why do we need government? america’s form of government is based on a set of ideas. these ideas establish what the purpose of government sh
Why do we need government?
America’s form of government is based on a set of ideas. These ideas
establish what the purpose of government should be and what kind of
government is best. Many of the Founding Father’s (writers of the
Constitution) ideas about government were based on the ideas of the
philosopher John Locke. John Locke tried to imagine what life would be
like if people lived in a state of nature, which is a situation where
no governments or laws existed at all.
Be a philosopher:
Imagine you and all the students in your school are living in a state
of nature. You have plenty of food and other resources to survive, but
there is no government or laws to follow. Think about the following
questions and be prepared to share your ideas.
What might be some advantages (good) of living in a state of
What might be some disadvantages (bad) of living in a state of
What rights, if any, might you expect to have in a state of
What might people who are stronger or smarter than others try to
What might people who are weaker or less skilled than others try
to do? Why?
What might life be like for everyone living in a state of nature?
Would anyone have the right to govern (rule over) you? Why?
Would you have the right to govern (rule over) anyone else? Why?
What are some things the people could do to protect their lives,
liberty or property?
After answering the above questions now use those ideas to think about
the following question:
What should be the main purpose of government?
J ohn Locke believed that reasoning (thinking logically) can
determine what rights people would have in a state of nature. He
decided that life, liberty (freedom), and property are natural rights,
which are rights everyone should have just because they are human
The Founding Fathers based American’s rights on the laws of nature,
which were made by God. The Declaration of Independence speaks of “the
Laws of Nature” when it says that people are “endowed (given) by their
Creator” with certain basic rights that no one may take away.
What did John Locke say might happen in a state of nature?
Locke believed that most people are good and respect the rights of
others because their conscience tells them they should. However,
some people are not so good. Sometimes people who are stronger and
more skilled abuse those who are weaker or less skilled.
Locke believed that in a state of nature, people protect their
natural rights – life, liberty and property- by using their own
strength and skill. The weaker and less skilled would find it
difficult to protect their rights. Instead, the weaker people
would try to protect their rights by joining together against the
Locke believed that in a state of nature, no one’s life, liberty
or property would be safe because there would be no government or
laws to protect them. This is why people agreed to form
governments. According to Locke, governments do no exist until
people create them.
Locke believed that in a state of nature, no one would have the
right to govern (rule over) you, and you would not have the right
to govern anyone else. According to Locke, the only way the people
get the right to govern anyone else is when the people give their
consent (approval/permission). If the people have not given their
consent to create a government, the government is not lawful or
legal. In other words, the power of a lawful government comes from
the consent (permission) of the people.
Why do people agree to form a social contract?
Although people agree everyone has natural rights (life, liberty and
property), they worry about how those rights will be protected. In a
state of nature, people might feel free to do anything they want to
do. However, their rights would not be protected and that would make
them feel insecure.
For John Locke, the great problem was to find a way to protect each
person’s natural rights so that everyone could enjoy them and live at
peace with each other. He felt that the best way to solve this problem
is for each person to agree with others and create a government that
gives it the power to make and enforce laws. Locke called this kind of
agreement a social contact.
As in all contracts, you must give up something to get something
(compromise). In a social contract everyone promises to give up the
right to do everything they want in exchange for security that can be
provided by a government. Each person agrees to obey the limits placed
on them by the laws of the government. Everyone gains the security of
knowing that their rights to life, liberty, and property are
According to Locke, the main purpose of government is to protect those
natural rights that the individual cannot effectively protect in a
state of nature.
Preamble to the Constitution
According to the preamble, what is the purpose of the government?
“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect
Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the
common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings
of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish
this Constitution for the United States of America”.
Explain the following phrases or word:
“form a more perfect Union” –
“establish justice” –
“insure domestic tranquility” –
“provide for the common defense” –
“promote the general welfare” –
“secure the blessings of liberty” –