An inquiry into the idea of government must answer three questions: ‘What is government?’ ‘What makes government possible?’ and ‘Why should there be government at all?’1 All three questions need to be answered before we can address the central question of this book: ‘What is the proper scope, and what are the proper limits, of government action?’ The second and third questions arise because government is not necessary for social life as such. Communities of food-gatherers, of hunters and of nomads have existed without it. The third question must also be considered in connection with anarchism, which answers it negatively: ‘There does not have to be government and social life would be better without it’ (see 5.2.3 below). We saw in the last chapter that correlative to the common morality obligation of social responsibility is a corporate power-right of the community to organize, control and regulate the activities of its members to the extent that this is needed to maintain and promote its interest (see 3.2.3 and 3.4.1 above). This gives us the outlines of an answer to the first question: the agents who collectively exercise a community’s power-right are its government. A community, that is to say, has a government if there is within it an agency to which the exercise of its corporate power-right has been entrusted. While this is an incomplete answer, it is sufficient to indicate the moral basis of government.
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- 2.D.G. Ritchie, Natural Rights, 5th edn (Unwin, 1952), p. 88.Google Scholar
- 4.S.E. Finer, Comparative Government (Allen Lane, 1970).Google Scholar
- 8.For a recent discussion of this distinction see the essay by Peter Winch and R. S. Peters, in Anthony Quinton (ed.), Political Philosophy (OUP, 1967), p. 83.Google Scholar
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