The True Function of Government

Henry Ware Allen

[Reprinted from the Single Tax Review, September-October 1921]

It is just as true now as it ever was that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. As a people we are apt to be superficial, not going deep enough into the problems before us. It is very easy to make heavy the yoke of government and very, very difficult to throw it off afterward. History records a strange tendency in man to enslave himself, to lose his natural rights. Benevolent despotism has always been attractive to a certain class of minds, but, after all, has it any place in a free country? And does not history prove that benevolent despotism leads invariably to despotism that is anything but benevolent? We need to commune more often with that spirit of liberty which has animated the struggle upward throughout all time, the spirit of '76; for its neglect invites a despotism imposed upon us by our own office-holders quite as unbearable as that of a foreign tyrant.

Many economists have defined the proper limitations of the functions of government, but none better than this by Henry George:

"It is not the province of government to make men virtuous or religious, or to preserve the fool from the consequence of his own folly. Government should be repressive no further than is necessary to secure liberty by protecting the equal rights of each from aggression on the part of others, and the moment governmental prohibitions extend beyond this line, they are in danger of defeating the very ends they are intended to serve."