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.

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Comments on What is Government?

  1. You state that power doesn’t grant legitimacy, but the question you’re asking isn’t “what is legitimate government” and you state that government and country come into being at the same time, but again the question is not “what is national government” the question you’re purporting to ask is “what is government”. At it’s simplest form government would seem to be a body which governs, or put less circularly a person or persons who exercise power over a person or persons. That can be stated better, and can be improved, but it’s a good baseline to ask other interesting questions like “what makes a government legitimate?”

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