What is Government?

Sep 17, 2012 by

What is a government?  See, this is a question people rarely ask themselves in depth.  They understand the parameters of a government, but do they really understand what a government is?  For instance, if you ask someone what is a government, they might respond:  A government is an institution over a consenting group of people that sets and enforces laws and regulations while providing care and duties to its people.  However, right off the bat, we can see a problem in this definition:  The word “consenting”.  Does this mean that Iran does not possess a government; few would claim its government to be consented to.  Yet, none the less, it does appear to be a government.  But, some might claim that since it is not consented to, it is not a government.  For these hardened idealists, I would ask them: what was the first government?  Athens.  Athens is the first democratically elected government.  The second?  The Roman Republic.  The third?  While there were spurts of consent, the true third government would be either America or England.  However, even if you admit England as the Third, America is the fourth.  Are these people claiming that upon 1776, there were only four governments in the history of Man?  I think this rather unlikely.  Rather, it seems more plausible that the definition is too stringent.

Thus, the definition is reduced to:  An institution over a group of people that sets and enforces laws and regulations while providing cares and duties to its people.  However, I think now we are getting into a question of essence versus applications.  What of this definition is essential to government while the others are mere applications of the essential?  First, we have already acknowledged that a government does not have to be legitimate in order to be a government.  Thus, anything which is in government which is expected of a government but not necessary is an application and not an essence, for an illegitimate government does not have to provide expectations, but merely possess the essence.  Now, the first thing to go, in my opinion, would be the providing done by a government.  For instance, even in legitimate governments, defense is not a necessity.  The only “duty” would be law enforcement and courts, but that would fall under the enforce section rather than the duty and care section.

Now, we are left with:  An institution over a group of people that sets and enforces laws and regulations.  However, again, is there anything important about the setting and enforcing of laws and regulations?  Now, the ability to do so might be something, but the action of it isn’t necessary.  If a group of people had the ability to set laws without setting any, would they not still be a government.  It may be strange to us in that they are not doing anything, but that is due to the commonness of the application of laws, not due to this being an essence of government.  Only the ability is essence.

An institution over a group of people that could set and enforce laws and regulations.  However, again, let us look at the word, “Institution”.  Is government necessarily an “Institution”?  We commonly see it as such, but an informal rabble of people who has control over a region could be said to be that region’s government, even though they aren’t an institute.  This rabble who can exert laws over the local populace is as much a government as the legitimate rulers of the region.  So, let us replace the term institution with the words “a group of people”.

A group of people who are above a group of people that could set and enforce laws and regulations.  Now that we are at the meat of the sentence, let us take it a step further and arrive at the essence of this sentence.  What does that mean?  This sentence is merely an attempt at an expression of the essence.  The true essence lies within five words of the sentence:  “group of people” “could”, and “enforce”.  Those five words are the essence.  What does the word could mean?  It is the possessing the actual potential to apply an action.  What does the word enforce mean?  It is the action of applying force in order to have some law or regulation followed.  So, the true definition of a government could be said:  A group of people who possess the active potential to apply force to have laws and regulations followed.

Now, one final note, this does not mean that any group of people is a government.  If ten people are in a group of five others, they “could” apply force; however, active potential truly is a better phrase.  Active is the key.  A group of people who have no intent nor have shown an act of using force, have the “theoretical” potential, but not the active potential.  Further, some might argue that a biker gang who stops me and tells me that one of their regulations for people they meet is they are to have their heads shaved, and then proceed to force me to do so is then considered a government.  I would respond by stating “YES”.  It is indeed a government, illegitimate, but a government none-the-less.  The fact that a legitimate government is over them does not attest to the question of whether or not they are in the essence of a government.  The fact that the application in this case is unusual does not take away the essence.  To argue with these kind of arguments, one must also show that such is a part of the essence of a government, not merely that we do not commonly think of it as so.

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