Rousseau was perhaps the first to popularize the fiction now taught in civics classes about how government was created. It holds that men sat down together and rationally thought out the concept of government as a solution to problems that confronted them. The government of the United States was, however, the first to be formed in any way remotely like Rousseau’s ideal. Even then, it had far from universal support from the three million colonials whom it claimed to represent. The U.S. government, after all, grew out of an illegal conspiracy to overthrow and replace the existing government.
There’s no question that the result was, by an order of magnitude, the best blueprint for a government that had yet been conceived. Most of America’s Founding Fathers believed the main purpose of government was to protect its subjects from the initiation of violence from any source; government itself prominently included. That made the U.S. government almost unique in history. And it was that concept – not natural resources, the ethnic composition of American immigrants, or luck – that turned America into the paragon it became.
The origin of government itself, however, was nothing like Rousseau’s fable or the origin of the United States Constitution. The most realistic scenario for the origin of government is a roving group of bandits deciding that life would be easier if they settled down in a particular locale, and simply taxing the residents for a fixed percentage (rather like “protection money”) instead of periodically sweeping through and carrying off all they could get away with. It’s no accident that the ruling classes everywhere have martial backgrounds. Royalty are really nothing more than successful marauders who have buried the origins of their wealth in romance.
Romanticizing government, making it seem like Camelot, populated by brave knights and benevolent kings, painting it as noble and ennobling, helps people to accept its jurisdiction. But, like most things, government is shaped by its origins. Author Rick Maybury may have said it best in Whatever Happened to Justice?,
“A castle was not so much a plush palace as the headquarters for a concentration camp. These camps, called feudal kingdoms, were established by conquering barbarians who’d enslaved the local people. When you see one, ask to see not just the stately halls and bedrooms, but the dungeons and torture chambers.
“A castle was a hangout for silk-clad gangsters who were stealing from helpless workers. The king was the ‘lord’ who had control of the blackjack; he claimed a special ‘divine right’ to use force on the innocent.
“Fantasies about handsome princes and beautiful princesses are dangerous; they whitewash the truth. They give children the impression political power is wonderful stuff.”