Posted by: John Vandivier | August 28, 2013

Defining Government

This article seeks to define government. I recently read some of the work of David Friedman and watched a video of his speech at PorcFest. He attacked, I think successfully, the Weberian definition of government. He then provided his own definition which doesn’t work either, for reasons I will address in my next article.

I think government is obviously, but usefully, defined as that which engages in governing. In turn, governing is defined as the creation and execution of law. It would help if I had a more precise definition of law, but unfortunately I only have a rough-draft definition, that law is a command or rule for how to act or be.

We begin by modifying the Weberian definition of government slightly to that entity which maintains a monopoly on the use of force. The things we call government, however, may also use diplomatic or information-based pressure. To expand the idea of force such that it implies more than strictly physical or military force let’s substitute the term compel for the term force.

With this new definition we will end up concluding that only God is the only governor in the strict sense, while many things contribute to governing in some way or another. Many entities are able to control other entities to some degree without maintaining a monopoly on that control. In practice, I think, these non-monopolistic controllers are what we are usually referring to as government.

In conclusion, I think a good definition for a government is any entity which is able to compel other entities to follow a set or subset of laws it produces, where laws are commands or rules for how to act or be.

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  1. […] preferred definition, as covered in this article, is that government is any entity is able to compel other entities to follow a set or subset of […]


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