Limited Government: A rights-respecting government

“To secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”

– Thomas Jefferson, The United States Declaration of Independence

Imagine the following: suppose we have a government that is based on voluntary, contractual agreement from its citizens. That is, the citizens agree, voluntarily, and in a signed, written contract, to the structure and function of their government: the legislative body which writes the laws (as well as the elective process by which legislators are chosen), the executive body that enforces the laws, and the court system which interprets the law in individual cases and settles disputes. Furthermore, since all citizens are taking part in this government voluntarily, they can easily decide to withdraw from the agreement by a simple process of legally renouncing their citizenship, and removing themselves from the jurisdiction and protection of the government.

This model, which is called a limited government, is a government based on the consent of the governed. It is formed by people joining together through a voluntary, contractual agreement, with the right to revoke their consent at any time. This form of government maintains absolute and consistent respect for the individual rights of its citizens.

This model of government is analagous to many other contractual agreements with which we interact with the people around us. Take for example a corporation. The corporation doesn’t belong to any individual shareholder personally, but it’s instituted and owned by them all, per the terms of their contractual agreement. You may be an employee or a shareholder in such a corporation yourself right now. Your relationship to the corporation is of course a voluntary relationship: you are free to buy shares and become a shareholder, or sell off your shares and leave the shareholder agreement, or to become an employee or sever your employment at any time.

As long as you do maintain your relationship with this corporation, it is by way of (and under the protection of) written agreement. This written agreement grants you certain rights: if the corporation violates this agreement, they are liable and are accountable for their transgressions (potentially owing you compensation), and will be held legally accountable. This written agreement also specifies the means by which corporate policies are set: usually let’s say by a board of directors. If this board of directors, like a legislature for a government, sets a policy for the company – so long as that policy is made according to the terms set in place in the written agreement it’s made in the first place (like the country’s constitution) – then that becomes the new policy for the company. Fortunately, if you don’t agree with the policy – let’s say it’s one that is going to be harmful to you, personally, either in your stock value or the nature of your job – you are free to simply end your relationship with the company, sell your shares, or quit your job. But so long as you stick with them, that is the policy, and you are agreeing to follow it, even if you don’t like it or find it harmful to you.

In this way, a country governed by limited government can rightfully and legitimately establish policies, like restricting border crossings, or levying a tax, with which its citizens may not even agree, or may even find harmful – and yet, the government imposes nothing involuntary on its citizens, who are free to drop their agreement at any time.

For this reason, it cannot legitimately be said that, inherently, “taxation is theft”, or that there is categorically a right to “the freedom of travel across a country’s borders”. For consenting citizens who take part in a limited government, their taxes are not imposed involuntarily, and restricting border crossings is not without their consent. Even if they disagree with the particular policy or find it harmful, so long as they continue to choose to remain a citizen, their rights are not being violated.

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