2.3.2 Agreeing to Support Governance

(This is a current page, from the Patterns of Power Edition 3 book contents.  An archived copy of this page is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/232.htm)

It is assumed here that almost everyone in a society would see some governance and public services as being necessary, but that opinions will differ about their scope (2.2).  John Rawls acknowledged that a society cannot choose how to govern itself in an actual negotiation between everybody involved, but he argued that:

“… a society satisfying the principles of justice as fairness comes as close as a society can to being a voluntary scheme, for it meets the principles which free and equal persons would assent to under circumstances that are fair”.[1]

This might be called a ‘contractarian’ belief in the value for a society of defining and complying with an agreed form of governance, following in a tradition from Thomas Hobbes onwards, as described in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on ‘contractarianism’.  That word is problematic, though, and the words used in this book are ‘acceptable’ and ‘negotiable’.  Recognising the impracticality of everyone in a society negotiating a contract between them, this book examines the more feasible concept of ‘negotiability’ – as described below (2.4).

Life in a society entirely without governance would be, as vividly described by Thomas Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short”.[2]  In practice each society establishes a set of power relationships for a point in time, but these never satisfy everybody and they continue to evolve.  In a society that at least meets the minimum standard for acceptability, people can maintain stability by complying with the current arrangements – even while they are negotiating to change them.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014



[1] John Rawls described “The Main Idea of the Theory of Justice” in section 3 of his book A Theory of Justice.  He argued that fairness would be conducive to acceptability, and he proposed the following principles:

“the first requires equality in the assignment of basic rights and duties, while the second holds that social and economic inequalities, for example inequalities of wealth and authority, are just only if they result in compensating benefits for everyone, and in particular for the least advantaged members of society”.  (p. 13, p. 37 PDF)

A PDF copy of the book was available in February 2018 at http://www.consiglio.regione.campania.it/cms/CM_PORTALE_CRC/servlet/Docs?dir=docs_biblio&file=BiblioContenuto_3641.pdf.

[2] Thomas Hobbes’s book Leviathan was available in February 2018 at http://files.libertyfund.org/files/869/0161_Bk.pdf.  Hobbes described life without governance in chapter 13 (pp. 96-97, PDF pp. 128-129).