Government is an interesting concept developed by humans in order to come together and form a better way of life. Government often times has stepped in to judge what this better way of life should be. In current times, there has been the near censorship of art and in the past theatrical world, the morals of a community are mandated by government.
Ever since people came out of the state of nature and started forming governments, the role of that government has been always been debated. Early philosophers like John Locke and Jean-Jacque Rousseau have similar beliefs as to the role of government, the individual’s role in government and how the individual concedes to government. Locke maintained that permission to start a governing body was generally tacit, implied solely by remaining a member of the civil society, or living under a government’s rules. Ultimately, the first formation of government is by the consent of all. Rousseau states that consent must be explicit to form a community at first, also presuming that since the lives of people are unable to live their lives to the fullest potential in nature, that forming a community and government is the only logical means by which to form a fulfilling and meaningful life for all. Perhaps the issue over which Rousseau and Locke most fervently disagree is the role of government. Both philosophers establish that government is the ultimate way to ensure justice, morality, liberty, and protect the rights of the citizens, but that is where the similarities in the men’s tenets end. Locke believed the role of government is to create a perfect equilibrium between protecting the individual’s natural rights and as well as maintaining security and protecting the individual’s property. Rousseau, on the other hand, adhered to a greater reverence for the establishment of society, and felt that individual rights are subservient to the rights of society as a whole. In a state of nature, he claimed, citizens’ rights are nonexistent, for there is no structure to foster them, and moreover, rights are derived from society. They do not occur naturally. He also believed that society must come together to find a general will, or the closest facsimile thereof, for no group of people have or will ever be able to reach a consensus as to what is best for all. However, the debate still lives on here in America where the individual’s freedoms are still being changed and the role of government is constantly shifting. Not only has this been a fervently discussed topic now, it has been explored in the theatrical world as well, notably by William Shakespeare in his play, Measure For Measure.
The mayor of New York, Rudolph Guiliani, made the question of government intrusion in the individual’s life very prevalent. This year he threaten to cut off funding for the Brooklyn Museum of Arts because of the exhibit Sensations, which was deemed to be too obscene for the museum by the aforementioned mayor. Because of this many first amendment rights were put into question. Does government have to right to withhold funding if it thinks that something is too obscene? Many other questions were raised, in a sort of domino effect that needed to be answered. Where can government make these choices and where does government power end in these censorship cases? In the end there was a court battle and the Brooklyn Museum got their funding and Guiliani was found to be acting in conflict with the First Amendment. However this was a very hard fought battle with people favoring each side. Conflicts like these seem to have no end in sight.