Is the government representative of the people?

Libertarians, and many conservatives, often speak of the government in adversarial terms. There’s this tyrannical government in power, opposed to the people, and much of politics is about restraining the government from interfering in the people’s lives. At the same time, however, our government is supposed to be representative of the people, and many liberals, and in some contexts conservatives as well, give the government a mandate to infringe on all sorts of liberties, on the grounds that it represents the “people’s will”. So what is going on here? If the government is just an extension of the people’s will, how can we speak of the people and the government as if they are separate entities in conflict?

I’ve been thinking about this, too, in light of my last two posts. My impression is that, from a libertarian perspective, the government is always in some kind of adversarial relationship with the people, regardless of whether it is monarchical or republican in structure. Imposing republican structure and constraints on government is simply the best tool we have for restraining and taming the beast that is government. However, unless one is an anarchist, one concedes that the government is needed for certain roles that cannot be provided by the private sector, such as law enforcement and national defense. So the people delegate some powers to government to fulfill these roles, but they never let the government forget that it exists on the people’s sufferance. Moreover, even if the government is structured to represent the people’s views, it remains an alien and potentially hostile entity that the people must be vigilant against.


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