Sunday, April 19, 2009

Force: A Governing Philosophy

Talifaitasi W. Satele


I’m very thankful for Mr. Slater’s letter written in response to my diatribe on the House ban on petroleum-based plastic shopping bags. His commentary was less a defense of the House bill than it was an explanation of his beliefs about the role of government, and I’d like to respond as such.

I agree that government should “promote the common good”. It’s even in our Constitution under slightly different terms: To Promote The General Welfare. Actually, I believe the legislature can “promote” anything it wants, but to “force” or “legislate” or “guarantee” goes beyond mere “promotion” and requires the use of the state’s police powers.

That line between promotion and the use of force is a very thin one. There’s a lot of things government would love to promote like lower prices for food, gas, and airline tickets. Government would like for all of us to be in tip-top physical shape and eat only vegetables for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Officials would love for us to quit smoking, stop drinking beer and be in bed by 10 o’clock every night. All in the name of the common good of course.

Do not the above causes deserve the use of government force? Is the criteria for determining what are just causes whether they’re too controversial or not?

That sort of criteria is simply called majority rule, and everyone agrees with the majority as long as they’re in the majority. So it begs the question: Where does the majority’s view of what is good for the rest of us end and the rights of the individual begin?

The two concepts are incompatible; on any issue, either majority rule or the sovereignty of the individual triumphs.

But I do not believe that the majority of what the majority “wants” is incompatible with the rights of the individual. Things like a cleaner environment can be addressed while protecting our individual rights to life, liberty and private property.

But the Fono or the ASG doesn’t take that approach. Whatever it wants to do, it just decides to muscle its will with a ban on this and a ban on that. It is that view I will always take issue with, because once that line is crossed, it fast becomes the governing philosophy.

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