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People, not the government, should decide how to organize

their lives. Discuss.


Imagine a world without governments where individuals are
free to act as they wish depending on your ideological inclinations;
such an idea can be either immensely exciting or worrying.
Regardless, given the increased attention and debate
surrounding government intervention in the lives of its citizens, such
a discussion is highly relevant and important. In my view, although
the government should play an active role in the organization in
certain aspects of citizen life, a line has to be drawn highly
personal issues like religion and sexual orientation should still be left
to the individual.
Solitary, poor, nasty, bruttish and short these are the words
used by Thomas Hobbes, an 17th century political philosopher, to
describe the condition of man in his most natural and primal state.
This has been the principal justification behind the establishment of
a powerful government as well as the exercise of its powers to
organize the life of citizens. Given his selfish and hostile nature, it is
thought that every man, in the absence of government intervention,
will pursue his selfish interests without regard of the people around
him. What results is a chaotic, uncertain and hostile environment
where individuals harm and exploit one another to further their own
interests and satisfy their own desires. In such a chaotic
environment, cooperation and collective action cannot take place
because individuals lived in constant fear and suspicion of one
another. The government, as postulated by Hobbes, was thus
created from the peoples desire to avoid such a mutually
undesirable situation by ceding certain liberties and freedoms to a
central authority, it was hoped that peace, stability and order could
be achieved. Government intervention is therefore justified, on
grounds of establishing order and stability in society, which in turn
provides a basis for mutual cooperation and civil progress.
The most direct and relatable form of such an organization of
our lives is in the form of laws established by the government. To
rein in our selfish and bruttish tendencies, laws are drafted to
protect individuals from each other and to discourage unconducive
behaviour in society. For example, laws against injury, murder, rape
and theft are present in almost all modern societies. These laws
effectively make use of punishments to rein in and suppress the
tendencies of individuals to commit such offences. To this end, the
government is effective because (by virtue of its security apparatus)
it possesses an overwhelming monopoly of force and power. With
stability and certainty established, individuals would then be able to
interact and cooperate without fear. Such has been the basis that
has underlied the proliferation of trade, commerce, and the growth
of human civilization for the past centuries.

Another important reason why governments should play an


active role in the organization of citizens lives concerns the nature
and aim of a state. Individuals, due to their disparate nature and
different upbringings, vary in terms of ideals, practices as well as
tastes and preferences. It can thus be said that no two individual will
possess the same desires and ideals of his good life. Amidst such a
sea of differences, the role of the government, or the state, is to
facilitate the achievement of the common good, an ideal situation
that is and beneficial to most members of society. Often, this
requires a compromise of individual interests because the common
good for society may not always align with that of every individual.
Government intervention and forced-organization is therefore
required because self-serving individuals will never compromise on
their personal ideals to achieve collective welfare. A simple and
relatable example would be the case of waste disposal. While we
would all agree that a clean and rubbish-free environment would be
beneficial to the general welfare of society, self-seeking individuals
will find it much more convenient to simply dump their rubbish
carelessly on the ground. Government intervention is thus needed
to ensure their individual interests are held in check to achieve
outcomes that are beneficial to the entire society.
Despite the merits and justifications of government
intervention in the life of its citizens, surely there must be some
limits to the powers a government can possess?
Ronald Reagen, a former US President, once said The
government exists to protect us from each other. Where government
has gone beyond its limits is deciding to protect us from ourselves.
On highly personal issues such as religion, sexual orientation or
even euthanasia, my view is that individual autonomy should still be
respected. But what constitutes highly personal matters? This can
be defined as actions concerning the individual without any harmful
consequences on others or the society in general. Such decisions
can be in the form of religious inclinations, sexual orientation or
even an individuals decision to sell his organs or end his own life.
As controversial as they sound, governments should avoid moralistic
interventions in these aspects of personal life, both as a matter of
principle and of practice.
In terms of principle, such interventionist practices can be
seen as a violation of an individuals freedom and liberty. While the
social contract between citizens and the government involved the
cedeing of certain liberties to the government in exchange for
security these liberties only apply to actions that may compromise
on the welfare of others. In issues like euthanasia and the selling of
organs, although they often seen as controversial and immoral,
they are actually completely harmless to all parties in society.

In practice, governments will also find it increasingly hard to


adopt such a stance: as societies and states become increasingly
diverse, the residents of these cosmopolites will have increasingly
disparate ideals and beliefs. By hoping to organize personal life by
promoting one narrow set of ideals, the government risks alienating
minority groups and widening social divides in the community. Such
oppressive policies, like the one by Beijing authorities to ban Muslim
Uighurs in Xinjiang from practicing Muslim traditions like fasting and
keeping long bears, will ultimately result in counterproductive
backlash reactions, as seen from the resultant spike in protests and
violent terrorist reactions.
In modern politics, there is often a perceived antagonism
between freedom and government intervention, liberty and state
control. I believe this is a fallacious way of thinking There has
always been certain ambivalence between Freedom and
Government intervention. While true freedom is unattainable
without a certain degree of state control, too much of it will also
result in the collapse of civil society which undermines individual
freedoms. To find a comfortable balance between state intervention
and individual liberty - such is the challenge faced by modern states
worldwide.