It doesn’t limit the scope of state power at all; it expands it. This isn’t just because rulers can get away with a lot more so long as they keep up the myth that they aren’t really imposing anything on anyone else but are merely the conduit by which people govern themselves. It’s also because the modern notion of self-government tends to assume homogeneous selves — that is, while older evolved systems of government tended to take into account the diverse interests of society (church, nobility, king and courtiers, peasantry, etc.), contemporary notions of self-government usually acknowledge only a single, general public interest. Today it would be difficult even to say what different interests should be represented in government — small businesses? multiple churches? universities? — since this way of thinking is very much out of fashion, and in any case which interests were represented in government in the Middle Ages were a function of power, not design. Kings had to deal with nobles and the Church, whether they wanted to or not.
Friday, December 18, 2009
The Paradox of “Self-Government”