Doug Smith: To govern or to rule?

14 Dec
Doug Smith is an opinion columnist, historian and associate editor for Free State Patriot

December 14, 2020

This is a distinction which many do not recognize, but is one of great importance. Most people, except for anarchists, accept that societies must be governed lest they fall into chaos. Many accept that premise, and consent to be governed (a supremely important condition: consent of the governed) in return for the stability of those around them being governed as well, and by the same laws.

Men will accept that they cannot break in and take their neighbors’ property because they desire it, with the implicit corollary that their neighbors, or the passing stranger, will be subject to the same restraint. The implied social contract is that we accept governance, and grant part of our authority to certain people to govern, enact, and enforce laws, under which we all agree to live. The express and written contract, the US Constitution, establishes clearly rules for conducting and governing ourselves, subject to those whom we will elect to exercise the authority under which we agree to live. In case you slept through or never attended 7th grade Civics, that is the Representative Republic under which we have lived since 1789.

We the people, constituted this republic in a written document of our laws and structure, and agreed that these were the laws under which our citizens would live. So then, our officials govern with the consent of the governed, as expressed in that constitution, establishing our form of government, the methods for selecting who would govern, and, vitally, establishing the limits to which we would accept said governance.

We accept a Congress which may levy taxes and declare war. We do not accept Prima Nocte.

Citizens who wish to stand for election to public office do so in order to govern, as accepted by that contract under which we, as citizens, agree to live, and by our choice. Elected officials are expected to, and should expect to, govern.

Then there are those who wish to rule. One who rules over others does so on a simple basis: because I said so. A ruler backs up such pronouncements with the threat of force. William the Conqueror ruled England because he raised and kept an army and used it to force his rule on the Saxons on England. “By right of conquest” is an ancient justification for ruling a people. The Saxons may not appreciate being ruled by the Normans, or the Chinese by the Mongols, or the Lithuanians by the Russians. Such people are often called subjects, because they are subject to the power, and whim, of their rulers. A ruler may also govern well, as in the case of Bernadotte in Sweden. The problem is that the supply of benevolent dictators is rather sparse. More often they govern poorly, placing their own needs and hungers above that of the people they rule. Hence common soldiers bleed to expand the demesnes of a Duke or Prince, and the rewards of their exertions are not their own. What they are given for their blood is out of noblesse oblige, their Lord granting what he chooses, in return for their forced service.

Henry’s “band of brothers” speech notwithstanding, it is usually not a very good bargain to be a subject. Just by the implication of the word, you are subject to power and a person who is greater than yourself. You worth is only what your ruler chooses to attach to you.

A citizen of a republic, on the other hand, is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and may develop worth based on his abilities and willingness to work and sacrifice. If he chooses to fight and defend his land, it is because of the value he places on it, and his place in it. It is not so his Prince can call himself the Duke of Aquitaine.

The United States was formed as a Republic of citizens who were subjects and determined that they would be free citizens, and subjects no more, regardless the cost. Citizens, as we know, are not always governed well. But they can “Throw the bums out” every few years, and not take down the King when things get really bad. It is a much better thing to be governed than to be ruled.  Rulers do so by their own whim, and are not obligated to abide by their orders to their subjects. Representatives of citizens who enact or enforce laws are subject to the same laws and the guy waiting tables or stacking shelves.

We eat at the same table, sit in the same boat, and walk on the same road. There is no royal road to geometry. In a Republic, there is no Royal road to anywhere. Governors and Senators, Presidents and Vice Presidents, are subject to the same laws and the rest of us. There is, or should be, no Royal road for the children of elected officials to establish them into a dynasty.

That was the heritage and legacy the founders left for this new nation, and new experiment in self-governance. We, the people, would elect our leaders. They in turn, would govern, not rule, in accordance with laws under which we agreed to be governed. They left us “a Republic, if we could keep it.

So, with that brief history synopsis, look around. Do we have leaders faithful to that vision and the laws to which we have consented? Do we have officials who wish to rule by fiat: Because I said so, you must do what I say but must not do? You may not do what I may do.

Do they wish to govern, or to rule? We live in a Republic which rejected the Divine Right of Kings, loudly. If we have petit kings who wish to rule free citizens, it’s time to throw the Bums out.

Reject Rulers. Elect leaders. Establish justice. Hold on to the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for ourselves and our posterity.

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