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Who's in Charge?
Governing Your World

By Jim Francis
Copyright 2008 by Jim Francis, All Rights Reserved


When you build a world, no matter how small, at some point you'll need to decide who is in charge and how society in your world is to be organized so that it will, hopefully, run smoothly when you want it to.

Society is where people live their lives. People are social beings who live in social groups because they need the support of others. Countries, states, counties, plus cities and towns are social groups. Social groups can include the band, tribe, or family (possibly jointly ruled by parents or grandparents). It can also mean communities such as people living condominiums where there are regulations so that living there is comfortable, or social clubs and, perhaps even gangs. In many cities the homeless form themselves into social communities just because, like all other people, they need to belong. In societies, patterns emerge with written or unwritten rules of conduct. Often conduct is predictable and gives a basis for a framework of rules.

Problems arise because individuals have wills; therefore common rules of conduct are needed. Government protects society by creating these rules (laws) of conduct to keep society from disintegrating and to protect it from outside attack. Conflict arises when the rules are not followed, when individuals are moved by self interest rather than the interest of the group.

For this reason government's main purpose is to maintain peace within the group. The prime motivation for this is survival. An early example of protecting survival was to prevent outside groups from invading tribal hunting grounds. In the Northwest area of North America the indigenous peoples protected large areas where every few years they harvested roots for food. Trouble arose when the Europeans arrived and saw these areas as unused and potential ranch and farm land.

Another example, perhaps, is at FM Writers where rules have been made to avoid conflict. Members get along when they follow the rules. At FM, the penalty for not following the rules is exile.

However, people usually learn to obey the rules and get along.

To get people to obey the rules three methods are used; influence, coercion and authority. Sometimes these methods are combined.

Influence

To convince people of the desirability of the action you take is to influence them. It might be that they can be persuaded by self-interest; their need and desire for security. Perhaps an emotional appeal is made such as love of country or area of birth. Bribes can be used to influence. "If you allow me to govern I'll see to it that you get a better hospital in your area, or the bridge you want that will make your life easier." Influence is also used to try to get people to change their behavior; to exercise more, drink less, eat healthy and conserve energy. A marriage partner might use gifts to show love and influence the other partner to return that love.

Coercion

To use some sort of force to get the rules obeyed is coercion. This can be by harm or the fear of harm such as beating, torture, murder. It can be by imprisonment or the threat of this, or by fines and perhaps the seizure of property. The threat of job loss is economic coercion. The parent who disciplines a child is using coercion to make the child obey.

Bordering on coercion could be misinformation through propaganda, whereby people are persuaded (influenced) to approve something but would not have done so if given the truth.

Constraint, however, when one wishes for something but is denied because of the lack education or skill etc. This denial is not coercion.

Violence can be used to coerce and Governments possess a near monopoly on legal violence and, while some seem to enjoy using it, the better ones choose not to. The larger the society, the more difficult it is to manipulate by coercion. At some point coercion needs cooperation by a majority who adhere to the same belief as those in charge.

Mao Zedong claimed that Power came from the barrel of a gun, convinced his followers of this and so maintained power.  Since ancient times, Chinese governments have relied on neighbors to inform on each other. During the Cultural Revolution, citizens informed on one another. (Would you turn your friendly neighbor in if you knew he was cheating on his taxes?)

But the despot who oversteps power and does not have the support of enough followers soon finds himself or herself dead or in exile.

Authority

People will respect authority if they respect the source. (It is interesting to note that lack of obedience to authority probably comes when the power holder abuses, or is thought to abuse that power.) Respect for authority cannot be forced; the power holder must earn that respect in some way or the other. (The word respect has a flexible meaning. Here I use it as meaning well regarded. Coercion is when the power of a gun to hurt is respected.) The power holder, usually, must be seen to have earned the right to that power and respect in some way for authority to be obeyed.

Governments want as much authority as possible because it makes the job of governing easier. Authority through influence is often shaky because the influenced can be persuaded to change their minds. Coercion, as suggested above, is only possible when a large proportion of the population willingly accepts authority. Respect is what a good government seeks and if an authority loses respect it often leads to the need for a rise in coercion.

For some, escape from authority is seen as freedom, but it is not possible to renounce authority and remain a member of a specific society. Even in the underworld (criminal groups) there are leaders who get respect and who therefore wield authority.

Submission to a respected authority allows people the freedom to plan their own lives. A certain amount of authority can be delegated to others such as the police and the courts.

As can be seen from the above, some crossover can exist in methods of governing, and there are no absolute ways of governing. It might also be of interest to note that most humans and some animals have predilection towards hierarchy, somebody to take charge. Even anarchists, it is said, when they group together, elect a committee to take charge.

Medieval governance

In medieval times society was divided into those who prayed, those who fought, and those who worked.

Those Who Pray

At the top was the first Estate. The clergy. Those who pray. They led medieval society. The village priest oversaw the spiritual life of the serfs on the medieval manor. He regularly administered the necessary sacraments. He also absolved men and women of their sins after the act of confession. He made the secular and ecclesiastical pronouncements. Although not all village priests were totally dedicated to the holiness of those within their fold, it was the village priest with whom medieval men and women identified the Church, its teachings and authority. Monasteries tried to supply evil Europe with the ideal of a Christian civilization.

The nobility

The nobles were the aristocracy, a powerful and privileged class holding hereditary titles. A noble was free in person and possessions and had the one obligation and that was to fight for his Lord. When there was no war tournaments were organized as training exercises. Nobles could levy direct and indirect taxes on their estates. The nobility molded all facets of medieval life; the politics, the economies, the religion, and the culture.

Those who work

Few records of serfs exist, because, unfortunately, in medieval times peasants were not thought worthy of mention. In 8th century Europe vassals were protected by lords whom they were required to serve in war. Most serfs never traveled beyond the estate of their lord and most believed in God. Religion permeated their lives. The church was a place where necessary religious and political messages were conveyed to the population by priests. Paintings, stained glass windows, and statues depicted the biblical stories. The devil was everywhere tempting people into sin and evil deeds. Life had singularity of purpose. God's punishment for sin was disease, plague, poor harvest, and war.

By the twelfth century, however, a moneyed economy was emerging which allowed serfs gain their freedom. They then had to rent the land they worked; moreover they also had to pay taxes to the Lord of the manor.

The people were also ruled by superstition and demons were thought to assist those who were evil. Religious relics held great power. Bishop Gregory of Tours, for instance, possessed a locket with grave dust (dust collected from the top of a grave) and the sacred ashes of some unnamed saint. In at least one instance, the revelation of the mere possession of this was enough to rout a group of bandits bent on robbery.

Ideologies

Ideologies such as conservatism, liberalism, socialism and communism are organized systems of active political belief accepted by a large number of people in the state or country.  Often they are a mixture of factual and moral beliefs.

Liberalism           

In its pure form liberalism believes in personal freedom, limited government, equality of right, and consent of the governed.

Personal Freedom

Classical liberals see personal freedom as an absence of coercion. Reform liberals add to this by saying that freedom from coercion means little unless the means of obtaining it are available. They say poor are not free and are as much prisoners as people in jail, and often those in jail eat better. They ask, if a good education is beyond a person's means, then is that person free?

Limited Government

To classical liberals limited government is the government's role to see to it that people do not harm one another through force or fraud. Reform liberals agree, but want to promote freedom by adding capacity. They want the state to ensure society's welfare.

Equality of Right

Classical liberals see this as meaning that all must abide by the laws of the land. Reform liberals feel that economic and social differences must be reduced if citizens are to have equality of right and opportunity.

Consent of the Governed

Broadly this means that government should be held accountable in some way.

Conservatism

Conservatives prefer the familiar to the unknown and shy away from the untried. They tend to dislike mystery preferring the known to the possible. They fear losing what they have and seek to keep the status quo.

Socialism and Communism

Socialists believe in a planned economy that will give all equal opportunity and thereby spread the wealth of society. This, they believe will eliminate all ills. It seems to appeal more to the young. Socialists dislike the private ownership of land, stores and transportation, arguing that these supply necessary things to people and should therefore be controlled by the people. They seem to believe that, in time, selfishness can be controlled or perhaps eliminated.

Communists have been called 'socialists in a hurry'.

Nationalism

Nationalism sometimes transcends other ideologies. Reduced to its bare bones, nationalism is pride in ones own nation. It is the belief in, "My nation; right or wrong."

The nation state tries to insulate itself from threatening external influences.

Governmental Forms

There are many forms of government: Republics, monarchies, democracies, dictatorships. Any of these can be combined in one way or another, or morph into another form. Hitler, a dictator in a republic, for instance, led a democratically elected one and his government did nothing internationally illegal until he and his government conspired to wage war. Canada is a democratic, constitutional monarchy, ruled by a parliament and consists of a federation of states.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights is available on line. A read through might help when setting up your governments.

So there it is, an outline of most of the governmental forms used by people. Now all you have to do is make up the laws and rules your government wants your people to live by.

Sources consulted: An Introduction to Government and Politics. Mark O. Dickerson and Thomas Flanagan, ISBN 0- 17-603485 -4  Nelson Canada

 History of the Franks. Gregory, Bishop of tours. Selections translated by Ernest Brehaut. (Old book. No ISBN) Norton & Co Inc.

Various websites on Medieval Political Philosophy.