Ebb and Flow of Duty

You are perusing the menu of a cafe lining one of Santiago’s many colorful street corners. Without warning, you hear a huge boom. You quickly try to remember if Chile has earthquakes or not but already you can hear the cries of children and observe a stampede running towards you. You look into the distance and see they are running from a crater covered in blood. You have just witnessed the radical anarchist faction of Chilean political life strike another blow for its cause. Anarchy and thereby anarchists violently oppose any form of government; they ardently proclaim we have no duty to the government and the government has no use, or duty, to us.  Considering I can see no archaical societies today, a duty or agreement does exist between a government and the governed. This relationship of trust parallels the checks of balances seen in the American system of government. The government must uphold the morality of its people while the duty of the people lies in their opposition to the government- both sects’ duties force the other to preserve its integrity.

Patrick Henry demanded the Virginia House of Burgesses “ought to debate freedom” and our first amendment- our freedom of speech- stems from such a reverence for debate. Freedom of speech benefits the majority; if it only protected a minority, then, at some point, the majority would do away with such cumbersome liberties. The majority protects the freedom of speech so it in turn can improve and refine its dogma. In order to find the “Right and True” according to Elizabeth Stanton, everyone must have an equal voice especially the underrepresented (e.g. women). Dissidence produces evolution not revolution. In Crisis, Thomas Paine calls upon American to “not give up your arms” to the British; he wanted Americans to oppose the crown but also believed that the role of oversight of any governmental institution falls to the governed. For Paine, to relinquish the tools of opposition, such as weapons, constituted treason. Without opposition, the colonies would suffer under British rule ad infinitum. The founding fathers developed the second amendment to foster vigilance amongst the population. A government unopposed and given absolute power will see its offices corrupted absolutely. Today, the duty of each citizens prevails in the power of their voice not their guns. The common citizen must oppose the government. The common citizen must keep the government in check. The common citizen must create a government in his image and with his voice. “Silence is taken to signal the consent of the people” and so, as Rousseau upholds, the duty of the people is to not remain silent.

While the people must enforce a standard upon created institutions, the institutions they create (i.e. governments) in turn mandate that the people conform to a standard. The very first laws in civilization, the Code of Hammurabi, demonstrate this mandate: an eye for an eye. The standard for which the Babylonians sought to hold their people to was a moral standard. Through the creation of laws and execution of its power, the government’s duty lies in defending the morality of its people. Lincoln, in his Gettysburg address, called upon the nation to remain “dedicated to the unfinished work” and proclaimed the “government shall not perish from this Earth”. Lincoln’s presidency oversaw the battle for the morality of a nation- slavery or liberty, the American ideal or an economic tradition, morality or supremacy. The Union engaged in total warfare against the South for, inevitably, the abolishment of the amoral institution of slavery. Here, the government defended the morality of its people by seeking to purge a practice described as the work of the devil. The founding fathers created Lincoln’s country as a beacon of freedom and hope, when the Union- the government- saw their core ideals were failing, they had a duty to their people to reinstall such liberties and principles by which the people of the United States had championed in their creation of the government . Our laws constitute the morality of our society and the duty of the government falls to enforcing them. Without such enforcement and checks upon its people, our society would very much resemble that Chilean street corner.

Throughout the world, the balance of duties within a functioning governmental system remain fairly homogenous. The government must bestow upon its people morality by enforcing laws and protections. Contrastingly, the people must raise their voice to oppose the government in order to check its power. We as civilians created an institution to keep the peace but we must break such peace, conformity, to ensure such institutions do not overstep their purposes. You witnessed the paradox of such a system sitting in that Chilean cafe. The anarchists have a duty to oppose their government in order to foster its refinement and the Chilean government has a duty to fight, in order to protect its people and the peace, such breaches of morality. No one man can convince another man to live morally for the common good, in unity- through governments- we can: and so lies the duty of such institutions. Yet, throughout history we see the autocratic tendencies of such institutions whom hold the moral high ground. We, as a people, must oppose such power and yet (the paradox appears again), not to the point where we, as a society, do not submit to their big stick morality (big stick often being required, for one man may be good but many are not).  Tersely, the duties of any government and any people center around the amelioration of the alternate.


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