In a democracy, or in our case a democratic republic with people chosen by their peers to represent others in dealing with public matters, the government is the club we grown ups belong to. There are families, churches and temples, parent-teacher associations, bowling leagues, film societies, baseball conferences, chambers of commerce, etc. that help us find our way and make something of our days. But government is our invention to deal with those aspects of life in which we all have a stake and which require a broader means of acting. This is what we have instead of a King or Queen or Dictator. We get to make the decisions. That’s the American way. Government is an expression of our beliefs and values. We agree on rules of the game (no murdering, no monopolies, no discrimination in hiring, and more). We agree to collect money from ourselves to take care of common obligations and needs (roads, armies, schools, and such) and make some decisions directly about where that money goes (town meetings, binding referendum questions).
If we don’t decide these things collectively, then the strongest, richest, meanest person or group gets to decide for us. Self-government is how we try to protect ourselves from abuse by others and create a society that produces healthy results. The challenge is to see the mutual interest in public matters and make time to play a role in those common concerns when taking care of one’s own life, family, and business requires so much effort. Self-government doesn’t work if there is no public involvement time in the schedule. On the “authority” question, we are the authority, we are the governed who must give consent. But giving consent has to be an action verb, so to speak, otherwise authority gets confiscated by the greedy grabby types or defaults to the overly assertive who are glad to make decisions for the rest of the group. We keep control by handing it out a little at a time. Authority is a powerful tool we lend for defined periods of time. We take it back if we don’t like what is happening.