What is Government?

I have been reading some libertarian news recently, and some libertarians believe that the world would be better without government. They rarely bother to investigate what government is and whether or not it is even possible to be without government. Government is not a material thing, nor is it a natural substance. Government is an immaterial artifact. By examining the action that creates government, we can discover the nature of government itself.

One might suggest that government are those people in charge of a country. But this cannot be correct. There are no boundaries on the land that separate Canada from the United States. Neither is there any intrinsic difference in the peoples of these two countries. Suppose that there was no government in either Canada or the United States. What would the difference between the two countries be then? There may be a cultural difference – but such differences are found within the United States and Canada as well. I suggest that without a government at any level, there would be nothing to make the countries distinct countries. To be sure, the lands would be different, but neither Canada nor the United States would exist as such. Therefore, government cannot be the people in charge of a country because without governments countries would not exist.

One might suggest that the government is that which rules over people. But once again, this cannot be correct. A organized crime group may rule a country, but that does not make them the government. As long as one can force another to obey, one might be said to rule that person. But this does not mean that we have the right to rule. Power alone does not create legitimacy.

Governments and countries always come into existence at the same time. A government cannot exist without people to rule. Those people together with the government make a country. This means that a country can exist without land to call its own. Nomadic governments are the ones most likely to exist in such a way. The act that causes the government to exist and the country to exist must be the act that defines them both. Since governments are artifacts, there can be no examination of them apart from a historical examination.

Governments are formed when some men are trusted with the common good of many people of which they are a part. In the United States, this happened when the Declaration of Independence was signed. A group of men who represented many people agreed to be ruled by their own laws as opposed to the laws of Britain. But not all governments are formed as neatly as that. Although governments are formed by an act of trust, this trust need only be enough to decide power. Hitler became the rightful ruler of Germany because the people chose to let him rule rather than fight against the evil within their government. This is all the trust that is required. When a foreigner rules over a land, there are three possibilities. First, he may become a member of that land. Second, he may take that country and submit it to the country of which he is a member. Third, the country of which he is a member may be joined with the country he rules thereby forming a new country. Finally, being trusted with the common good is simply being trusted to rule for everyone’s benefit. If a leader were trusted with the common good, but acted in his (or anothers) private good, then that person may either continue to be trusted or be replaced. So long as he is trusted with the common good, then he is a legitimate ruler.

This does not mean that we have a definition of government. What we have is a definition of the act that creates both a country and a government. The definition of government will require more investigation.

Immaterial Artifacts

It is commonsense to believe that material things such as tables and chairs exist. It is also commonsense to believe that Canada, the International Monetary Fund and other non-material things exist. The difference between these two groups of things is that one group is material and one is not. Any argument that claims that Canada is ultimately material is the same as claiming that ultimately, Canada does not exist.

All of these things are artifacts. Unlike natural substances such as trees, rocks and stars, artifacts are what they are because that is what other rational substances say they are. Lets use the example of a book. The paper, glue and ink in a book are all natural substances. But the arrangement of those substances in the form of a book is an artifact. To us, the ink marks in the book are words and the book is a artifact for recording such words. But those marks would not be words if there were no beings that understood those marks to be words. If that were not so, then the meaning of the words would be found in the ink itself! But the ink does not have meaning. Neither do any arrangement of ink marks. Therefore, the ink marks have meaning as words because human beings exist and we use to marks to represent meaning. If the ink marks do not have meaning on their own, the book does not have an intrinsic purpose either. It only has a purpose as long as it contains words. The book is only a book as long as human beings (or other rational beings) who designed it to be a book.

But this does not mean that artifacts cease to exist the moment they are forgotten or the language found in them in lost. As long as the artifact is similar enough to an artifact we understand, then we still recognize it as an artifact. For example, a book with alien writing will still be recognized as a book because it contains something we recognize as writing.

Immaterial artifacts are artifacts formed completely out of intentions, social interactions, history, rules and other immaterial things. For example, Canada is a country with a history, politics, government, culture and language. But none of these components are material things. But these things are all that are essential to Canada.

We might suppose that Canada is really just a collection of individuals. There is no immaterial artifact because individuals are material. But the form of that argument is the same as an argument that rejects material artifacts as well. We might suppose that no tables exist because they are just collections of atoms. More importantly, Canada cannot just be a collection of individuals.

One becomes Canadian by being born in Canada or by becoming a citizen of Canada. But this explanation assumes that there is such a thing as Canada distinct from a collection of individuals found in it. Without such a thing, there are no national boundaries and nothing that one could be a citizen of. If Canada were just a collection of individuals, then being Canadian would have to be some property that people held in common. The problem is that there is no such property. Some become Canadians without their knowledge, by being born here. Others become Canadians by choice. Canadians do not have a common race or language. They do not all share some belief that non-Canadians lack. In fact, there is no property common to Canadians that non-Canadians lack. So if Canada is just a collection of individuals, then Canada does not exist.