What is the moral basis for the existence of government?

Thanks for the question.

First, I would say that government has no moral basis (or authority) unless it has been granted them by its citizens. There are various mechanisms to do this — to temporarily transfer collective moral agency to elected representatives and civic institutions, for example — that are grounded in an ongoing collective agreement, and allow adjustment, accountability and malleability over time. It is in these cases that we can say that the moral will of the populace is being expressed by its government, and thereby providing its “moral basis.”

Second, as a fine example, I would encourage examining John Rawls’ “original position” argument as one morally framed approach to governance (i.e. one that promotes fairness, justice and equality according to the most generous definitions of those terms as broadly accepted values). His thought experiment is very simple, very clear, and very “reasonable.” And within his arguments, the moral authority of representatives operating behind Rawls’ veil of ignorance becomes self-evident.

Third, I would say that the morality of government must therefore reflect the moral maturity of its populace. This is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the equation, because once the two (collective will vs. civic institutions) starts getting out-of-synch, the the moral agreements that justify government break down. Such an unfortunate state of disequilibrium is pretty much where we are today in the U.S., where some 30% of the electorate has regressed to a level of moral immaturity that is aggressively corroding more advanced civic institutions.

Fourth, I would loudly assert that this isn’t the end of the conversation — not even the beginning of the end — because there are so many other considerations. For example, there are additional features that bolster the intimacy and harmony between collective will and civic institutions: things like subsidiarity, direct democracy, egalitarian efficiency, critically reflective participatory action, reducing interference with liberty…and many more. These really must be considered in the context of any “moral basis” for government, because they directly impact the efficacy, stability and continuity of the collective agency that governance manifests.

For more on how I would propose approaching all of this (and why), consider checking out L e v e l - 7 Philosophy and “The Goldilocks Zone of Integral Liberty” at Essays by T.Collins Logan.

My 2 cents.


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