Column on India, Government & Insecurity

India, Government & Insecurity

Tibor R. Machan

As I listened to reports from India about the reactions of people
to the recent terrorist attacks, I noticed that nearly every civilian
being interviewed–I mean other than government officials–raised the
issue of why the Indian government didn’t manage to prevent the
attacks. Their concerns resonated with me because wherever I have
encountered government failures, they tended to be about security,
meaning, freedom from violent crime and foreign aggression. And that
makes sense to me because as I understand the proper role of government in
a society, based on my reading of the American Founders (in the
Declaration of Independence) and my other studies, as well as some
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, it’s 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 body guard. And it is in
this capacity that the Indian government seems to have failed, just as did
the American government when the 9/11 terrorist attacks occurred.

My impression is that 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’s none of their business, there would be less terrorism
by far. To put it plainly, a body guard 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 and not
first of all as the caretaker or problem solver of everything. It was
interesting how clear that message was in all the comments I came
across–very few people interviewed in India talked of the poverty of the
terrorists and such mush; they wanted the cops to do their jobs.

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.

No, there is nothing inevitable about this; no the end of history
hasn’t been reached, nor is it guaranteed to be a fully free society. But
the evidence suggests that the direction of development in thinking about
government, as well as some actual development of public policy, stresses
this limited role for it. Sure, it is usually two steps froward and then
one backwards. But unless one is a total pessimist about human beings, it
makes good sense that they would try, with more or less success, to mold
their community affairs toward liberty rather than varieties of servitude.

Even in times of economic downturn such as the world is
experiencing now, the belief that it must be vigorous government action
that 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 (though many do embrace the idea or lie
pretending they do).

Limiting government to a professional commitment to providing
security is a good idea, both in India and in America, if you ask me.

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