Origins of Government
The question of how
government came about is difficult to establish once and for all. Over
time, though, four major theories have been asserted regarding the origins
of government. They are listed below chronologically in order of conception.
The question of how government came about is difficult to establish once and for all. Over time, though, four major theories have been asserted regarding the origins of government. They are listed below chronologically in order of conception.
Based on religion (LINK to religion section), this theory says that government was established by God, that it was created with the purpose of serving God's needs. While the age of rationalism gradually outdated the logic behind this theory, it is still embraced by some people today.
Developed and popularized in the time of Aristotle, Socrates, and Plato, the natural theory assumes that people must have government to survive. According to the theory, without government, the nature of human beings as political animals cannot be fulfilled.
Starting from the 1600's with the advent of the Enlightenment and the Age of Rationalism, political philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and John Locke broke from the Natural Theory by proposing that governments were created by people. Human beings, they stated, do not naturally tend toward being ruled over by others. However, for mutual benefit, and most importantly, for protection, people gradually began organizing themselves into groups, groups that eventually took shape in governments. Hobbes went one step further to argue that if people were left to their own devices, anarchy would result and it would become "war of all against all." According to him, people had no choice but to give up part of their freedom to a larger and more powerful state.
The "Social Compact" aspect of the theory relates to Locke and Hobbes' ideas that government exists to serve the needs of the people. Once enough of its citizens feel that these needs are no longer being met, people reserve the right to overthrow their current government for another. This argument has been used throughout the last few hundred years to justify revolutions.
The writings and ideas of Hobbes and Locke gave way to the development of republics and democracies. In many cases, these ideas were copied wholesale. Locke, for example, argued that government's purpose was to guarantee "life, liberty, and property." In the United States' Declaration of Independence framed by Thomas Jefferson, the phrase became "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."
This final theory, advocated by Karl Marx, said that government came about as a result of conquest and force, that all history was a history of class struggles between the proletariat (laboring class) and the bourgeoisie (ruling class). Marx predicted that because of the inherent unfairness that had come into focus during the Industrial Revolution, there would be great revolts. Eventually, believed Marx, many governments would be toppled to make way for a new kind of government, one that would provide completely for the people. The proletariat would then live without need in a society resembling Utopia. Of course, Marx's grand predictions never quite became reality.