Purpose of Government

Hal Baillie

Missing Socrates

June 10, 2023

The purpose of government:

To be held June 21, 2023


“Knowledge of the good would seem to be the concern of the most authoritative science, the highest master science. And this is obviously the science of politics, because it lays down which of the sciences there should be in the cities, and which each class of person should learn and up to what level.” Nicomachean Ethics, Book One, chapter two,1094a3.

“if men dwelt at a distance from one another, but not so far off as to have no intercourse, and there were laws among them that they should not wrong each other in their exchanges, neither would this be a state…if they have nothing in common but exchange, alliance and the like, that would not constitute a state. ..if their intercourse with one another was of the same character after as before their union. It is clear then that a state is not a mere society, having a common place, established for the prevention of mutual crime and for the sake of exchange. These are conditions without which a state cannot exist; but all of them together do not constitute a state, which is a community of families and aggregations of families for the sake of a perfect and self-sufficing life. Politics Book 3, 1280b18-35.


“Political power, then, I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defense of the common-wealth from foreign injury, and all this for the public good.” Second Treatise on Government, chapter I, para. 3.

“The only way whereby any one divests himself of his natural liberty, and puts on the bonds of civil society, is by agreeing with other men to join and unite into a community for their comfortable, safe, and peaceable living one amongst another, in a secure enjoyment of their properties, and a greater security against any, that are not of this…(and so) make one body politic, wherein the majority have a right to act and conclude the rest.”  Second Treatise on Government, chapter VIII, para. 95.

The preamble to the Constitution: 

”We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, ensure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do …”


 “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary, their social being that determines their consciousness.” Preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (Marx-Engels Reader, 1stedition, edited by R. Tucker, p.4).

“The production of life, both of one’s own in labor and of fresh life in procreation …appears as a double relation: on the one hand as a natural and on the other as a social relationship. By social we understand the cooperation of several individuals… It follows from this that a certain mode of production, or industrial stage, is always combined with a certain mode of cooperation, or social stage…Further, the multitude of productive forces accessible to men determines the nature of society, hence, that the “history of humanity” must always be studied and treated in relation to the history of industry and exchange” The German Ideology (Marx-Engels Reader, 1st edition, edited by R. Tucker, p. 121).

A few thoughts:

Note that Aristotle thinks our community (culture) teaches us habits which are supposed to be designed (by politics, practical wisdom) to support our development of happiness (activity in conformity with virtue – excellence) which is defined for all of us by our nature. There is no community without shared character, which is composed of habits which promote or inhibit our nature.

For Locke, we are individuals interested in property for the sake of survival. Socially, there is no shared character, only shared obedience to the law, established by the majority and enforced by the government. This, of course, presumes we consented to the social contract, either explicitly or tacitly. Note the original phrase the pursuit of life, liberty and property; Jefferson modified it. 

For Marx, all concepts, the individual, the family, justice, government, are developed socially, not found in nature.  For example, there is justice or liberty only within the context of our practical life, that is, our economic life. We exist as individuals because of the nature of social relations which in turn are determined by our economic system. So the purpose of government is to maintain and protect the economic system, which in turn maintains and protects our sense of our identity (e.g., our individualism, as described by the rights of man). So our entire thought systems are embedded in and determined by our economic system.