We use the term “good” a little flippantly. It’s a “good” person, it was a “good” movie, it’s a “good” car. Using the word “good” in these ways is almost purely subjective, relying on personal opinion or popular consensus, as opposed to an objective standard that everyone can.
share independent of opinions and emotions. A person can do good for some convenience, or because punishment is in store for a serious evil or, again, because others will respect him less if he does evil. He can, however, also do good out of pure love
How do we measure “good”? It is defined only by the majority, which is a particularly relevant question when we think about “good” government. Is it defined by current societal mores? Or, is it defined by a transcendent value? The good of something lies in its ability to accomplish what it was created for; therefore, something is good when it fulfills its purpose. To know if something is good, we must first know its purpose.
What is, then, the purpose of our government, and can we declare “good”? Our founding documents provide the purpose by insisting that all men are created equal, naming the rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, declaring that government is instituted to secure these rights, and that a “greater union perfect” “establish justice, secure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity…”
Thomas Jefferson adds to these precepts with the following: “Yet one more thing, fellow citizens—a wise and frugal government, which prevents men from injuring one another, which will otherwise leave them free to regulate their own activities of industry and improvement, and will not take from the mouth of the worker the bread he has earned. This is the sum of good government.”
These are admirable values to pursue, which most would regard as engendering “good” government, and, with the exception of a few
aberrations due to man’s sin, history has shown us capable of sustaining these high virtues. The 20th century, however, saw our government abandon some of these founding principles. We have become more centralized, which results in more authority being vested in the federal government, and especially the executive branch. Government intrudes more and more often into the lives of citizens, introducing regulations and demanding egalitarian outcomes, which favor equality of outcome as opposed to equality of opportunity.
The fear of factions has been realized, and many in the government have lost sight of the general values that benefit a whole population and are motivated to promote only what benefits their group. This drift has caused people across the political spectrum to become increasingly frustrated with the government to the point
both sides say our government is no longer “good”.
A corollary to “good” government is the “good,” or virtuous, citizen. A citizen who has the character necessary for the self-republican
government, and that understands and acts to promote justice. Each generation must educate and equip the next to ensure a prosperous rights-oriented republic through a commitment to protecting fundamental personal liberties, the rule of law, tolerance of necessary government powers, and doing the hard work of protection and to preserve such a republic. .
At its core, our government is still “good.” Our written documents continue to extol the original virtues that made the foundations beautiful, but we, the elected officials and the general population, have not used the tools available to us to compel the government from
grow into the form it now has. Does a “good” state depend on the existence of virtuous citizens, or only on a good constitution and good laws? In our case, it is a healthy measure of both.