But like referees at a sports event, government isn’t meant to get involved in the game, only to make sure it goes on peacefully, with everyone’s sovereignty secured.