We often express the desire that the government should deliver ‘good governance’. What is good governance? What should the government do and, equally important, what should it not do to provide good governance, needs to be spelt out in simple terms.
To do this, we need to go back in history and review the evolution of political thought from inception to modern times. Such an extent of history and evolution would be impossible to encapsulate in an article of this length.
So, I will begin from Jean Jacques Rousseau’s The Social Contract to make my effort in explaining what I expect from good governance. I had written on this theme quite some years ago but, I feel that it needs to be revisited.
While numerous proponents of this theory existed in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was Rousseau who finally penned his views on the subject for posterity.
Rousseau’s treatise begins with the words, “Man is born free; and everywhere he is in chains.” In the subsequent paragraph he states, “As long as a people is compelled to obey, and obeys, it does well; as soon as it can shake off the yoke, and shakes it off, it does still better; for, regaining its liberty by the same right as took it away, either it is justified in resuming it, or there was no justification for those who took it away.”
This is the essence of Rousseau’s reasoning.
His contention was that the existence of any state implies an (unwritten) social contract between those governing and the governed, in which the governed voluntarily accept governance by the governor(s) on the condition that the governors ensure the one right that is basic to mankind: its freedom.
It may appear contradictory that mankind must give up some of its freedom so as to ensure its freedom, but it isn’t. Mankind has to coexist and interact daily; its actions must be governed by someone. But that someone, in governing, is ensuring mankind’s right to liberty individually and collectively — and the latter necessitates governance.
Since, in Rousseau’s view, this is the sole purpose of the state, all state functions revolve around this. I do hope you recall Rousseau’s opening sentence. Since Man is born free; a necessary corollary, therefore, is that man is born equal.
And, therefore, to ensure freedom of all its citizens, it is essential that the state ensure that not a single one of its citizens enjoys any privilege more than any other, except if that privilege is granted to better enable the governor(s) to ensure freedom of each and every citizen.
To proceed further with the same reasoning; the state, therefore, makes laws, which are applicable to all citizens. Since these laws need to be enforced, the state institutes a policing system to ensure that laws are obeyed.
For those who violate the laws of the state, it is essential to provide a just and impartial judicial system which adjudicates and, where necessary, orders punitive action for criminals.
Thus, the requirement of a judicial system with two components — policing services to maintain law and order and apprehend those who violate laws, and the judicial system decides on which transgressor deserves what punishment.
Furthermore, citizens of every state need to be protected from any possible external aggressor. To do so, the state provides security agencies.
For the two functions stated above, the state may have to use force. To do so, the security agencies are divided into two types — policing agencies for citizens violating the laws of the state, and military forces to protect the state and society from possible external aggressors.
Therefore, the state is the only organisation which society has authorised to use force for its individual and collective protection.
This is where it becomes interesting.
In doing so, society has empowered the state to use force against its own self. But that too is only against individuals or groups which seek to deny freedom to another citizen or group.
In my view, thus far, the theory espoused by Rousseau and others before and after him seems fairly clear. Perhaps, the one thing necessary to put the entire concept into perspective is a definition of freedom.
The Oxford Dictionary defines freedom as “The right to act, speak, or think as one wants; absence of subjection to foreign domination or despotic government; the power of self-determination attributed to the will; the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved; the state of being unrestricted and able to move easily; the state of not being subject to any thing or person.”
That is what the state exists for; to ensure the above for each and every citizen and to ensure their equality under law and all matters.
That is good governance.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2016.