Ideally, the agency that protects our freedom; in practice, the agency that most routinely violates it.
If freedom is the absence of compulsion, then a free society must have laws defining and banning compulsion, which are in effect an extension of each individual’s right of self-defence. To formulate such laws and oversee their administration – that, in a free society, is the proper role of government. Government should be confined to this role by a constitution. It should be chosen and financed by the citizens whose freedom it is to defend, and their vote should be restricted to conferring a mandate to uphold freedom, not extended to a mandate to deny it. All citizens should then be equally beholden to the laws that are promulgated.
To put this another way:
“All men are created equal [before the law]; they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights; among these rights are the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” (US Declaration of
All I would take issue with is the claimed role of the creator, under Rights.)
Or: “Every individual has the right to use force for lawful self-defence. It is for this reason that the collective force – which is only the organised combination of the individual forces – may lawfully be used for the same purpose; and it cannot be used legitimately for any other purpose.” (Frederic Bastiat)
Or: “If physical force is to be barred from social relationships, men need an institution charged with the task of protecting their rights under an objective code of rules. This is the task of government–of a proper government—it’s basic task, its only moral justification and the reason why mean do need a government. A government is the means of placing the retaliatory use of physical force under objective control—ie., under objectively defined laws.” [Ayn Rand]
That is the moral justification for government. In practice however, government does not so much protect its citizens from coercion as impose it upon them. It sends them to war (conscription), confiscates and debases their earnings (taxation and inflation), imposes distorting constraints on their trade (tariffs, subsidies, needless regulations) places conditions on their freedom of movement (immigration and customs controls) restricts their access to ideas and information, their freedom of thought and speech (censorship) tries to dictate their values (anti-discrimination legislation) and destroys their property rights [environmental and planning legislation].
Historically, Government is the Mafia made legal. “It forbids private murder, but itself organises murder on a colossal scale. It punishes private theft, but itself lays unscrupulous hands on anything it wants.” (Albert Jay Nock.)
New Zealand governments have departed little from this general picture.
The violent overthrow of governments that initiate force against their citizens is always morally justifiable, even if not practically feasible.