q_society_101

Q: What does the government have to do with society and social issues?

(Topics: Society and Culture, Q&A | Back to Home)

A: The government should support the social institutions that a society values, and discourage trends and behaviors that the society doesn't value—but society should take the lead.

We have a government, which is a set of laws and institutions created by the people and for the people. The role of government, then, is to serve the people's interest in building and maintaining the society that is what people want.

This might feel antithetical to how government is often portrayed. We want government “out of our lives.” We want to be able to “live in peace” and do so “without interference.” But peace and non-interference is what government does. At the most basic level, the government maintains the peace at home and abroad. It's easiest to notice this as uniformed services like the army or the police, but just about every aspect of government operations is for the benefit of the people.

Or at least, it's supposed to be. That's why we have a government.

But social issues are especially complicated, because we all have strong views on the best way for people to be. We have preferences and opinions and beliefs. We have rules for behavior—and those rules don't just apply to us. We want other people to behave, too.

So yes: social issues are at the heart of what government is all about. We want people to be good drivers, good stewards, and generally speaking, good people. We want freedom, of course, but not the freedom to unduly harm others or take what doesn't belong to us.

The primary function of government is to reflect and reinforce the society that created it. Laws and institutions should uphold our culture. Government employees should conduct work that has the social and public impacts that the people asked for. Social issues are central to what government is.

The question isn't “does government serve society?” The question is: “what do we believe society should be?”

Let's be honest: we are all still figuring that out.


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