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Are Citizens Responsible for the Actions of Their Government?

The government and its citizens have always been interdependent. The actions of both of these parties influence the life of the country and society. The question of who is responsible when something goes wrong has always been controversial because no one wants to bear responsibility for negative consequences, this is why people usually try to shift the blame on somebody else’s shoulders. The actions of the government directly influence the life of its citizens this is why the latter opt to blame the government for all the existing problems. The analysis of this situation shows that though the government is indeed responsible for its own actions, the citizens are also responsible for them, apart from those cases when they cannot influence the course of the events. Citizens are responsible for the actions of their governments to a certain extent because they themselves choose the people to rule over them and they can stand up for their rights and demand social changes; however, the citizens bear only partial responsibility for their governments’ actions when it comes to governments’ controlling every aspect of society.

To begin with, citizens are responsible for the actions of their government because they are the ones who choose it and who can define whether their government is efficient or not. Throughout the centuries people have had a right to chose those who will be working for them in the government. Today, to maintain the citizens’ independence, each country has a constitution to follow. Most of the constitutions state that people’s sovereignty is entirely at their disposal until they establish the institutions which regulate it; people themselves choose to establish these institutions. Therefore, they choose the government which rules them, and which they have a right to change when they are not satisfied with it; this is guaranteed by their political rights and civil liberties, “Citizens have the right to choose their government democratically.” (Karatnycky 403) This right of theirs is realized through voting by means of which they may choose the leaders of political parties, as well as the president of the country. Only citizens of the full legal age are entitled to choose the government leader, which means that the citizens trust the people they choose. If they do not, this means that they are irresponsible for their actions and inefficient government is entirely their fault. Thus, the fact that people are able to choose their government and then change it in case they consider it inefficient makes them responsible for the government’s actions, regardless of whether they are or are not beneficial for the society.

Moreover, certain responsibility for the government’s actions lies on the citizens because the latter have a right to stand up to their government if they are sure that the government does not act in conformity with the principles of morality. This standing up to the government is an integral right of people if they live in the countries where constitutionalism prospers. Constitutionalism is typical for such countries as the United States and Great Britain; it helps to limit the powers of government but only if such limitations are specified by law.

Citizens must not only discern their own rights but also respect the rights of others. Restraint is often required to respect the rights of others, as when someone publicly speaks in terms that are morally offensive, Constitutionalism also calls on citizens to have the courage to stand up to those rights that are being violated, whether by minority or majority. (Fuhrman, Lazerson, and Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands 353)

Any society which wants the government to respect it should have strong fighting spirit, moral values, and a sense of duty. “By neglecting duties in our socialization process we have encouraged people to feel separate from their government rather than sharing the responsibility for government.” (Brecke 9) This partially serves as a reason why most people dislike, hate, and even fear the governments of their countries. It is only up to citizens whether the government will respect them and serve their best. Citizens’ responsibility for their government’s actions consists in their ability to stand up when they feel that the government does something morally wrong. It is the society who should be blamed for inactivity in case when the government evaded the responsibility for immoral or illegal actions.

In contrast, citizens cannot be responsible for the government’s actions when the government controls all the aspects of society’s life and resorts to brainwashing. Adolf Eichmann’s trial can serve as a perfect example of the citizen’s inability to at least somehow influence the actions of the government. Adolf Eichmann was a person who murdered millions of people during the saddest period in the world history known as Holocaust. He “was abducted by Israeli security agents from Argentina, where he had been hiding since 1950. The abduction created diplomatic tensions between Israel and Argentina, which claimed that sovereignty and Eichmann’s rights have been violated.” (Rabinovich and Reiharz 167) This is where the citizens were not able to control the government; the only fact that the person, who killed millions of people because of his own ideology, claimed that his rights were violated, was resentful. The Israeli citizens could not influence the government’s actions but the news media presented all the possible information about Nazi Holocaust and moral issues it had raised. “Because of the importance of the Holocaust to Jewish national identity, the Eichmann trial evoked strong emotions among most of Israeli’s Jewish population as it simultaneously reinforced one aspect of this national identity.” (Rabinovich and Reinharz 167) Eichmann was tried and executed in 1962 as one of the masterminds behind the final solution. It was a person who was true to his ideology, who was proud of everything he had done and who called himself an idealist. The citizens were powerless here and could only observe the actions of their government; in this case, they were not responsible for everything that had happened.

Taking into consideration everything mentioned above, it can be concluded that citizens can sometimes influence the government’s actions, which means that they have certain responsibility for them. Citizens of any country where democracy prevails and where people decide who will be guiding them, have a possibility to control the government’s actions. Citizens can oppose government and demand its changing or replacement for they are the ones who choose their government. They are not responsible for the government’s actions only in those cases when the government conceals the whole truth from them, resorts to brainwashing, and succeeds in convincing people that its actions are right; in this case, the citizens are powerless and have to blindly follow the government even if it is leading them to nowhere.

Works Cited

Brecke, Ronald F. A Republic, If You Can Keep it. Lexington Books, 2000.

Fuhrman, Susan, Lazerson, Marvin, and Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands. The Public Schools. Oxford University Press US, 2005.

Karatnycky, Adrian. Freedom in the World: The Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties 2001-2002. Transaction Publishers, 2002.

Rabinovich, Itamar and Reinharz, Jehuda. Israel in the Middle East: documents and readings on society, politics, and foreign relations, pre-1948 to the present. UPNE, 2008.


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