We the Society

The Preamble to the U.S. Constitution famously begins, “We the People …” The state is based on the will of the people, which is properly discerned by representatives of the people meeting together. “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, …” declares the Declaration of Independence.

But what does “the People” signify? Is it merely the aggregation of individuals in a region? That would justify “majority rules” and other aspects of democracy. But what brings people together, what gives them a common interest? Is it not because they constitute a society? Yes, a mere set of individuals lacks the solidarity required to be a people. It takes more than people to be the People. It takes a society.

To properly “ordain and establish” (the Preamble again) a constitution for the state requires a society. Which is to say, a republic is constituted to serve society. That “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Abraham Lincoln) is a government of society, by society, and for society. It is a state that serves society.

Society is the source for the state’s authority. The authority of the state depends on the society. The state has no independent authority of its own. “We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, …” (the Declaration again). That’s the society speaking.

The state is not instituted to change society or overrule society in general. Certainly, some elements of society need to change such as the criminal element. But that does not give the state authority to take the role of master over society as a whole. In a republic the state serves society. The state that seeks to dominate society in general is a tyrannical state.

The state in a republic always acknowledges the prior existence and authority of society. All actions of the state, all laws and interpretations of laws reference the society. If there is conflict within society, the state does not step in and pick a side. The state is neutral regarding the ways of society, neither endorsing nor opposing them. As society changes, the state will change because the people have changed.

Politics today is often between those who want the state to change society and those who want the state to serve society. Those who want the state to change society are promoting tyranny. Those who want the state to serve society are promoting democracy. The choice is tyranny or democracy. Let democracy succeed; let the people rule! Let the state serve society!