As previously defined, a government is a method of creating power structures in society that enable some elements of that society to exchange some freedoms for some securities.
So, why would a power structure be desirable?
Power structures necessitate inequality. Inequality is almost universally reviled, as in many contexts it causes harm, or short of that, feels bad to be on the side that loses out.
On the other hand, many experiments aimed at egalitarian life end up failing. A knee-jerk assessment would be to say that setting aside self-interest in order to prioritize others is easier said than done.
But, even if we were to say that power structures of one form or another are inevitable, that is, that power structures will always arise in situations that lack them, we still have questions about the nature of government.
In the case of government, why might power structures be desirable?
Well, that depends on what power structures are. At their core, power structures allow for some humans to control other humans. Which brings us yet again to more questions.
Why might it be desirable for some humans to control other humans?
You may have jumped ahead here and guessed that I’m going to be talking about whether humans are fundamentally good or bad. However, I think that analyzing the topic along those lines alone would be misleading. And even if we were able to lump most humans into one category or another, we’d still have make concessions. There’s plenty of evidence that we can be quite awful, especially to each other, and there’s some evidence that we can be particularly good.
The question of whether people are good or bad isn’t entirely irrelevant, but as long as we can’t answer it fully, we’re left to ask other questions about human nature.
Such as, are humans fallible?
The answer to which is “of course.”
Even with good intentions, we are capable of doing bad things. And we sometimes do bad things because we believe them at the time to be right.
Consequently, if left completely to our own devices, bad things will happen. This could be described as a state of total freedom. States with weak governments or no significant government control are some of the most dangerous places in the world.
In the 2017 Legatum Prosperity Index, Iraq, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, The Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Pakistan, Columbia, Venezuela, and Libya are listed as the ten most dangerous countries in the world. Of these ten, four are currently fighting a civil way, an additional four have fought a civil war or a major rebellion by a group of terrorists in the past decade. An additional two have lots of drug gang-related violence. 11th on this list is Yemen, also currently embroiled in a civil war.
Disagreements about who should hold the power or how the government should be run seem to be a trend in violence around the world. Without any kind of power structures, each of these conflicts would range from house to house, instead of between big, partisan groups.
So, one of the functions of government seems to be to create peace. I’m not sure exactly how this happens, and it happens by different mechanisms depending on government type and the relative economic prosperity of the region.
While a function of government appears to be peace, again, it doesn’t seem that the ultimate goal of government is peace. At least not perfect peace, which may not be achievable without draconian measures. Sure, a government could find a way to keep all of its citizens physically separate from each other, and thus render them less capable of harming each other, but that would come at the cost of many other good things.
Similar problems arise if economic prosperity or happiness are promoted as the core function of government. Money often doesn’t make people as happy as they think it will, and happiness is subjective enough that efforts to increase it universally are likely doomed to fail. One man’s enjoyment is another man’s torture.
What’s weird about this is that these three things, security, economic prosperity, happiness, and perhaps a litany of other things, are symptoms of good government. While governments all around the world may have specific programs by which they attempt to promote these things, they vary in approach.
It’s cool, and perhaps a little scary, to think that similar goals can be accomplished by disparate means. It means that there’s no one right answer but suggests that there might always be room for improvement.
But, what does this mean for us?
It means we get to look for the root illness, if you will, the thing that governments are built for that causes all of the positive symptoms that we listed above.
And, that seems to be justice.
Think about it.
Governments can’t keep you from being murdered, but they can make efforts to bring your murderer to justice. The better those efforts and the more likely they are to succeed, the less likely you are to be murdered.
Governments can’t keep you from being ripped off by a bad product, but they can make efforts to fine the offending company. The better those efforts and the more likely they are to succeed, the less likely you are to get ripped off.
Governments that can effectively dole out punishments can effectively pursue justice. And governments that can effectively pursue justice will be able to build social trust between its citizens.
If you live in a place where you believe that someone who harms your family will be punished, you’re less likely to arm yourself and more likely to be open and trusting.
If you live in a place where you believe that everyone gets a fair economic shot, you’re more likely to work hard, innovate, and start your own company.
While none of these things are dependent on a government, it is certainly much harder for them to exist in a state of uncertainty, which is what the lack of a government brings about.