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Greenland, an autonomous territory of the Kingdom of Denmark which has a self-governed since 2009[1] (pictured: Nuuk, Greenland)

Self-governance, self-government, or self-rule is the ability of a person or group to exercise all necessary functions of regulation without intervention from an external authority.[2][3][4] It may refer to personal conduct or to any form of institution, such as family units, social groups, affinity groups, legal bodies, industry bodies, religions, and political entities of various degree.[4][5][6] Self-governance is closely related to various philosophical and socio-political concepts such as autonomy, independence, self-control, self-discipline, and sovereignty.[7]

In the context of nation-states, self-governance is called national sovereignty which is an important concept in international law. In the context of administrative division, a self-governing territory is called an autonomous region.[8] Self-governance is also associated with political contexts in which a population or demographic becomes independent from colonial rule, absolute government, absolute monarchy or any government which they perceive does not adequately represent them.[9] It is therefore a fundamental tenet of many democracies, republics and nationalist governments.[10] Mohandas Gandhi's term "swaraj" is a branch of this self-rule ideology. Henry David Thoreau was a major proponent of self-rule in lieu of immoral governments.


In ancient Greek philosophy, Plato posits the concept of self-mastery as the ability to be one's own master; he states that individuals or groups cannot achieve freedom unless they govern their own pleasures and desires, and instead will be in a state of enslavement.[11][12] Accordingly, this principle is not only a fundamental moral freedom but also as a necessary condition of political freedom and by extension the freedom and autonomy of any political structure.[11]

John Locke furthers this principle in that genuine freedom requires cognitive self-discipline and self-government, and that man's capacity for this is the source of all freedom. In this sense, freedom is not a possession but an action.[13] Locke proposes that rationality is the key to true agency and autonomy, and that political governance is enabled by the governing of one's own judgement.[14] His political philosophy was a prominent influence on Immanuel Kant, and was later taken up in part by the Founding Fathers of the United States.

The nature of self-governance, that freedom relies upon self-regulation, has further been explored by contemporary academics Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, William E. Connolly, and others.[15]

Means of self-governance

The means of self-governance usually comprises some or all of the following:

  • A code of conduct that outlines acceptable behavior within the unit or group.[16] This may include a legal or ethical code (e.g. the Hippocratic Oath of doctors, or established codes of professional ethics).
  • A means of ensuring external authority does not become involved unless and until certain criteria are satisfied.
  • A means of facilitating the intended functions of the unit or group.
  • A means of registering and resolving grievances (e.g. medical malpractice, union procedures, and for achieving closure regarding them).[]
  • A means of disciplinary procedure within the unit or group,[17] ranging from fines and censure up to and including penalty of death.
  • A means of suppressing parties, factions, tendencies, or other sub-groups that seek to secede from the unit or group.

See also


  1. ^ Greenland in Figures 2012 (PDF). Greenland in Figures. ISBN 978-87-986787-6-2. ISSN 1602-5709. Archived (PDF) from the original on 13 November 2012. Retrieved 2013.
  2. ^ Rasmussen 2011, p. x-xi.
  3. ^ Sørensen & Triantafillou 2009, pp. 1-3.
  4. ^ a b Esmark & Triantafillou 2009, pp. 29-30.
  5. ^ Sørensen & Triantafillou 2009, p. 2.
  6. ^ Sørensen & Torfing 2009, p. 43.
  7. ^ Rasmussen 2011, p. x.
  8. ^ Ghai & Woodman 2013, pp. 3-6.
  9. ^ Berlin 1997, pp. 228-229.
  10. ^ Rasmussen 2011.
  11. ^ a b Young 2018.
  12. ^ Laks 2007.
  13. ^ Casson 2011, pp. 159-160.
  14. ^ Casson 2011, pp. 160-161, 167.
  15. ^ Rasmussen 2011, p. xiii.
  16. ^ Esmark & Triantafillou 2009, p. 31.
  17. ^ Esmark & Triantafillou 2009, p. 32.
  • Bird, Colin (2000). "The Possibility of Self-Government". The American Political Science Review. American Political Science Association. 94 (3): 563-577.
  • Sørensen, Eva; Triantafillou, Peter (2009). "The Politics of Self-Governance: An Introduction". The Politics of Self-Governance. ISBN 978-0-7546-7164-0.
  • Esmark, Anders; Triantafillou, Peter (2009). "A Macro Level Perspective on Governance of the Self and Others". The Politics of Self-Governance. ISBN 978-0-7546-7164-0.
  • Sørensen, Eva; Torfing, Jacob (2009). "The Politics of Self-Governance in Meso Level Theories". The Politics of Self-Governance. ISBN 978-0-7546-7164-0.
  • Weller, Marc; Wolff, Stefan (2005). Autonomy, Self-governance and Conflict Resolution: Innovative approaches to institutional design in divided societies. ISBN 0-415-33986-3.
  • Ghai, Yash; Woodman, Sophia (2013). Practicing Self-Government: A Comparative Study of Autonomous Regions. ISBN 978-1-107-01858-7.
  • Young, Carl (2018). "Plato's Concept of Liberty in the Laws". History of Political Thought. Imprint Academic. 39 (3). ISSN 0143-781X.
  • Laks, André (2007). "Freedom Liberty and Liberality in Plato's Laws". Social Philosophy and Policy. 24 (2): 130-152.
  • Berlin, Isaiah (1997). Hardy, Henry; Hausheer, Rodger (eds.). The Proper Study of Mankind. Chatto & Windus. ISBN 978-0374527174.
  • Casson, Douglas John (2011). "Freedom, Happiness, and the Reasonable Self". Liberating Judgment: Fanatics, Skeptics, and John Locke's Politics of Probability. ISBN 978-0691144740.
  • Rasmussen, Claire Elaine (2011). The Autonomous Animal: Self-governance and the Modern Subject. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-0816669561.

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