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Old October 25, 2008, 04:11 PM   #1
Waitone
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Wherein does legitimacy for the existing US federal government reside?

I've been noodling this question around for quite a while now. I hope I have it right because if I do it will mean a whole series of follow-on questions and discussions.

Wherein does legitimacy for the existing US federal government reside?
--Is the federal government legitimate?
--Why is it legitimate?
--What is the source of its legitimacy?
--How does one know when said government ceases to be legitimate?

Let us keep the discussion limited to the US federal government. Feel free to rephrase the question since it would contribute to the sharpening of the debate.
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Old October 26, 2008, 10:56 AM   #2
Glenn E. Meyer
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What does legitimate mean? There is no supernatural or alien governing body that decides something is 'legitimate'.

Governments exist as the recognized and/or agreed upon user of force to impose behaviors on society. Everything they do after that is secondary.

When a part of society rises to the level that it controls the use of force most of the time - it is the government.

How it rises to that level could be through democracy or some form of tyranny, autocracy, etc.

Those who suggest alternate uses of force are suppressed or if they become the dominante users of force, they are the government.

Our federal government is the ultimate user of force to enforce behaviors in our territory.

Examples are everywhere:

1. The Civil War
2. Desegregation in the South - for those who didn't get the point of the Civil War.
3. Arresting criminals

Forms of government are just the ways to decide to use force as a primary goal to modify behavior. Then then they do other stuff - like decide your sex life or put money into banks destroyed by rich idiots.
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Old October 26, 2008, 11:24 AM   #3
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Are you looking for a history lesson recounting the succession of governmental entities in North America whereby our current government derives its legitimacy?

I agree with Glenn, you need to define the word legitimate for the purposes of this discussion.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dennis, The Constitutional Peasant
Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony.
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Old October 26, 2008, 11:48 AM   #4
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Interesting question

Don't we have some old papers lying around somewhere that include the phrase "governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed", or something like that?

If that is truly the case (and the only other argument for government seems to be "divine right" - which I personally disagree with), I think what matters most is if that consent is voluntary or coerced. Autocratic governments rule through coercion. They get their "consent" at the point of a gun (or sword in the olden days). Democracies rule through voluntary consent, and that would include our current Republic, such as it is.

The true flaw in our government isn't the system as set up, but the add-ons (particularly in the past 100years or so), and the people in government service.

The voting, taxpaying citizens of the USA are the government! Those people in Federal service (elected and non-elected) are simply people we hired to manage things. Unfortunately, too many of them seem to have lost sight of this principle. My personal view is that we have taken the wrong path granting any government officials any special degree of respect.

They are not special people (or at least they are not supposed to be), they are hired servants, worthy of respect only as individuals, and for the quality of the job they do. We hire (via elections) our Senators, Congressmen, and President the same as we hire our dogcatchers, city sewer workers, and anyone else in a govt job. And the base principle is no different than the people we hire to mow our lawn or build a garage for us. They are hired to do a specific job, and do it to our satisfaction.

We constantly (as a people) turn to our elected officials for leadership, and this, I feel is the wrong direction. That is one of our problems. The will of the people should lead, with our elected officials merely being the mechanism for carrying out the details. Instead, for quite some time we have been electing people to lead us, and they have lead us to where we are today.

We had a saying, decades ago when I was in the Army, whenever troops were griping about some particular thing that irked them above the norm, we would say "It isn't the Army, it's the people in the Army". I feel the same way about our government today.
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Old October 26, 2008, 04:30 PM   #5
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Given the tone and timber of the question, it would appear that you believe that the Federal government lacks legitimacy.

Why?
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Old October 26, 2008, 05:19 PM   #6
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Quote:
Given the tone and timber of the question, it would appear that you believe that the Federal government lacks legitimacy.
Incorrect assumption on your part. I used the federal government because that is the governing institution common to most of the members in this sub-forum. We have a lack of experience with the British government. Makes no sense to go back in time and question the legitimacy of the soviet government. I am merely asking a question of political philosophy. I am trying to get a feel for forum members underlying assumptions pertaining to their willingness to be governed by a particular unit of government. The discussion can move in any number of directions once a foundation is laid.

Simple enough, seems to me.
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Old October 26, 2008, 06:13 PM   #7
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The query is probably looking for something more etherial, but I prefer more pragmatic views...

--Is the federal government legitimate?
Yes.

--Why is it legitimate?
Because it is recognized as legitimate by other governments.

--What is the source of its legitimacy?
It's recognition.

--How does one know when said government ceases to be legitimate?
When it is overthrown and a new power recognized as legitimate.
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Old October 26, 2008, 09:39 PM   #8
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Government derives its authority from the consent of the governed.

As to when the government loses consent, that varies by situation. In the American Revolution it was slightly before the 1/3 disloyal, 1/3 apathetic, and 1/3 loyal. In the case of T.E. Lawrence, it seemed to be about 2% actively fighting, a vast majority passively against/apathetic, and a little over 500k pro-turkish/turkish troops.
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Old October 27, 2008, 12:36 PM   #9
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Why interject the British or Soviet system of government into the discussion?

I was making an observation about what I perceived to be YOUR view about the US Federal government. You didn't give us a lot to go on, so assumptions had to be made in order to more clearly define your stance on the matter.

You would certainly not be the first person I've encountered who believes(ed) that while the Fed. Gov't once had Constitutional legitimacy, the current Fed. Gov't as it has evolved doesn't have it.


So, to recap.

You accept the legitimacy of the Federal Government, but you question where or not that believe is valid.


Correct?
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Old October 27, 2008, 01:21 PM   #10
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Quote:
The voting, taxpaying citizens of the USA are the government! Those people in Federal service (elected and non-elected) are simply people we hired to manage things. Unfortunately, too many of them seem to have lost sight of this principle. My personal view is that we have taken the wrong path granting any government officials any special degree of respect.
Heinlein put it this way:
In a mature society, civil servant is semantically equivilant to civil master.

Glenn is correct with regard to gov't using force to keep the masses in line. Any group that is powerful enough to keep the population under control through threat of force usually becomes the government, whether by agreement or de facto.

Our country is a representative republic, not a democracy. We, as a people, sent representatives to hash out a constitution, then it was up to each colony-state to accept, reject or modify it until everyone agreed on the content. In theory, as long as the gov't stays within its bounds, it is legitimate (this does not guarantee good government however).

African villages have, for centuries, used three different methods for selecting their leaders. The warrior test wherein young men compete by skill and strength for the job. Other villages turn to the oldest member(s) to guide them with their experience. Third is the wise-man rule where men are tested for wisdom in complex disputes. (The so-called shaman or witch-doctor leaders are offshoots of the warrior as it's his skill in keeping villagers in fear that keeps him in power)

Once a leader is selected, your choice is either to stay and agree to his control or to leave for another village. Don't like our method? Fine, move to Bolivia or Saudi Arabia.

Which method of government is best? The question is best for whom or best for what? Each has its flaws and involves large numbers of people. It's like herding cats.

Democracy is based on the idea that a million men are wiser than one man. Autocracy is based on the idea that one man is wiser than a million men. The debates are endless.
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Old October 27, 2008, 09:38 PM   #11
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The federal government is legitimate because it is based on our Constitution, and all agencies and departments not named in the Constitution were created either by Congressional approval or by executive order which the Congress did not vote null and void. So far, the agencies currently in place have not been voted unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, so they are legitimate. So far, although those agencies may have done some unconstitutional things in our eyes, no one in the Supreme Court or the Congress have done anything about it.

Therefore, it is upon us as citizens and voters to elect Senators and Representatives who feel as we do and revoke those agencies' funding, or to vote in a President who would disband the agency in question. However, while polls show that voters are disgusted overall with Congress, polls also show that they are perfectly happy with their personal Congressional representation, so they continue to re-elect them. As long as the people continue to vote in a Congress that ignores our wishes in favor of their political party (like with the bailout), we give them legitimacy and have no recourse since we picked them to govern as we would like, even though we know they will govern as they see fit, regardless of our wishes.
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Old October 28, 2008, 05:30 AM   #12
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I know a guy who will give you a one hour dissertation on

how the U.S. government is no longer real. Has something to do with capital letters in U.S.A. or such.... his big thing was they did not have the right to tell him what to do. Like have a drivers license or require him to walk his dog on a leash. I'm not kidding here. Local town finally caught him walking his dog without the leash... From what I heard he got to spend 2 weeks in jail before they convinced him he would have to have a state I.D. to get out.

My point is you can argue all day long as to whether the government, local, state, Federal is legit... but when you show up in front of a judge that works for and is a representative one of those...
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Old October 28, 2008, 06:56 AM   #13
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Quote:
The federal government is legitimate because it is based on our Constitution,
This is a bit circular, like a dictator saying his regime is legitimate because he is in power.

The Constitution was the blueprint written by those wanting to form a new government. To say the Constitution is what makes the government legit, you would then have to justify why the Constitution is legit as a justification.
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Old October 28, 2008, 09:29 AM   #14
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Quote:
This is a bit circular, like a dictator saying his regime is legitimate because he is in power.
The dictator and his goons are the only ones who say he is legitimate, the people of the United States say that the Constitution is legitimate, and our government is based on the Constitution. After all, there has never been a major move to revoke it and have another constitutional convention, so I'm not following how a dictator and the federal government are equal.
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Old October 28, 2008, 09:49 AM   #15
Glenn E. Meyer
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Legitimate

1. according to law; lawful: the property's legitimate owner.
2. in accordance with established rules, principles, or standards.
3. born in wedlock or of legally married parents: legitimate children.
4. in accordance with the laws of reasoning; logically inferable; logical: a legitimate conclusion.
5. resting on or ruling by the principle of hereditary right: a legitimate sovereign.
6. not spurious or unjustified; genuine: It was a legitimate complaint.
7. of the normal or regular type or kind.
8. Theater. of or pertaining to professionally produced stage plays, as distinguished from burlesque, vaudeville, television, motion pictures, etc.: an actor in the legitimate

--- It's all power - there's an semitheological undertone to the debate. And that's just silly. The Constitution was a social consensus by those in power and had the most applicable use of force at the time.

Very, very, simple.
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Old October 29, 2008, 11:04 AM   #16
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"you would then have to justify why the Constitution is legit as a justification."

The Constitution was presented to the states for discussion/debate.

The elected legislators in those states voted to accept the Constitution (either as written or conditionally), as the new source of government to replace the Articles of Confederation.

Those legislators had been elected to their positions based on the laws in effect in their various states at that time.

I don't see how it gets much more legitimate than that.
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Old November 2, 2008, 08:17 AM   #17
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It seems simple to my way of thinking. A government is legitimate when it's population says it is. Whether they say it tacitly or explicitly makes no difference. The government that a population chooses to let govern them is legitimate.
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Old November 3, 2008, 04:44 PM   #18
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As regards the US government, I think Mike Irwin has it exactly right.

ahenry wrote:
Quote:
The government that a population chooses to let govern them is legitimate.
This may be getting too far away from the question posed by the OP, but doesn't this amount to saying that all governments are legitimate until they're thrown out by their own citizens? I think that, at least under many totalitarian regimes, the idea that the population has a "choice" is sort of problematic: a government which both controls the information available to its citizens, and criminalizes any form of dissent, doesn't give its population much opportunity to make a choice in the matter.

And this argument would, among other things, eliminate "regime change" as a valid reason for invading another country -- ever. (Which might not be a bad thing, if you happen to think that national sovereignty means anything any more...)
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Old November 4, 2008, 01:02 AM   #19
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The original question posted sounds as though the poster is questioning the legitimacy of the current government as opposed to the original intent.

The government has changed through fiat legislation which has rewritten the Constitution. Taking the U.S. off the gold and silver standard; turning over coinage to the Federal Reserve; firearms laws in the face of a clearly written amendment prohibiting infringement; the creation of departments whose appointees are permitted to create law outside of Constitutional prescription; a two year army which has existed for more than a century; the abuse of the Commerce Clause; the abuse of the power to purchase lands, etc., for the building of forts, magazines, needful buildings, etc; and, of course, the Kelo decision.

Most of the answers so far given have addressed the logical question of legitimacy, including the definition thereof, but there has yet to be any discussion of the question of legitimacy in the minds of the electorate.
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Old November 4, 2008, 01:53 AM   #20
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"but there has yet to be any discussion of the question of legitimacy in the minds of the electorate."

I think that concept is quite adequately explained every two years during the standard election cycle.
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Old November 4, 2008, 02:03 AM   #21
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Not if the "My grand daddy was a <blank>; my daddy was a <blank>; and By God I'm voting <blank>!" types are considered.

What of Kennedy, et al? Year after year the voters of the state send him back to create laws which screw up the rest of the country for no other reason than he is a democrat from a democrat state.

Think he's dangerous now? Wait until he's dead and the "Ted Kennedy Memorial <fill in the blank> Act" bills start marching up the aisle of the Senate.
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Old November 4, 2008, 10:20 AM   #22
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Jim, you have answered your own question.

As long as the majority (of those that vote), keep voting, then the government is authentic and legitimate. Those that don't vote merely indicate acquiescence to the status quo.

The above necessarily assumes that the voting is not forced or coerced.
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Old November 4, 2008, 10:29 AM   #23
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"What of Kennedy, et al? Year after year the voters of the state send him back to create laws which screw up the rest of the country for no other reason than he is a democrat from a democrat state."

And what of him?

He's the only Senator from the only state that sends representatives to Congress?

In YOUR view people send him to Congress to screw up the nation.

What about the view of the people who have repeatedly sent him to Congress? Thing their view might just be a little different?

What, then, gives YOUR view more legitimacy than their view?

Note that "I'm a God fearing Christian conservative voting gun owner!" doesn't convey legitimacy to one's opinions.
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Old November 4, 2008, 10:41 AM   #24
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Quote:
Note that "I'm a God fearing Christian conservative voting gun owner!" doesn't convey legitimacy to one's opinions.
That's why I said earlier that folks are avoiding the issue of assuming that legitimacy has some universal and/or theological truth that they agree with it. Violate that and the gummint ain't legit.

So the debate will devolve to one about whether one party seems to get through a policy that you don't agree with and then it's not legitimate as your theology of legitimacy is obviously the only truth.

If Kennedy or Bush got through a law by the normal legislative means as they were elected by normal democratic elections, and you don't like it because of your theological surety of the way liberty and/or government is defined, then it's not legit.

I am old enough to remember racist laws that were passed by 'democratic' means and supported by various 'preachers' speaking the 'word of god'. Those supporters thought those were legit.

When the majority of the country moved away from those positions, the laws were changed in the legislature and the court. Then troops enforced them.

Power gives you the veil of legitimacy. Sit and think your view is the only legit one. Or think about the real dynamics of human behavior and governance.
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Old November 4, 2008, 11:12 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Antipitas
As long as the majority (of those that vote), keep voting, then the government is authentic and legitimate. Those that don't vote merely indicate acquiescence to the status quo.
Quite true. It is the abuses which define the government in many people's minds -- thus the rise in militias and rampant patriot mythology several years ago.

The same government which decries the use of loopholes in the laws for the common man are busy as beavers exploiting the loopholes in the Constitution. Some examples would be the Commerce Clause, Article I, Section 8, Para 18, and the Supremacy Clause.

The commerce clause is now taken as empowering the federal government to regulate intrastate commerce as well as interstate commerce -- a view not held until very recently -- spawned by firearms laws. (The iron ore that was smelted into steel came from Canada; and was forged in Pennsylvania; and sold to a supplier in New Hampshire; which sold it to a firearm manufacturer in Massachusetts; which machined the raw billet into a pistol barrel so anything else the barrel is attached to becomes interstate commerce because the barrel is made from components which traveled in interstate commerce prior to becoming the finished product.) The drunken logic of legislators knows no bounds if it furthers their agendae.

Article I, Section 8, Para 18, in the minds of most congresspersons, gives them unlimited power to do whatever they please. They forget that the courts ruled long ago that the federal government acts as an agent of and to the states; but politicians believe the Supremacy Clause declares them to be the Lords and Masters of the states.

As I said before, it is the abuses which set the bar for legitimacy in the minds of many.
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