Why Do People Need Government?

The Importance of Government in Society

'This is the U.S. Capitol during the Bicentennial of the Constitution Celebration. There are red, white and blue balloons falling around the Capitol Dome. It marks the dates that commemorate the Centennial 1787-1987.'
Visions of America/Joe Sohm/Digital Vision/Getty Images

John Lennon's "Imagine" is a beautiful song, but when he tallies up the things he can imagine us living without – possessions, religion and so on – he never asks us to imagine a world without government. The closest he comes is when he asks us to imagine that there are no countries, but that's not exactly the same thing.

This is probably because Lennon was a student of human nature. He knew that government might be one thing we can't do without.

Let's imagine a world with no government.

A World Without Laws 

I'm typing this on my MacBook right now. Let's imagine that a very large man – we'll call him Biff – has decided that he doesn't especially like my writing. He walks in, throws the MacBook to the floor, stomps it into little pieces, and leaves. But before leaving, Biff tells me that if I write anything else he doesn't like, he'll do to me what he did to my MacBook.

Biff just established something very much like his own government. It has become against Biff's law for me to write things that Biff doesn't like. The penalty is severe and enforcement is fairly certain. Who's going to stop him? Certainly not me. I'm smaller and less violent than he is.

But Biff isn't really the biggest problem in this no-government world. The real problem is a greedy, heavily armed guy – we'll call him Frank – who has learned that if he steals money then hires enough muscle with his ill-gotten gains, he can demand goods and services from every business in town.

He can take anything he wants and make almost anybody do whatever he demands. There's no authority higher than Frank that can make him stop what he's doing, so this jerk has literally created his own government – what political theorists refer to as a despotism, a government ruled by a despot, which is essentially another word for tyrant.

 

A World of Despotic Governments 

Some governments aren't much different from the despotism I just described. Kim Jong-il technically inherited his army instead of hiring it in North Korea, but the principle is the same. What Kim Jong-il wants, Kim Jong-il gets. It's the same system Frank used, but on a larger scale.

If we don't want Frank or Kim Jong-il in charge, we must all get together and agree to do something to prevent them from taking over. And that agreement itself is a government. We need governments to protect us from other, worse power structures that would otherwise form in our midst and deprive us of our rights. As Thomas Jefferson said the Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their safety and happiness.

See also: Why Laws Exist