Righteous Dominion

Righteous Versus Unrighteous Dominion

Pendulum Balance | The Fortress Stone: An Anthem to the Constitution | Faith and Righteous Dominion | Allegiance | Love Your Enemies by President Dallin H. Oaks | Defending Our Divinely Inspired Constitution | I Believe in a Conflicted America | Bastiat - The Law | The Fallacy of Communism and Socialism | Quotes | Faith and Freedom Quotes | President Reagan: A Time For Choosing | President Reagan: As government expands, liberty contracts.

Righteous Dominion: What is Good Governance?

We give significant control over our lives to elected officials. We give them the authority to tell us what we can and can't do. Giving this control is essential to putting the pendulum of good government in balance. Without enough government control, we get anarchy, societal breakdown, and harm to our communities. However, giving that control of our freedom to people who are often our friends and neighbors is a sacred trust. Because too much government control can be even more harmful than not enough, we are trusting these people to exercise the highest level of judicious, thoughtful, fair, and wise restraint in wielding that control over us. Once a person has that authority, many respect the proper role and bounds of that authority and seek with honest hearts to govern within those proper bounds. But, with those same good and honest hearts, it is easy to lose site of the harm they can also cause with the misuse of it.

There is a cautionary principle that I believe is foundational in defining good, balanced, and proper government:

"...it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion." D&C 121:39

What is unrighteous dominion? It is using a legal position of authority you have been entrusted with to exercise more control over others than you have the moral authority or ethical right to do. In other words, just because you have the legal authority to control another person, doesn't necessarily mean you have the moral authority to do so. "You must remember that some things legally right are not morally right." Abraham Lincoln. Worse, some take it a step further and exceed even the legal authority of their position in exerting control over others. Either way, RESTRAINT is the essential element to avoid the inevitable trap of unrighteous dominion. (For source and a historical perspective on Unrighteous Dominion, click here. For my very personal family connection, click here.)

Elections are a choice, and often a tough choice between many good, sincere people with noble intent. Sometimes those people are our friends and neighbors. Striking the right balance between our sacred liberties on the one hand, and good and proper governance on the other hand, is really difficult but so essential. I support those that seem most likely to hold that pendulum in balance. I support those most likely to understand the need for restraint in order to avoid the dangerous and destructive pitfall of unrighteous dominion. I believe in responsible liberty. Meaning, liberty is sacred. But, that doesn't mean I'm free to do whatever I want regardless of the harm I cause to others as I exercise my liberty, future generations included. If I am to expect Righteous Dominion from those that govern me, I should demand of myself that I am a Righteous Citizen.

Having said that, a core and sacred role of government is to protect our liberties. Government is not a place to "do good things" no matter the cost to individual liberties. Government is a place to protect individual liberties first, then do as much good as you can within the constraints the protection of individual liberties requires. The pursuit of the common good with no regard for individual liberties can do grave harm to us all. Unchecked, the common good eventually becomes common bondage.

Righteous Dominion Defined

So, if there is such a thing as "unrighteous dominion," there must also be "righteous dominion." Beyond all other criteria, left versus right, republican versus democrat, issue versus issue, this ability to "govern righteously" is the characteristic I seek most in elected officials. Again, restraint and respect for individual liberties is core to governing righteously. Many aspire to professional or elected roles in government out of a pure desire to serve and do so with a well grounded understanding of this balance. I thank these public servants for the selfless, under-appreciated, essential service they provide. This appreciation includes countless professionals who work lifetimes in government with hearts dedicated to service and decency. As I have said, government plays a critical role in protecting the safety, health, and well-being of our society. We owe gratitude to those who serve with honest hearts, restraint, respect for the rights of all, and work within proper bounds. Many serve at great personal cost to themselves. They are indispensable in maintaining a free, safe, secure, quality, and stable society and the communities we live in.

Unfortunately, for some, the motivations in seeking positions in government are not so pure, not so driven by righteous principles. See more here.

What is righteous dominion? "Dominion" is to rule or control. It is governance. "Righteous" is to govern by integrity, fairness, decency, restraint, reason, study, wisdom, humility, and a deep commitment to "doing the right thing." Above all, it is a deep respect for the rights, freedom, and dignity of all, causing no harm or holding no bias against one group or individual in order to favor or advance another. Righteous Dominion is ABSOLULTE RESTRAINT from abuse of power.

Righteous Dominion Measured and Applied

Here are some thoughts as to what I believe constitutes Righteous Dominion. This is spoken from my personal life experience as a land developer seeking local government permission to build things. In my profession, I cannot build anything without detailed and explicit permission from the local government and by extension, the neighbors and community at large that by law and precedent have significant influence over whether I get the permission I seek. Some level of government control over my type of business is appropriate. Unregulated construction and development can cause very real harm to neighbors, communities, and city governments. My property rights end when they infringe upon or harm the property rights of others. Thus, appropriate government oversight and community engagement is necessary. But, since my profession is so much more heavily regulated than people who sell bikes or pies, it creates an extensive and unique set of case studies around the principles of unrighteous dominion, restraint, balance, mob rule, and fairness. Yes, too little government control can cause harm. But, too much control, especially irrational or unethical control, can be even more harmful. Being in a profession subject to so much government control has made me acutely aware of the degree government control can impact our lives for both good and ill.

However, this is NOT just about land use regulation. These principles can be applied to EVERY other situation where government puts one person in control and authority over another person's life. As you read my thoughts and experiences, translate these principles to your own life, your family, your stuff, and imagine how much control you do or do not want the government to have over all of that. Maybe you don't care if someone else (like a land developer) is harmfully over-regulated since it isn't directly restricting your own freedoms. But, a government powerful enough to have too much control over someone else will eventually find its way around to having too much control over you too. If you are in a position to govern, carefully ask yourself how much you would like (or resent) to be governed by the same hand that you govern others. If you are the governed, carefully ask yourself how abuse of power on someone else may eventually find its way to becoming abuse of power on you. To protect your own freedom, you must protect everyone's freedom.

There is an endless list of examples of people of all backgrounds whose lives are harmed by unrighteous dominion. As only one of countless examples, the African American people experiencing abusive police brutality getting so much recent attention in recent years (most certainly not a new thing), the atrocity of slavery that went before, or the racism, bigotry, elitism, and abuses that have never ceased. In the grand scheme of things, especially compared to all that, people probably don't care much if a land developer gets knocked around by a local city government. As I constantly repeat, there is good reason to have fair and reasonable regulation around what people build. And, the negative impact on my life compared to the unrighteous dominion many others experience is so small that mine seems silly in comparison. But, if we as a people tolerate, or worse, advocate and perpetuate abuse of government on anyone, we are giving license for government to abuse and exercise unrighteous dominion on everyone, you included. Abuse is abuse just like cancer is cancer. No matter the scale, it must be eradicated completely at every level. I can't speak from the experience of the countless other people in this world who suffer abuse in ways and degrees that make my personal experiences seem trivial. But, I can take my experience, identify the righteous principles, empathize as much as I can with others who suffer far more, and do all I can to see that these principles of righteous dominion are free and unrestrained for every person, every race, every religion, and every life experience. Freedom is a fundamental and essential human right. But, unless we are all free, none of us are free!

What Does "Freedom" Really Mean?

If we are to defend "freedom," it is crucial to be clear what "freedom" really means. To some, "freedom" means being "free" to tell other people what to do. To me, "freedom" is freedom to live your life without the oppressive and abusive hand of government exceeding its proper and needful bounds in running your life. The term "fear of losing our democracy and freedom" is thrown around a lot lately from all sides. For some that means fear of losing individual liberty to a large and controlling government. To others it means losing the ability use a large and controlling government to take other people's stuff and tell them what to do. Perhaps the reason there is such a huge divide in our country is because of this huge difference in how people define freedom and democracy. When I hear some people describe democracy, it seems to me they see a world where we are all just one big committee, where everybody votes on everything, nobody owns anything, groupthink rules, and individual choice and freedom just doesn't matter. That is not democracy to me. That is socialism or communism.

From my own experience, I have seen first hand a full spectrum of governance from righteous to unrighteous. I have seen inadvertent abuse of power by good people who did not understand the proper bounds of their authority or the true nature of freedom the Constitution is there to protect. I have seen conscientious disregard for other people's rights and intentional, toxic abuse of power. I have seen public service at its best done by those who understood the power and purpose of good government held to its proper bounds.

Guidelines for Righteous Dominion

Govern by the Constitution

The best measure is to always ask: "Is my action consistent with the basic principles of the Constitution I swore uphold and protect when I took office?"

That question applies to every type of Constitutional right you are sworn to protect. Here is how it applies to the protection of private property rights. That is just one type of right, one that because of my profession is familiar to me. But, use this example to measure your Constitutional fortitude in protecting all rights of all types. The Constitution was not written to increase the power of the government to take private property from individuals. Instead, it was written to protect individuals from the government unjustly taking their property or rights to use it:

"nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." 5th Amendment.

There are many ways the government can "take" private property from individuals. Money is property. Taking people's money through taxation and misusing it is theft and unrighteous dominion. Land is another form of property. The most obvious way is to take someone's land is to take ownership of the actual deed. This is what happens when government uses eminent domain to take property for a road, freeway, utility, or some other public need. In balancing the needs of the public against the rights of the individual, the Constitution allows for taking property in that very same clause. But, without "just compensation" a taking is not Constitutional. Another way government can "take" private property from individuals is to limit or take away their right to use that property for the purpose of benefiting the government or the public interest the government represents. This is sometimes called a "regulatory taking." Although the government did not formally "take" the deed of ownership, they have "taken" use of the property for public benefit and therefore taken away some or all of its value. Taking the right to use property is just as much a "taking" of private property as taking the deed. Ironically, in most cases, the government is under great scrutiny to give "just compensation" when they take a deed. However, with rare exceptions, property owners are not compensated anything when government uses their regulatory power to prevent property owners from using their property in order to serve a government or public need instead. (See footnote clarification to this point as related to pre-existing zoning status.)

When you took office, you took a sacred sworn oath to support and defend the Constitution. "Before candidates elected to office or employees of the state may begin work, they must take a loyalty oath of office. In the oath the candidate elect or employee solemnly swears or affirms they will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the state of Arizona and defend the U.S. and Arizona against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and states they will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of their office." Arizona Secretary of State Web Site. When you Unconstitutionally or unethically take rights or property from those you govern, you violate that sacred oath.

Here's another gut check on whether your actions are Constitutional. The opposite of the "Just Compensation" clause in the Constitution is this:

"...the theory of the Communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property." The Communist Manifesto

Abolition of private property means depriving individuals of the right to have and use their own stuff whether it be money, land, creative ability, talent, or any other fruit of their labor, risk, sweat, and blood. Land use regulation is only one of many ways government can use regulation to unjustly take rights from individuals. Righteous dominion is knowing when and where to restrain the power of government from unjustly taking stuff (rights, property, money, fruits of labor) from individuals. As I say over and over, the government has a rightful and appropriate role in regulating what people can and can't build on their land. I respect and honor that sacred trust government has been given and the justification behind it. But, regulatory authority does not mean the government owns the land. In my profession I see never ending examples of elected officials and professional staff acting as if they do own the land. Generally speaking, these are decent, honorable, freedom loving people. But, when it comes to using the regulatory authority they've been given, they loose sight of the fundamental Constitutional principle of private property. I think the reason for this is people tend to use the full extent the authority they are given regardless of whether it is necessary, appropriate, and ethical. The legal framework for land use regulation today has evolved over time to be expansive (see more here). In my opinion, it has become excessively and inappropriately expansive. Regulate and restrict within your reasonable, ethical, Constitutional, and limited role. But, do not abuse your regulatory authority as if you own the land. You do not. You have no idea the cost, sweat, and tears it took for someone to own that land. For you to take effective ownership of that land by abusing or exceeding your ethical right is no less than government theft or "abolition of private property."

If you are governing by Constitutional principles, you will take great care to know the limits of your moral and Constitutional authority to tell someone what they can and can't do with their property. Over the past 100 years or so, the pendulum has swung to give government quite a bit of legal authority to control other people's property. Local governments on a regular basis deny people the right to use their property because that government or the neighbors have a different "vision" or "need" for the property than the property owner. This is done in the name of planning for the future good of the community. There is a critical and appropriate need for local governments to plan and manage for good growth. People can't "just do whatever they want" with their property if it harms neighbors or the community. Development needs to carry its fair share of the cost and effort to build a city. But, zoning law was never intended to to give government unfettered, unrestrained, or arbitrary power to control, extract, demand, or restrict people's right to use their land. See more here. The ethical line is regularly crossed (often inadvertently and with good intentions) where government takes effective ownership from land owners through abuse of land use laws and regulatory authority. Just because you have legal authority doesn't mean you moral authority. Use that authority justly, wisely, morally, with restraint, and of course, righteously.

For more on property rights and zoning law being taken too far, click here for the story of cabbage pie.

For more on the proper role of zoning, click here for the story of "Still Mine."

For more on the history and intent of zoning law and land use regulation, click here.

The First Role of Government: Protect The Rights of All

Government actions should be driven by principles of integrity, fairness, decency, impartiality, and above all, Constitutionality. In order to do that, you first have to be firmly grounded in those principles. Learn what our basic rights are and the role of a Constitutional government in protecting those rights. The fundamental role of government is to protect rights. Many think the primary role of government is to do good things for the community. While that can and should happen, it can only happen after the primary role of protecting the rights of all parties is satisfied.

In my world of land development, for example, you are protecting the rights of the property owner, the rights of his neighbors, and the rights and concerns of the city. You can't favor, advantage, or disregard one over the other. Property rights have a very high level of regulation (i.e. government control) compared to most other rights. There is very little I can do or build without the explicit permission of the local city or county government. That comes in the form of zoning, use permits, building permits, and so forth. There are extremely good reasons for this regulation (see more here). However, in the critically important process of protecting the rights of the city and the neighbors, the rights of the property owner seeking to build something are all too often ignored or worse despised and demonized. Government and neighbors regularly demand that a property owner build what they want, not what the property owner wants with no regard for the harm that would result to the property owner. It is so easy for government and neighbors to use the heavy hand of government authority and process to force property owners into a futile corner from which they have little recourse to get out. To protect neighbors and government while dismissing and trampling the rights of an individual property owner is an immoral form of unrighteous dominion called Mob Rule (see more here). A truly moral and righteous government knows to protect the rights of all, not just some in this delicate wielding of government authority.

The Needs of the Many Versus The Needs of the One

I'm a Star Trek fan. One of the great Star Trek quotes of all time was "...the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few." This was as Spock was voluntarily sacrificing his own life to save the lives of the others on the ship. The idea of sacrificing one's own joy, freedom, belongings, labor, wealth, comfort, and above all life for others is among the greatest human virtues. Sacrifice for others is the core theme of Les Miserable, one of the great calls to decency in all of human story telling. For me, the ultimate example of sacrificing the one for the many is Jesus Christ in Gethsemane and Golgotha. Whether Christ represents your faith or not, whether you ascribe to religion or not, that idea of sacrificing individual needs for the needs of others represents the best humanity can become and is the core foundation of my entire belief system. His teachings of love, brotherhood, and "there were not rich and poor, bond and free, but they were all made free, and partakers of the heavenly gift" is the world I most aspire to achieve.

I say all this to make absolutely clear that as I fiercely defend individual liberties, I am NOT calling for a world where people should be able to do whatever they want with no regard for the needs or harms to others. I absolutely believe in the duty and obligation to serve the greater good. Here is the distinction. Choice! Answering the call to serve the greater good should be one of choice, not coercion. Allowing people to serve the greater good by choice (as is the case in all the examples above) advances the very loving and compassionate world we seek. Using coercion, even violence and bondage to force people to "serve" the greater good fosters the very hate, divisiveness, and bondage we should all seek to abolish. Social and political systems like communism are based on force, coercion, and violence if necessary. Forcing people into "the greater good" is not the greater good at all, it is just another flavor of greater bondage.

If the many do find a just and moral reason to take from the few or the one for the good of the many, it is morally imperative that the many provide fair compensation. Otherwise it is just theft by mob, or Legalized Plunder. The Constitution calls this Just Compensation.

If you take the idea that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few to the extreme, and especially if you implement that by force, the outcome is cruel, wrong, and catastrophic. One of the justifications for slavery was that economies would crash if slaves were freed. Looking back we can see how preposterous and immoral that was. Did the needs of the many beneficiaries of the slave trade truly outweigh the needs of the few that were enslaved? And, over time and generations, the numbers of the enslaved grew exponentially beyond the beneficiaries of their enslavement. The few oppressed became the many creating a perverse situation where the needs of the few outweighed the needs of the many. Depriving freedom and justice from any group or individual inevitably deprives it from us all. In the end, it's all about balance, morality, and yes, righteous dominion. The needs of the many absolutely matter. The needs of the few, including the needs of the individual, also absolutely matter. Individuals should be able to choose self-sacrifice for the greater good. But the greater good is lost when the individual is crushed in the name of the greater good. Unless we all are free, none of us are free. The common good eventually becomes common bondage. The chains with which we bind our neighbor will someday bind us.

Be a Referee, Not a King or Queen

Elected officials can fall into a "King or Queen Complex" where they believe they are supposed to make all the decisions on how people should live their lives. They can mistakenly believe it is their job to dictate outcomes based on their taste, preference, or opinion. Kings and Queens are sovereign authoritarians that own and control the lives, destiny, and decisions of their subjects. This nation was founded in revolt (revolution) against immoral authoritarian or totalitarian systems like that. We are a nation of people who want to decide our own destiny. We don't want to be told what to do or to be subjects to anyone. As one entrusted with governmental authority, you must be willing to allow things that don't align with your preferences or tastes or preferences. Telling someone they can't do something for no other reason than you don't like it or would prefer something else runs high risk of falling into the "King or Queen Complex."

Now, as I describe in great detail elsewhere, government plays a key role in making sure one person exercising their liberty does not infringe on the liberty of another. That means government should act more like a referee, but certainly not like a king or dictator. As an elected official, it isn't your job to be the final authority on how things should be. Rather, let people exercise their free will to determine that. Kings govern by what they want. Those who govern by righteous dominion govern by what is right, fair, and promotes balanced liberty respecting the rights of all. They let others govern themselves providing just enough governance to protect the rights of one person from another.

I've heard it said, some people get into politics to do something. For some it is to be something. For so many, public office is about the trappings, the adoration (without realizing the false and placating nature of that adoration), the invitations to fancy and prestigious events, the sick pleasure of having other people beholden to your will, the sense of self-importance (as artificial and silly as that can be). Some who can't achieve real impact or relevance elsewhere seek to have it in public office. People do that on HOA Boards and Town Councils alike. That can be so dangerous. Others truly seek to serve and make real, meaningful impact without the toxic drive to personal advancement or self aggrandizing. Public service truly can and should be pure and noble.

I will add a cautionary note on the first part of that last statement. Too often for too many people "do something" means take away somebody's stuff or liberty. But, the point is still well taken. If you are going to get into politics, do it to do good, not to feed your ego or hunger to control other people. My definition of "do good" is what this Righteous Dominion message is all about. Protect rights, don't take them. Advance liberty and fairness for all, not just isolated interests.

Govern by Listening, Understanding

In order to act wisely you need to know the whole story. You need to take the extra time to listen to all concerned and affected parties. Your decisions could have far reaching and potentially devastating consequences to one side, or the other, or both. Never be casual or flippant in your approach. Don't fall back on the premise that "we've already planned this out, we can't go talk about changing it now." Circumstances change and plans need to adapt and evolve. Don't just assume that a property owner is being greedy, opportunistic, or going for the low hanging fruit. Based on the current regulatory and political structure, the property owner starts from a point of extreme weakness with local government holding most of the cards. Respect that imbalance of power and at the very least, hear the property owner out on what could be anything from a legitimate plight to a great idea for everyone including the town. It is deeply unethical to use your authority to tell someone they can't use their property if you aren't willing to sit down and truly hear them out.

Don't look at someone you regulate wanting to be heard as an inconvenience or a burden on your time. Taking the time to understand is the job and duty you signed up for. Don't look at your role as you passing out favors of permission if and when you feel like it. Don't look at this like those you regulate are beholden to you. It is the other way around. If you are going to tell someone they can't use their property the way they would like, you are ethically beholden to them to give a strong and compelling reason why you are saying no. You can only do that if you have fully heard and sincerely considered all they have to say.

In land use cases, for example, don't tell someone they can't use their property until you truly understand the complex situation they are facing and the reasons driving the request. Remember, freedom to use property to create and thrive is the essence of our American society and economy. Likewise, truly parse through the neighbor concerns with a real desire to understand how something might effect them.

The hard part comes when you have to weigh both sides and act in away that is fair and balanced. You cannot act solely for the needs of the applicant (land owner, developer). But you also cannot act solely for the needs of the neighbors or solely for the needs of the town. Balance and fairness is essential to righteous dominion. It takes significant time and effort to get the whole story. Reasonable and appropriate as well as unfair and harmful demands and expectations can come from all sides: developers, property owners, neighbors, community, government staff, and fellow elected officials. As an elected official, it is your job to parse through that and find the fair, balanced, and factual decision that properly respects the rights of all.

Govern Not by Arbitrary Whim, Populism, Pettiness, or Influence - Resist Mob Rule!

There are many inappropriate influences that can drive an elected official. Arbitrary whim. Petty personality conflicts. Influence peddling. Political maneuvering. Goofy, unfounded leaps of logic. Opinion. Bias. Populism. Pandering to the mob.

When you tell someone else what they can or can't do with their property, it isn't just a trivial inconsequential exercise, it is their life and livelihood you are being entrusted with. Elected officials who don't respect the weight of that or the potential harm they can cause are dangerous. Don't deny someone else the use of their property by arbitrary reasoning, bizarre leaps of logic, pettiness, or flippant attitudes. They wouldn't have gone to the immense trouble and cost of asking your permission unless they truly believed this was a good and viable way for them to use and benefit from their property. It may seem like nothing to you to tell a property owner not to use his property for a year, three years, or twenty years. But, to the property owner, that delay or denial can be catastrophic. If you have an incredibly well founded, highly defensible reason to say "no," that is fine. But before you say "no," question your reasons then question them again. Make sure your reasons are not only bullet proof, but, also give truly sincere consideration to ideas, suggestions, or alternatives to find your way forward to an answer of "yes." Whatever you do, don't back people into a corner with no way forward.

Do not demean or demonize a person for seeking personal gain from his or her property. This pursuit of prosperity is noble and is the foundation of American prosperity. The phrase "they are only in it for the money" is often thrown around flippantly as a way to denigrate or devalue what someone is seeking to do with their property. First of all, there are always many more factors than just money when people seek to use their property for something. There is usually some pursuit of a dream or opportunity to create of which "making money" is merely a means, not and end. But, what is wrong with seeking financial gain with your property? If the tables were turned and the people who disparagingly use that "only in it for the money" phrase were asked to forgo financial gain with their own assets, resources, income, and property, they would most certainly defend their right to prosperity, as they should. And, "making money" is how the development community brings the capital and resources that ultimately build the roads, parks, and infrastructure that a town gets built on. If people can't "make money" with their land, then nothing gets built and the community is deprived of the vital resources it needs to thrive.

Some elected officials choose not to "do the right thing" because they would rather please the crowd and/or protect their political aspirations. That form of populism undermines the essence of our Constitutional Republic by advancing Mob Rule (more here). Unfortunately, there is a fast-growing movement toward minimizing the interest of the individual to the benefit of the masses to the point of no concern for the individual. That kind of Mob Rule will ultimately grow into socialism. When individual freedoms are lost, the freedom of all is lost with it.

A democracy is two wolves and a sheep voting on what's for dinner. What the wolves want matters, but so does what the sheep wants. (Source)

Social Media is the new torches and pitch forks. Now, just a few people can whip up an online mob into a frenzy of unfounded, unfactual assault against other individuals. With this type of assault, people's reputations can be smeared or politicians can be swayed by the immoral scream of mob rule to deprive individuals of their rights in the effort to appease the mob. Elected officials sometimes get caught in the echo chamber of a small minority on social media and mistakenly believe that reflects the beliefs and values of the broader community. If mob rule is left unchecked by moral government leadership, the rights and concerns for property owners can become completely dismissed while the voice of social media posters who may live miles away take all precedence.

Lewis BarneyThe danger of Mob Rule and Populism are not just theoretical to me. In the 1840's, my great grandfather Lewis Barney had a farm north of Carthage, Illinois. It was extremely unpopular at the time to be a member of our church. Mobs had already violently run us out of Missouri a few years prior. Now, a new mob was running us out of Illinois. Lewis was forced out of his farm by the mob, effectively losing a lifetime worth of work. A righteous, moral, and Constitutional government should have protected him, his rights, and his liberties from the mob. It did not. Not only did it turn a blind eye, but some of the mob were in government. While that is extreme, it pales in comparison to endless injustices done to other people's civil rights, property rights, and human rights throughout history at the hands of a mob. The primary and fundamental role of government is to protect individual liberties from being robbed. It is NOT to amplify and enable the mob.

Another danger of mob rule is that a town or community can inadvertently advance elitist or discriminatory ideas and policies. For example, one of the most common situations for neighbors to oppose is new development coming nearby that is not "equal or better" in perceived value. Specifically, that means neighbors opposing anything with even slightly more density or smaller lot size than their own neighborhood. That usually comes with misguided fears of decreased property values, increased crime, increased traffic, etc. While it is appropriate and important for neighbors to be passionate and engaged in protecting their town and their neighborhood, taken too far a line can get crossed that is inappropriate, unfactual, and unethical. At some point the message becomes, we don't want "those people" or "people with less money than us" living by us or going to school with our kids. There is often a very direct correlation between lot size (density) and affordability. There is a very real need for people like school teachers and fire fighters to have a place to live in our towns. If we get too crazy about issues like density and other similar land use regulation policies, we are basically saying: You can teach our kids, you can serve our public safety needs, but you aren't welcome to live in our neighborhoods or have your kids go to our schools with our kids. (As an aside, if we paid our school teachers more what they are worth to our kids and our world, that would be less of an issue. That's an entirely different topic for another place. But the point about elitism and discrimination through mob rule remains valid.) (For an interesting perspective on zoning law and housing affordability, click here.) The bigger the differential in density, the more pronounced this conflict becomes. Multifamily (apartments) in particular draw intense reactions. Another fascinating angle to this is when someone moves to a town and says: "I moved here for all these open farm fields. I don't want anyone else coming in to ruin those farm fields with more houses." Ironically and even hypocritically, the person or mob saying that is living in a house that not too long ago was one of those farm fields. That is basically saying, "Now that I've got what I want, let's slam the door shut behind me and see to it that nobody else is able to enjoy this great place." For some reason, it is a common outcry of the mob to hate development and developers. But, every home, every store, every restaurant, every workplace, every school, every road, every water or sewer line, everything part of our built environment that we center our lives and families around is because some developer took the risk to either build all that or provide the fees and capital for the town or school district to build it. To hate development while living in a nice home, driving on nice roads and going to nice shopping is not a fair and honest place to stand. That is the point, mob rule is usually not fair and honest.

Equally dangerous to populism is becoming bound to the influence of special interests or people in unique positions of power (i.e. crony capitalism). Does that mean you ignore the voice of the people? Does that mean you don't listen to what the special interests and influential people have to say? No. As I said above, you have to listen to the whole story to make a good decision. Yes, developers and land owners are a special interest. And yes, they can seek to exert inappropriate influence. There are plenty of "bad apple" developer stories. But, neighbors are a special interest too. And, neighbors can also seek to exert inappropriate, unbalanced interest as well. There are "bad apple" neighbor stories too. You have to listen carefully to all sides. And, you have to carefully resist and filter out all forms of inappropriate influence, from all sides. There will be valuable insight from all those sources. Just don't be swayed solely by one or the other. Let all those be a source of perspective, but let principles, fairness, and the Constitution be your only master. Some politicians say: "I'm only here to serve the people." They say that to mean they will only heed the public voice. Well that is only half of their duty and advances a toxic form of populism and mob rule. The person being regulated is also "one of the people." The elected official has just as much duty to protect his rights as he does anyone else.

There is a lot to think about in this Ayn Rand quote:

"When you see that in order to produce, you need to obtain permission from men who produce nothing - When you see that money is flowing to those who deal, not in goods, but in favors - When you see that men get richer by graft and by pull than by work, and your laws don't protect you against them, but protect them against you - When you see corruption being rewarded and honesty becoming a self-sacrifice - You may know that your society is doomed." Ayn Rand.

Clearly this speaks to the evil of using influence, power, and position to leverage government to one's own self-interest as well as the evil of government succumbing to that. Elected officials should unequivocally make decisions based on what is right (righteous), NEVER on who they owe the most favors to or which mob they most want to please. That means not pandering to ANY special interest whether it be the deep pocket corporation, developer, or the angry mob of neighbors. But there is another level to think about with that quote. The system as it has evolved today can actually breed the very inappropriate influence that quote speaks against. When government remains in its proper and limited role of regulating for the sake of public safety, community viability, and protecting neighboring property rights, it is a little harder for that inappropriate influence to creep in. Certainly not impossible, just harder. But, it is much easier for that inappropriate influence to creep in when government expands its role beyond that basic and fundamental regulatory scope into the realm of deciding the kinds of things that are really meant to be decided by the market and and the people who according to that quote are the ones who "produce," meaning the builders, makers, creators, property owners, etc. Elected officials sometimes speak as if they "built something" or "made something" when in fact all they did was provide regulatory oversight while someone else built it. Whether that elected official actually had positive influence on that thing or not depends on how well they were able to keep their their regulatory role within its proper bounds. All too often, things get built "in spite of" elected officials, not "because of" elected officials. When an elected official sets themselves and their personal opinions, preferences, and tastes up as a "gatekeeper" and "decider" of what the "producers" should be doing as opposed to the proper and limited role of regulating for the reasons above, they effectively make themselves a much bigger target for inappropriate influence and the corrupt influence peddling that goes with that. When the reach of government control and decision making is expanded in that way, the decision making criteria becomes much more subjective and whim driven and therefore much more vulnerable to inappropriate influence. There are people driven to build, create, make stuff, take risks, and innovate. Government plays a proper role in regulating that activity so that undue harm isn't brought to the neighbors or community. And, there is even a critical domain, such as roads, infrastructure, parks, creating an attractive economic development environment, planning, public safety, and other public services, where government is the builder, maker, innovator, and creator. The key for government, especially elected officials, is to know where your role stops and starts in each given decision. Know where to draw that line where you are not supposed to be the "producer" or "gatekeeper" for other people's lives, businesses, creativity, and property. Be mindful of the parable of Cabbage Pie. Let the cake and pie maker be the expert in making cake and pie, and be careful in telling him/her what kind of cake or pie he should or shouldn't, or worse, can or cannot make.

Govern by Fact, Not Opinion or Preference

Leaders are not elected to exert their opinions, bias, or preferences. They are elected to judiciously assess the facts, fairness, and lawfulness of a situation and choose wisely. In every oath of office is an oath to be impartial. This is not America's Got Talent where you get to run one person off the stage and hit the golden buzzer for the next just because you happen to like one thing over another. You can't tell someone they can't use their property for a proposed use just because you would rather they use it for something else. By exercising your sacred trust of authority over other people's rights and freedoms, you are playing with their lives and livelihoods. Sometimes "doing the right thing" means going against your personal preference or opinion.

You have a solemn duty to protect the rights of neighbors and community. But you have the same duty to protect the rights of those you are regulating. In seeking balance, you have to fairly and wisely serve the rights of both. One of the most harmful and common mistakes of even the most well-intended elected officials is to believe that their duty is to community and neighborhood rights but that they have no duty to the individuals petitioning an elected official for permission to use their property. You may truly believe that a particular proposal causes real harm to neighbors or community. If that is truly true, you are doing your duty to oppose that proposal. However, you must make that determination based on fact, not preference, assumption, or opinion. Unless something causes true and measurable harm to neighbors and community, you cannot say no to a proposal simply because you would prefer to see something else. You must also strongly consider the good that a proposal can bring. And, you must also consider the harm you would cause an applicant if you say no. When you have that much authority over what someone else can and cannot do, and when they have so little recourse to your decision, it doesn't take much to abuse or misuse that authority and slide into the pitfall of unrighteous dominion.

Respect the Market

As an elected official, you have extensive power to control people. But, you don't have power to control the market. Don't fall into the trap of thinking you can. Don't try to force a land owner to do something the market will not bear. If an idea is not market viable, it will not get built. And, if for some crazy reason it gets built anyway, it will fail. Failed projects are catastrophic for both the land owners and the town. Just because it looks awesome on paper, or just because you've seen it done somewhere else, doesn't mean it will work where you are trying to force it. Development is extremely location specific, subject to complex factors such as traffic counts, saturation, competition with other locations, target demographics, an so on. Trust the market and trust reality. Don't force a landowner to wait 10 years, 30 years, or never to get an idea to work that good market knowledge says will not work.

Know the Proper Role and Limit of Government, Do No Harm

Government is not, cannot, and should not be the solution to every problem. Know the proper limit of what government should and should not, can and cannot do. This world is full of suffering, inequality, situations that could be so much better, and stuff that is just plain wrong. Compassionate and aspirational people should want to make all this better. However, not only is there a limit to what government can do to solve for all that, more often than not, the “government cure” is much more harmful, disruptive, and unequal than the problem itself. There is an endless list of examples and ways that dedicated elected officials and public servant professionals work with heart and soul to make our world a better place. Imagine a world without our public safety professionals, without public infrastructure and roads, without our military, without local government in its proper role safeguarding our communities! Good government in its proper role is essential to the incredible quality of life we enjoy. But, there are so many other examples and ways, especially when it expands beyond its proper role, that government causes more harm, inequality, upheaval, and unrest than the root problems it set out to solve in the first place. Government at its best can be and incredible blessing in serving and protecting society. Government at its worst can be cold, arbitrary, unfair, incompetent, and just plain destructive. Even if we wanted government to magically solve all of our problems, it can’t. Even if it could, a government powerful enough to solve for everything is powerful enough to take and damage everything. Wise and righteous dominion knows that there must be limit to what government can and should do. Without that restraint, good intentions inevitably devolve into the harm and dysfunction of unrighteous dominion.

Government Without Principles Breaks Down, Loses Integrity

Government breaks down when elected officials don't govern by principle combined with a true desire to listen and learn. When elected officials set the expectation that their decision making is driven by arbitrary or biased opinions, unpredictable or irrational thinking, influence peddling, favoritism, personality politics, or pandering to the crowd regardless of how unfair the demands of the crowd may be, it becomes dysfunctional. It puts people who rely on that government decision making and authority in a difficult position. Decisions start to get made not based on what is right or wrong, but rather on playing the system. That undermines and even corrupts the essence of moral and democratic righteous dominion.

In land use cases, for example, because land use is so heavily regulated, property owners and developers are constantly subject to local government authority to build and create. It is far better to do business in an environment where you can rely on the merits, fairness, and lawfulness of your requests.

But, if elected officials (or the staff that work for them) are unpredictable, irrational, unfair, biased, or dismissive of the importance of people having the ability to use their property to create prosperity, the developer or land owner is left with few choices.

1) They can throw up their hands in defeat and do nothing with their property. It is not uncommon for a politician to tell a land owner: "I don't care if your property stays vacant." Then, by abusing their regulatory authority, they essentially back a property owner into a corner where doing nothing is the only option that remains. How unethical and un-American is that?

2) They can attempt to "work" the broken system by trying to pander to the irrational and arbitrary drives of the politician, or find some other way to earn and peddle influence. That could range from being ridiculous to corrupt. That leads to government making people do stupid things for stupid reasons with stupid outcomes. Government that is dominated by personalities with their quirks, whims, and moods breeds the crony capitalism and "pay to play" environment that is so wrong and corrosive.

3) Or, they can work to inspire, seek out, and support principle driven governance, or Righteous Dominion, in both existing and future elected leadership.

I choose the latter. That is ultimately why I spend the time documenting and sharing these principles like this.


Arrogance and a false sense of expertise are the great enemies of good leadership, of righteous dominion.

Humility and a sincere desire to learn, and learn some more until you truly understand is a critical and essential characteristic for an elected official. Politicians can be very unknowledgeable and naïve about the complex areas they regulate. Why wouldn’t they be? You couldn’t expect a normal person off the street to come in and all of a sudden understand the complexity and intricacy of a field they've never worked in. They would need to trust and rely on people who have a lifetime of experience, not just high level incidental exposure. You have professional staff as a resource. You have people with decades of experience in the private sector. There will be many viewpoints and plenty of disagreement among all those sources. But, listen to them all wisely, humbly, and sort out what is right.

Lack of knowledge for an elected official is normal and understandable. But, when you combine lack of knowledge with arrogance, or a false belief that you are an expert, it becomes dangerous. As an elected official, you get exposure to things like land use at a level that most people never see. Compared to average people with no experience in that field, you do gain a certain level of expertise. You go to planning conferences, you meet often with city planners, and you see and study many land uses cases. But, as valuable as that is, until you've been on the other side and actually taken the risk to buy some land or build a project you don't really know the full weight, risk, and danger of the task. True expertise comes from being in the marketplace for many years, trying to get proformas to work, trying to get users and financing on projects, and learning the hard way what works and doesn't. Be ever mindful and respectful of the risk people take to build things. In many cases, they are risking livelihood and even using the homes they live in as collateral to get these projects financed. Lack of knowledge and humility from someone in authority can be catastrophic.

There are so many things that it is easy to assume or expect when you aren't the one signing the personal guarantee on the construction loan. The more knowledgeable you become, the more effective you will be. So learn as much as you can. But, also have the humility and wisdom to know the limits of your knowledge. Know when to trust that someone else who really does have life-earned expertise is speaking from the reality of that life experience and expertise. Millions of dollars of other people's money is at stake.

Don't buy into the cliche assumption that "it is just a bunch of greedy developers who only care about money so saying no doesn't really matter." That can be condescending arrogance speaking. It is certainly not righteous use of your authority. They are people wanting to make something, build something, to prosper in the American dream just like everybody else. Instead of demeaning them, see them as the partner they are, the guys who bring the money, risk, and experience to build the stuff that makes a community. Regulate them appropriately as needed to protect the community and neighbors. But, respect that their pursuit, including the part about making money, is fundamental to our way of life as Americans and essential to the prosperity of the community you govern.

Remember, the word "regulate" doesn't mean to stop something. It means to make sure it operates in a "regular" or "regulated" manner, meaning safe and stable, not disabled. You aren't there to stop people's freedom to prosper. It isn't your job to decide whether they should profit from their property or not. You are just there to make sure that in doing so, they don't do harm to the community or neighbors.

Courage With Decorum

It takes great courage to lead by principle, especially when that produces outcomes that are not popular, or are opposed by colleagues and professional staff whom you respect. But, you must never lose sight of your fundamental purpose. You are there to protect the people's rights as protected in the Constitution. Yes, you influence the quality of life, taxation, budgeting, infrastructure, design, and overall feel of a community. But, all that is done secondary to, not instead of protecting rights and freedom.

Just as difficult as having courage is to stand on principle with decorum. You can't advance the cause of liberty unless you do it in a way that builds trust and strengthens working relationships. At the very least, you need to work with people who disagree in a way that preserves the dignity of your office. At best you will inspire people through principled leadership to believe in these principles. If you are just seen as divisive, obstructionist, or just on a mission to prove someone is wrong or stupid, you will not be effective in advancing these principles and you certainly won't inspire others to join you.

If you believe in righteous dominion, Constitutional government, and the sacred duty to use those to protect the rights of all, then seek to win hearts and minds to that cause, not just to win to skirmishes.

The more you advance
tyranny and bondage
for some, the more you
advance it for all.

The more you advance
liberty for some,
the more you
advance it for all.

Rule by Righteousness

Above all lead righteously, committed to fairness, compassion, and decency. Human beings are deeply flawed and fallible. Seek to transcend that in you personally. Seek inspiration for that righteousness from many sources. With all of their human flaws and unrighteous mistakes, the Founding Fathers aspired to this and sought to give us a righteous government. I find great wisdom in scripture as to the meaning of righteous government (click here for more). We will only be as free as the righteousness of the leaders we choose.

Pendulum Jail for Morrison

Graphic: The Balanced Pendulum of
Government Control
(PDF Version)

"Still Mine" Movie: The Proper and
Balanced Role of Government


Pendulum Balance Home Page
Righteous Dominion Home Page
Jason Barney | jason@jasonbarney.com
©2013-2023 by Jason Barney