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Necessary Evil

Jan 17th 2023 7 Min read Seymour Goode

How far do we allow a necessary evil to go before we must resist it?

Thomas Paine was one of the Founding Fathers who penned pamphlets read by many colonialists. One such pamphlet was titled “Common Sense”. Living under the thumb of the king, he surely emphasized the escape from that type of tyranny. Reading text from the colonial times is interesting and difficult at the same time. Extracting the meaning and heartfelt, gut- wrenching feelings isn't so difficult with the historical knowledge of the times. It is also interesting how much of those thoughts can be applied to today.

Paine starts with “Perhaps the sentiments contained ..., are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor...time makes more converts than reason.” He had to lay out his arguments into the minds of those that it most affected. Over time, people may come to the same conclusions...then do something about it.

Given the situation of the colonists, being under the strict, and often violent, power of the British Kingdom, Paine's writing intended to open the eyes of the colonists to other options. He described the governments of other countries and kingdoms and what ultimately gave king or family or heirs their power. He concluded that the power to rule over the people was either taken from the people or requested by the people.

More importantly, he identifies that ANY GOVERNING POWER OVER THE PEOPLE IS ESSENTIALLY EVIL. It may be a necessary evil to provide general defense (at first) but will inherently become evil to the point of it being tyrannical.

He writes 'Some writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil, in its worst state an intolerable one.” He does submit that if society irresistibly obeyed conscience, there would be no need for lawmakers. Since there are some that do not abide, good-conscience people give up some of their rights and property to protect the rest. This bodes that the overall welfare of the many would be managed by the few (the government...of whatever type), including defending the homeland from invasion and executing the rules as “requested” by society.

Ultimately, his basis and arguments can be applied to our current situation. In short, the people MUST, at some point, restrain the governing power when those that believe they have the authority to impose tyranny or default on the critical reason that the people gave them the power.

Our founding fathers and the assembly of representatives of the colonies, throughout a number of years and revisions, ultimately established the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States. In those documents we find the power of the people. Each colony, once separate from the King (through the American Revolution), also created local governments with elected


officials. The centralized government was to provide for defense of the states and to assist in resolution of disputes among the states.

“Give them an inch and they'll take a yard.” ...or a mile. This is a common phrase which means, in this sense, that when we give some our power away, we will lose most of our power. Government will continue to take and take and take.

So, what. We've done well over the last few hundred years.

But what has been given that cannot be returned to the people? Only the reader can answer this question. I may suggest a few of the “battles” of current and recent years. The continual attempts to curb ownership of a particular piece of equipment by creating hurdles and, yes, the suggestion of actively taking them from you, the law-abiding citizen, is but one. Speed limits and smoking laws were intended to “be good for society”, but they only restrained the individual citizen. We have other laws in place which allow for an offended party to seek compensation from the offender, so why did we need the speed limits or smoking laws? I am not making an argument that these rules are not in the best interest of society, just that the government controls the law and the people by providing punishments. Right or Wrong, that is our current situation.

Regarding a bigger picture, the US is a Democratic Republic. (More on that in future writings). What do we do when tyranny rears its ugly head OR the necessary evil, which we have empowered, does not do the will of the people?

Here lies the difficulty which we face as citizens. First, we must realize the local, state, and federal differentiations. At the local level, we have the power to meet with the school board or the mayor or town council to air our grievances. This can be done successfully by an individual or a small group. At the state level, the individual or small group may be able to meet with a few members of the House or Senate or some of their assistants, but surely would be subject to that representative mustering the need or desire to raise your concern to others. It seems less likely to be effective, unless the group requesting change is large enough, strong enough or tenacious enough. Federally, we have given so much power to so few, that even a million moms marching for years on DC, may have little or no impact. WE RELY ON ELECTIONS to change those that don't or won't represent the people properly. It is important to note here, that change is slow as to protect rights. TYRANNY TAKES BUT A FEW MOMENTS.

I am not advocating revolution, as Paine intended. I like our form of government. I am suggesting that good people must be willing to take on the difficult task of representing good people. To do this, we must have conversations with other good people who may be willing to serve. Start the conversation.

Remain vigilant. Remain strong.

Together we can right the ship of our necessary evil without losing ourselves along the way.