Is Government Necessary? - The Ongoing Debate

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  • 0:00 The Government Debate
  • 1:00 The Affirmative Case
  • 2:25 Negative Case and Rebuttal
  • 4:35 Affirmative Rebuttal
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Is government really necessary? This is a tough question, and the basis of some pretty heated arguments. Explore various opinions and test your understanding with a brief quiz.

The Government Debate

Hey - welcome to the debate. This one's going to be a doozy; it's a topic that has been debated for centuries: Is government necessary? This is a deeply personal issue, seeing as to how almost all of us live under the control of a government and have some pretty strong feelings about this.

Now, I'll let the debaters do most of the talking, but the argument over the necessity of government is basically summed up in three basic viewpoints: Yes, no, and maybe. Today, we're only hearing from the yes and no sides of the issue; the debate is going to be held in a simplified version of the Lincoln-Douglas format, which is pretty standard.

Here's how it works. The affirmative presents their case first. Then, the negative has twice as long so that they can both rebut the affirmative's arguments as well as present their own. Finally, the affirmative gets a rebuttal. Oh, looks like the debate's about to start. This should be fun.


The Affirmative Case

Government is necessary. This is something that has been recognized for nearly as long as there have been human societies. With settled society, which first began roughly 12,000 years ago, came agriculture, and, for the first time, people could develop a surplus. This made it necessary to develop a system to organize people and resources. In other words, a government.

The development of governments has been recognized for centuries as a conscious action, under the idea of the social contract. This theory states that individuals agree to surrender some rights to a ruling authority in order to protect the rest of their rights. In other words, they create a government so that there is a single system that tells everyone what they can and cannot do. You may not steal; you may not murder. By agreeing to sacrifice some individual freedoms, people found a way to protect the community against things that hurt everyone, things like theft and murder. Although the term 'social contract' is from the Enlightenment era of the 17th century, this basic idea exists in Western history as far back as ancient Greece and is also found in the Judeo-Christian Old Testament and Buddhist texts dating back to the second century B.C.

Negative Case and Rebuttal

Governments are not necessary. Governments are, historically, the tools of oppression, used by a few powerful individuals to maintain their power at the expense of most people. For much of history, governments were thought to be natural, something that inherently developed along with a society. However, this is not true. Stateless societies, or societies without a governing body, are an important part of human history.

Considering that modern humans first evolved roughly 200,000 years ago, this means that the vast majority of human groups were stateless, functioning without any sort of government. Stateless societies, which were common in parts of Africa until relatively recently, not only functioned very efficiently, but were noted to have greater social equality than societies with governments. In fact, about one-third of African societies were stateless before being colonized by European empires.

As far as the arguments proposed by the affirmative, we take issue with several points. For one, the affirmative cited a date of 12,000 years ago as the rise of agriculture. While this is true, the first true governments did not form until the rise of Mesopotamia around 6,000 years ago, meaning that stateless societies and agriculture coexisted for roughly 6,000 years. Archeological evidence from India, as well as the Middle East, show that several advanced societies existed without governments for centuries.

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