STEWARDSHIP
the assumption of responsibility for the welfare of the world
SITE MAP

STEWARDSHIP

UNION

PROJECT

EARTH AS IT IS

POLICIES

RESEARCH

ESSAYS

 

REFERENCE BASE HOME

 

REFERENCE BASE
GOVERNMENT

 

O.T. FORD

 

To govern is to control territory and the population and resources on that territory. A government is simply an institution that governs. Thus, the local, state, and federal governments of the United States are all by this definition governments. The “government” of the People’s Republic of China, by contrast, is not the actual government; rather, the actual government is the Chinese Communist Party, the People’s Liberation Army, and the “government” all working as a system, with the Party the most important element.

A paramount government is one not answerable to any higher government. In this view, the European Union is a paramount government, and its member states are not. An independent government is one with ultimate control over its own affairs, including the ability to end any relationship with other governments to which it might voluntarily be answerable. The member states of the EU are thus, for now, independent; the EU itself is not. And the states of the US are neither paramount nor independent.

Despite the reverence given to it in the United States, the supposed division of governmental functions as “legislative”, “executive”, and “judicial” is not fundamental. The government is a single system which determines the reality within its territory. The legislative function in particular is carried out, and quite obviously so, by all three branches of the US federal government; the distinction between “statutes”, “regulations”, and “rulings” is quite artificial when discussing their effects.

A state is the social and territorial system defined by a system of government, including all of its population and resources; it is thus also a region defined by a government. A state defined by a paramount government is a paramount state; a state defined by an independent government is an independent state.

‘Sovereignty’ has the basic meaning of “right to rule”. While the term can be used for actual control or rule, in the present day that is a rarity. Rather, it is used for claims, and those claims in general are not dependent on control. In some cases, owing to historical usage, it is applied to claims within a society, such that the designated “monarch” (whether ruling or not) is said to be sovereign. But most uses of ‘sovereignty’ today refer to a claim over territory within the modern state system. The world is divided into recognized “sovereignties”, and each organization designated as the holder of that sovereignty guards it zealously.

This system is often named in reference to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, based on the German region (Westfalen) where three treaties were signed (the Peace of Münster, the Treaty of Münster, and the Treaty of Osnabrück), ending several intra-European wars and formalizing the future interaction, including mutual recognition, between the formerly-warring states. As Europe conquered most of the world, its internal system was transformed into a world system. Today this has been further formalized in the United Nations. It is crucial to understand, though, that the Westphalian system, despite its pretension, does not deal with actual governments and states; it deals with recognized governments and states, many of them fictional, in the scope of their territorial control or their very existence. Modern sovereignty is essentially a franchise within the Westphalian system, with each state or supposed state acknowledging the sovereignty, within a designated bounded region, of every other state or supposed state. The Westphalian system is the basis of the country model.

The head of government is the most powerful official in a system of government. Formal title does not matter, even if that formal title is ‘head of government’. “Head of state” is not a meaningful role. To contrast the president and prime minister of France as head of state and head of government is mistaken; the president is both. Likewise, the head of government in Iran is not the president, but the Supreme Leader (ولى فقيه « Ŭalī Faqīh » / رهبر « Rahbar »). One mark of an institutionalized government is that the head of government is also the person holding whatever is nominally the position that directs the government. The fact that Vladimir Putin has been the head of government in Russia regardless of whether he was nominally president or prime minister indicates that the Russian state is not particularly institutionalized.

The governing class is the subset of the state’s population that participates in making government policy. Democracy is impossible to define as a binary. Rather, states are more or less democratic as their governing classes are broader or narrower. Similarly, dictatorship and autocracy, both essentially referring to rule by a single person, are never absolute; even Stalin and Hitler did not make every government decision, though they did obviously have extraordinary concentrations of power. In modern terms, we can at least consider a state undemocratic if significant numbers of adults are excluded from decisionmaking (that is, voting).

The function of a government’s armed forces is the implementation of government policy by force. The armed forces can be and frequently are divided by function, but fundamentally they are one. The typical division into police (use of force internally) and military (use of force externally) is blurred even in relatively-stable states, such as for temporary control of unrest. In unstable states, the division is frequently not observed.

 

© O.T. FORD

THE STEWARDSHIP
Home of the Stewardship Project
and O.T. Ford