“Government like fire, is a dangerous servant and a fearful master”
This quote, attributed to George Washington, but apparently unverified, is nevertheless spot on.
We “get” it right away, but as I really thought about what it means I came up with the idea of a campfire. Now, a campfire is very useful, within the boundaries set for it. It provides heat and light, a means to warm ourselves and cook, and even some measure of protection. It is not only useful but downright necessary in a survival situation. It does involve risk however. You could fall into it, or it could catch your coat on fire, a dangerous servant, but a useful one. Proper caution used, quite an acceptable level of risk.
So our government, provides security on a national level against foreign armies and invaders, and on an individual level against those who would infringe upon our rights of life, liberty, and property. It provides certain works that “grease the engines” of the free market, like roads and harbors, to enable people to do what they do best, and carry out their pursuit of happiness. Ideally all contribute, and all benefit. This is the ideal.
Now, comes the problem. If our campfire is not properly maintained, if it is not monitored sufficiently, it may jump outside of it’s intended boundaries. It could start a brushfire, which rather than serve, now begins to destroy. Perhaps we are sleeping, and are unaware of the damage being caused. While we are dreaming the fire grows and rages, and becomes an outright forest fire. Now it is damaging and destroying everything in it’s path. Homes and businesses, even life itself are falling victim to it. Instead of a servant, it has become the master.
So our government, once outside of the boundaries of our Constitution, begins to destroy, rather than support. I would not say we’re at the forest fire stage yet, but it’s definitely jumped the barrier and there is a patch of grass on fire. There’s still time to stamp it out, but we must have citizens who not only understand the critical importance of limits on government, but are willing to work to restore and maintain those limits. To monitor, if you will.
If power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely, than on a sliding scale the more power government gains, the more corrupt it becomes. We see this happening in front of our face today. The problem with the Occupy Wall Street movement is that they see the corruption, but they think the answer is to give government more power and money. In our analogy that is like adding fuel to the proverbial fire.
Government is useful, necessary, but it must be watched like a hawk and kept within the boundaries of the Constitution. Those who don’t understand that are dreaming while the forest begins to burn.