Web Analytics Trust People (once an Englishman in Philly): Governments should help people to govern themselves

Monday, February 09, 2004

Governments should help people to govern themselves

There is such a thing as society. In fact that is the reason why we have governments. It is a response to the recognition of groups of people that they not only have things in common but that certain goals can be only be achieved by common endeavour than by the isolated uncoordinated efforts of individuals and that sometimes this common endeavour must be enforced. Government is the means by which society achieves this and it is for this reason that government has a monopoly on the morally legitimate use of force – it must.

Over exactly which functions a government has a mandate to exercise this power, for an end which can be better achieved than by individuals or unregulated co-operation is a matter of intense debate. It seems to me, however, that there are two things which, merely to remain a government, a government has to do.

Firstly its people must be secure and safe within its territory: this means that government must have the monopoly on morally legitimate force. Government must provide safety and security for the people it governs to ensure that they can go about their lives freely. Without a strong rule of law the government may as well not exist: it would be powerless to stop dissent and couldn’t truly govern.

Secondly a government’s borders must be secure. Any government must protect the territory it governs, for it cannot be a government without control and protection of its territory. Otherwise another government would step in which could control the territory: like the US!

Other than this a government need not do anything. Its aim, however, should be to improve the condition of those it governs and to act in their interests. Where necessary it should step in where an organised, enforceable approach is needed to improve the lot of the people. No other actions are essential for its existence; as a result it should be seen merely as a facilitator. It should facilitate the best opportunities for all, but need not necessarily provide them itself. It is necessary to debunk the false impression that the state itself must offer a range of ‘essential services’. If these existed in the beginning there would be no need for government, so if they can be provided independently of government they should be.

If members of society can provide something perfectly well without the Government the rationale for its intervention disappears. There is no need for common endeavour to be backed up by force in order to achieve that aim. To formalise common endeavour becomes unnecessary. Government exists to provide a secure environment in which the condition of the people can improve. Where a stimulus is required it should provide it. That is not to say, however, that the government itself has to provide anything. It need merely ensure that the means are available by which members of society can achieve their goals. There is no pre-requisite that this has to be done by government.

Take, by way of an illustration, food. Everyone in the country buys their own food. Private individuals can be trusted to not only produce food without the government having to provide it, but to transport and sell the food to us, to provide us with the equipment we need to prepare the food. There is no need for the government to provide food or the system. Nonetheless government has a key role it can play in enabling members of society to do things themselves. Government needs only to help to facilitate this system, by ensuring we have a problem-free transport system, by ensuring that there is no abuse of weaker parties and that everyone has the resources necessary to access the system. There is no need for a government-run National Food Service, which provides us all our food for free at the point of access protecting this vital commodity for life from abuse by private individuals. Government enables and protects but does not and need not provide itself. As society evolves people will be capable of doing so many more things themselves without a government. Where this is the case, and people can govern arrangements themselves, government should let them.


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