On Government

Governments usually govern badly. The poor who are governed by incompetent or bad governments object to bad government. Sometimes, as events in Egypt show, their objection takes the form of demonstrations and unrest. All governments govern inefficiently, some are less inefficient than others but people understand that the business of government is an imperfect machine operated by imperfect people who are elected or appointed to protect the people, and the only reason to allow any person or group of people to exercise some sovereignty over your own life is if that person or group of people protects it.

All other reasons for government have no validity if the government does not protect the people. If a government harms the people those that are harmed object, if they can or if they are permitted to object. There is no safety in objecting to a government that governs you, unless you can object in such large numbers that the government cannot oppress you all.

It can, and often does, round up the usual subjects and make examples of them; sometimes the examples made are vicious and live in the memory for generations, like the destruction of Lidice or the murders of the killing fields or the events at the gas chambers. That kind of violence, perpetrated by governments on their own people betrays the concept of government and denies the fact that the sole right to govern arises only if governments protect all the people.

It is fashionable these days to talk of governance, rather than of government. Governance is the act of governing and to talk of “good governance” misses the point of government. Government is a duty and like all duties should be carried out meticulously and with decency. Corporations do not need good governance, they need decent decision making effectively carried out. Nations do not need good governance; they need governments who understand the duties and obligations of government. Those duties and obligations include a duty to govern with humility and decency, fairly and without thought of personal gain.

There are many poor governments and many governments that combine inefficiency with corruption and the poor, who have something to gain from good government, end up being losers when governed by bad and corrupt governments. But the poor have little choice in who governs them. You cannot establish a democracy by an overnight revolution, only by a process of change over time. Egypt will flourish only when that process of change over a period of time has been completed.

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