Self-governance, self-government, or self-rule is the ability of a person or group to exercise all necessary functions of regulation without intervention from an external authority. It may refer to personal conduct or to any form of institution, such as family units, social groups, affinity groups, legal bodies, industry bodies, religions, and political entities of various degree. Self-governance is closely related to various philosophical and socio-political concepts such as autonomy, independence, self-control, self-discipline, and sovereignty.
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In the context of nation-states, self-governance is called national sovereignty which is an important concept in international law. In the context of administrative division, a self-governing territory is called an autonomous region. Self-governance is also associated with political contexts in which a population or demographic becomes independent from colonial rule, absolute government, absolute monarchy or any government which they perceive does not adequately represent them. It is therefore a fundamental tenet of many democracies, republics and nationalist governments. Mohandas Gandhi's term "swaraj" is a branch of this self-rule ideology. Henry David Thoreau was a major proponent of self-rule in lieu of immoral governments.
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In ancient Greek philosophy, Plato posits the concept of self-mastery as the ability to be one's own master; he states that individuals or groups cannot achieve freedom unless they govern their own pleasures and desires, and instead will be in a state of enslavement. Accordingly, this principle is not only a fundamental moral freedom but also as a necessary condition of political freedom and by extension the freedom and autonomy of any political structure.
John Locke furthers this principle in that genuine freedom requires cognitive self-discipline and self-government, and that man's capacity for this is the source of all freedom. In this sense, freedom is not a possession but an action. Locke proposes that rationality is the key to true agency and autonomy, and that political governance is enabled by the governing of one's own judgement. His political philosophy was a prominent influence on Immanuel Kant, and was later taken up in part by the Founding Fathers of the United States.
The nature of self-governance, that freedom relies upon self-regulation, has further been explored by contemporary academics Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, William E. Connolly, and others.
Means of self-governance
The means of self-governance usually comprises some or all of the following:
- A code of conduct that outlines acceptable behavior within the unit or group. This may include a legal or ethical code (e.g. the Hippocratic Oath of doctors, or established codes of professional ethics).
- A means of ensuring external authority does not become involved unless and until certain criteria are satisfied.
- A means of facilitating the intended functions of the unit or group.
- A means of registering and resolving grievances (e.g. medical malpractice, union procedures, and for achieving closure regarding them).
- A means of disciplinary procedure within the unit or group, ranging from fines and censure up to and including penalty of death.
- A means of suppressing parties, factions, tendencies or other sub-groups that seek to secede from the unit or group.
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