What is the Civil Government’s Job? Justice!

I hear a lot about small government and big government, liberal government and conservative government, government by the people—whether we the people or me the people. You name it. I hear a lot about what the civil government is doing that it shouldn’t be doing. I hear very little about what it is supposed to be doing.

What is the civil government’s job? Spoiler alert: it has something to do with justice.1 Let’s begin by outlining the current job description of the national government (though there is some overlap with the state and local authorities). The following list is not exhaustive, and I don’t think the civil government should be involved in all of these tasks, so don’t shoot the messenger:

  • Healthcare
  • Welfare
  • Education
  • Housing
  • Public Transportation
  • Infrastructure (roads, bridges, etc.)
  • Mail
  • Job Creation
  • Subsidizing Science
  • Subsidizing Art
  • Subsidizing Business
  • Subsidizing Agriculture
  • Space Travel
  • Regulating the economy
  • Regulating the currency
  • Regulating Energy
  • Protecting the Environment
  • International Diplomacy
  • Domestic Justice
  • Military Protection of Foreign Allies
  • Border Patrol
  • Homeland Security
  • International Military Conflicts
  • International and Homeland “Intelligence”

I think we can all agree that unless some of these jobs are removed and others severely curtailed, we are not going to shrink the size of our currently gargantuan nanny government. But no one can agree where to cut. That’s why it would be helpful to determine what the civil government’s job actually is.

What I have noticed is that most people have acclimated completely to the idea of a regulative government. Most people have no problem with checkpoints and lockdowns, surveillance, economic regulations, gun control, subsidies, graduated taxes, speed limits, permits, building codes, or any of the other myriad regulations that have become commonplace in the American experience. In fact, many people would be terrified without the government-enforced safety net (or spider’s web depending on how you see it) that surrounds them, chaperoning them in total security from the womb to the tomb. But it wasn’t always like that.

George Washington, in a 1789 letter to then Attorney General Edmund Randolph, said:

Impressed with a conviction that the due administration of justice is the firmest pillar of good Government, I have considered the first arrangement of the Judicial department as essential to the happiness of our Country, and to the stability of its political system . . .

Indeed, if you were to ask the Founding Fathers, “What is the purpose of the civil government?” I think they would all have given the same answer: “The administration of justice.” How far we have fallen from that ideal. But let’s not lay all the blame at the feet of our morbidly obese State.2 It really is our fault. We have let the civil government shirk its primary duty and take on a bunch of other duties which it is neither accountable for nor competent to accomplish. The civil government’s first and primary (almost only) job is justice.3

The question then becomes, if the civil government were pursuing justice, and only justice, what would that look like? I think it would be much simpler. It’s main jobs would be to punish law-breakers (after they have committed a crime and been convicted) and to protect our country from foreign invaders. Most everything else can go. And have you noticed that it is in those two very simple areas that our civil government does the worst job? We have a molasses-plugged justice system and a huge border security problem, and our national government is doing basically everything but it’s job. Hold your representatives to the fire, people.

  1. No, not the french electronica band. Although they are good. []
  2. “I’m big-boned,” she says. []
  3. And not social justice, whatever that means. Just plain old criminal justice. Man, this issue has become murky. []