Do we really need a government?

Picture of a sentinel guard.

ANARCHY: the absence of any form of political authority, resulting in a society of individuals without government, who claim total freedom for themselves.

GREEK philosopher Aristotle called all forms of human government inherently unstable and transitional.

He claimed, according to one writer, that “the stability of all regimes is corrupted by the corrosive power of time.”

In view of such conditions, it is not surprising that some people have advocated having no government at all, or at least as little government as possible.

But advocating ‘no government’ is in reality calling for anarchy, a term taken from a Greek word meaning “having no ruler.”

The word “anarchy” was used in 1840, exactly 150 years ago, by Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, a French political writer.

But the philosophy of anarchism was clearly outlined 200 years earlier by Englishman Gerrard Winstanley.

But does not experience teach us that every group needs a framework within which to operate?

“From earliest times,” notes The World Book Encyclopedia, “some kind of government has been a vital part of every society.”

It explains:

every group of people—from a family to a nation—has rules of conduct to govern the lives of its members.”

How else could it accomplish its purposes for the benefit of all its members?

Most people will therefore readily accept the notion that certain institutions have a legitimate right to exercise authority and to make decisions for the common good.

With no government to make decisions for the community, every individual would be left to follow the dictates of his own conscience, as Winstanley suggested.

Would this promote unity?

Or is it not more likely that each individual would tend to pursue his own interests, often to the detriment of the equally legitimate rights of others?

Experiments in anarchy have failed to improve the lot of mankind.

Efforts of 20th-century terrorists to destabilize society, to destroy what they perceive to be destroying them, have fared no better.

Simply stated, having ‘no government’ invites chaos.

The question is therefore not ‘government or no government?’ but, rather, ‘what kind of government for the best results?

The purpose of government

From this inauspicious beginning, governments have taken many forms.

Whether they are very simple or extremely complex, all of them have certain similarities.

Here are a few:

Governments care for the needs of their subjects.

A government that fails to do this loses its legitimacy.

Governments set out a code of conduct,

which if not adhered to by their subjects, results in punishment.

This code is composed of rules and laws, as well as of traditions developed over the centuries.

Citizens for the most part obey the code of conduct either because they discern the benefits derived from doing so, because they feel ‘it is the thing to do,’ because they are subjected to peer pressure, or simply because they will be punished if they do not.

Governments perform legislative, executive, and judicial services by means of some type of organizational setup.

Laws are made, justice is administered, and policies are implemented.

Governments maintain strong economic ties to the world of commerce.

Governments also often ally themselves with some form of religion, some more closely than others.

They do this to grant their rule a certain legitimacy—‘the blessing of heaven’—that it otherwise would not have.

Sometimes governments are classified in terms of their key institutions (parliamentarism, cabinet government), according to their basic principles of political authority (traditional, charismatic), according to their economic structure, or in terms of their use or abuse of power.

“Although none is comprehensive,” notes this reference work, “each of these principles of analysis has some validity.”

But regardless of how we classify them, the vital thing to remember is that the various forms of human rule have their merits and demerits.