Observation The Province of Government

Observation The Province of Government : Boundary Line between Legitimate and Illegitimate Functions-Regarding the merits of the individualistic and socialistic theories of state functions, but one conclusion is possible neither to day represents the generally accepted view of the sphere and duty of the state or the actual practice.

As Huxley aptly remarked, individualism and socialism are both out of court so far as the establishment of their Claims is concerned. The state is neither a mere gendarme nor an entrepreneur of public felicity neither a mere police contrivance for securing order nor an epicurean engine for the manufacture of general comfort.

The question of what are the functions of government, said Huxley, is met by the answer to the question

“What ought we men in our corporate capacity to do, not only in the way of restraining that free individuality which is inconsistent with the existence of society, but in encouraging that free individuality which is essential to the evolution of the social organization?”

Manifestly, however, it is impossible to draw the line of demarcation between legitimate and illegitimate state interference as we would draw a boundary line on a map, because it is a line which must change with the altered conditions and needs of society.

No hard and fast rule, no fixed principle governing the division, can be laid down no a priori solution of the question can be found. In the highly complex society of to-day it is difficult to see how any limit can be set to the extent to which under some circumstances the action of government may be carried. The question of where to draw the line between those things with which the state ought to interfere and those with which it ought not to interfere is one which must be left to be decided separately for each individual case.

Dogmatists have frequently undertaken on the basis of theoretical discussions of the nature of liberty, to lay down what things the state ought to do and what things it ought not to do-that is, how wide should be the province of government and how wide that of liberty but all such attempts to solve the problem are as futile as the effort to discover the nature of light by discussions concerning the nature of darkness.

If any general rule may be formulated, it must be deduced from a consideration of the question whether the purpose of state intervention in a given case is for the common good, whether the proposed action is likely to be effective, and, if so, whether it can be done without doing more harm than good. If a proposed act of intervention fulfills these conditions, no valid objection can be raised to it because it violates some abstract principle of individual liberty or some doctrine of natural rights.

As Professor Hobhouse observes, we must be guided in deter mining what functions the state shall exercise, by a consideration of the question of how far the objects of social cooperation can be furthered by the methods of state intervention, and how far on the other hand the nature of the methods necessary will themselves conflict with the ends desired.

The kind of compulsion necessary, the degree of success with which compulsion can be applied, and the reflex consequences of its employment upon the  general life of the community, will depend upon the composition of the community and the relation of the government to its subjects. The amount of state compulsion and intervention which may be necessary in a given case to protect society from the dangers within and without and to advance the common welfare must vary in accordance with the conditions and circumstances of each particular society.

Mill very correctly remarked that the proper functions of government are not a fixed thing, but vary in different states of society. Stated in general terms, it should be the aim of the state to endeavor to secure the best conditions for the common life, or such conditions as are obtainable by the use of the public resources and governmental machinery, so far as these conditions are obtainable only by the use of compulsion.

There are a multitude of cases, as Mill said, in which governments with general approbation assume powers and execute functions for which no reason can be assigned except the simple one that they conduce to the general convenience and he might have added that no further reason ought to be required. It is manifest, as he pointed out, that the admitted functions of government embrace a much wider held than can easily be included within the ring fence of any restricted definition, and it is hardly possible to find any ground of justification common to them all except the comprehensive one of general expediency.

In spite of our disagreement with the laissez faire theorists on so many points, all will probably agree with Mill when he says, Whatever theory we adopt respecting the foundation of the social union, and under whatever political institutions we live, there is-a circle around every human being which no government, be it that of one, of a few, or of many, ought to be permitted to overstep there is a part of the life of every person who has come to years of discretion, within which the individuality of that person ought to reign uncontrolled either by any other individual or by the public collectively.

Mill’s theory that this circle should include all that part which concerns only the life of the individual and which does not affect the investments of others, or Which affects them only through the influence of moral example, is undoubtedly a safe proposition so far as the purely repressive sphere of the state is concerned but it does not take account of that larger liberty which comes from wisely-directed state aid and guidance in the interests of social efficiency.

Points of General Agreement :-

Upon one point, most men are now agreed namely, that the state has a higher mission than the mere police duty of maintaining peace, order, and security among individuals, and that it ought to do more for its citizens than merely prevent them from robbing or murdering one another. Nothing, as Huxley observed, can be less justifiable than the dogmatic assertion that state interference beyond the limits of home and foreign protection must under all circumstances do harm.

The state does not do all that it can or ought to do when it merely protects the individual from violence and fraud and leaves him alone to struggle against ruinous conditions which only the state is capable of removing. In the beginning of human societies, as Leroy-Beaulieu pointed out, the principal function of the state is the maintenance of defense against outside aggression and the preservation of domestic order within but in proportion as society emancipates itself and increases in population and complexity, as it passes from the savage to the barbarous and from the barbarous to the civilized stage, a wider duty than that, simply of a policeman is laid upon it, namely, that of contributing to: the perfection of the national life, to the development of the nation’s wealth and well-being, its morality, and its intelligence.

Duty of the State:-

It is legitimate intervention for the state to go in social reform as far as it goes in judicial administration, namely, to secure for every man as effectively as possible those essentials of rational humane living which are really every man right, because without them he would be maimed, mutilated, deformed, and incapable of living a normal life.

The same reason, says a well-known writer, which justified the state at first in protecting person and property against violation, justified it yesterday in abolishing slavery, justifies it to day in abolishing ignorance, and will justify it tomorrow in abolishing other degrading conditions of life.

It is an equally legitimate duty, we believe, for the state to encourage certain of those higher activities of life, like science, literature, and art, which contribute to the civilization of a nation, when they cannot be had without such aid or encouragement.

A nation which does not produce and does not care for such things can have, as Lecky truly remarked, only an inferior and imperfect civilization. The support and encouragement of art adds to the dignity of a nation and to the education of its people and most states in fact appropriate money for maintaining picture galleries, museums, and art schools.

It was a wise observation of Edmund Burke that the state is not a partnership in things subservient only to the gross animal existence of a temporary and perishable nature, but a partnership in an science, a partnership in all art, a partnership in every virtue and in all perfection.

Besides administering justice and protecting life and property, it is the plain duty of the state to see to it that the social and economic conditions under which the individual is compelled to live are such that he can develop his abilities, make the most of the faculties with which he is endowed by nature, and thus realize fully the ends of his existence.

It is the duty of the state to enforce contracts, but it may also be its duty to prescribe the conditions under which contracts in certain cases shall be valid and entitled to the protection of the state, especially when one of the contracting parties is really not free. The state ought to regulate or supervise the conduct of industries which are natural monopolies but it may also be the duty of the state to take a business out of the hands Of-private individuals and operate it itself as a means of protecting society from inefficient service and ruinous prices.

The state ought to preserve for society the obvious advantages of industrial competition and if free competition becomes impossible through the policy of laissez faire the state ought to intervene and protect society against the evils of private monopoly. And experience has abundantly shown that the policy of laissez faire will not secure industrial freedom nor insure equality of economic opportunity in the highly complex societies of the present day.

Free competition under modern conditions is not always a beneficent social or economic principle. When it forces the level  of trade down to that which characterizes the worst men in it, when it leads to inequality of opportunity instead of equality, when it tends to actual monopoly and the destruction of healthful competition, and when it results in poor economic service, it is no longer a good but an evil.

The state has the undoubted power as well as the duty to determine the character of competitive action so as to render it possible for the best men instead of the worst to set the fashion and enable society to adjust its productive processes to the best possible form of organization.

The Principle of Freedom :-

Nevertheless, the presumption may in general be resolved against state interference, whether it be in the form of prohibition, regulation, Or government operation. There is a general agreement that freedom should be the rule and interference the exception and that those who advocate state interference should discharge the burden of proving the necessity for the proposed innovation, or, as Mill says, the onus of making out a case.

Huxley’s saying that an excess of abstention offers much less peril than an excess of intrusion is probably a safe principle to follow. It is admitted by nearly all writers that the state should not ordinarily undertake to do for society what individuals themselves can do as well,or better, or what when done by them is productive of better results for all concerned. The advantages which result from leaving the individual free from restriction in economic matters so long as the rights and interests of others are not impaired by leaving him alone, are manifest.

The liberty of every member of the state as a man, said Kant is the first principle in the constitution of a rational commonwealth. Most acts of state intervention necessarily involve a certain restriction of liberty upon some class, and are justifiable only when they secure the rights of a more numerous class. They  are certainly unjust if they hurt the one class without benefiting the other.

Impossibility of Laissez Faire:-

In the present state of economic and social development of the world, however, the policy of laissez faire is impossible, much more so than it was in the days of Adam Smith and Bentham. Profound economic, social, and political changes have combined to create a powerful reaction against the individualism of three quarters of a century, ago.

Since the middle of the nineteenth century there has been a remarkable tendency among civilized states to push their lines farther into domains heretofore left to individual freedom. It should be remembered, however, that the so-called state interference of the present century differs largely from that of the preceding centuries in being legislative rather than administrative in its nature.

As Professor Seeley observes, the nineteenth century state may well be called the legislative state. As pointed out above, state intervention of the present day differs also from that of the eighteenth century in that it is exercised-by governments which are democratically constituted and Controlled.

During the last century the province of executive government to which we still retain our traditional hostility has been greatly narrowed. But the revised statutes of every modern state, already abnormally large, continue to grow in bulk with each passing year. Whether life under a future edition will, as Herbert Spencer maintained, be a burden and the status of the individual that of a slave, is a question which need not worry us.

We agree with Jevons that, notwithstanding the multiplicity of statutes under which the modern individual must live, he is an infinitely freer and nobler creature than the wildest savage who knows no restraints but those of nature, yet who is always under the physical despotism of want. Liberty, like everything else, is good or bad according to the use which is made of it. As the late Mr Justice James Fitzjames Stephen aptly remarked, the question whether liberty is a good or a bad thing is as irrational as the question whether fire is a good or a bad thing.

It is both good and bad according to time, place, and circumstance, and the complete answer to the question as to what are the cases in which it is good and in which it is bad would involve not nearly a universal history of mankind, but a complete solution of the problems which such a history would offer. It is not, as Benjamin Constant maintained, the end of all human associations, but is merely a means for the realization of the fullness of individual life.

To treat it as an end in itself is to misconceive the whole problem. It is, therefore, beneficial only in so far as it helps man to attain that other freedom which is an end in itself, the end of all social organization. On the whole, it may be doubted whether mankind has, suffered more in the past from an excess of government than from an excess of liberty.