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Volume I - General Orientation

Chapter 3- Our Guiding Principles

Governance: maximizing the actions of individuals


We are social beings. It is a trivial assertion, however it must be stated because it means that, necessarily, we always find ourselves in paradoxical situations where to a certain degree, each person has the free will to make decisions, and makes free decisions for himself, while at the same time, in order to regulate interactions with others, rules are established, a normativity, that is more or less complex or more or less formal, as is appropriate. This is true of relationships between couples, families, in sports, and at work, as it is of relationships between citizens and the government. Self‑governance – acquired through the arrival of liberal democracy – is never complete and inevitably yields in part to the governance of the community. 

Governance is relatively easy to develop within simple relationships: within couples, families, or businesses. This is not to say that its practice is easy: anyone with any experience of relationships as a couple will be well aware of how difficult it can be to make implicit rules explicit, and to agree on the rules of a shared life. However, the standards that are established between friends, between lovers, between parents and children, are in fact a set of relatively simple rules, and most importantly, rules whose effectiveness does not require the intervention of other parties, except in the case of a break-up or of abuse.

In feudal, pre-modern or pre-democratic societies, the prevailing rules for even the simplest social relationships were stipulated from the outside: by the sovereign, the lord, the church representative, the father or forefather, the head of the business, each one could issue orders and expect to be obeyed, being all powerful in his domain. The establishment of normativity was largely done without the involvement of “subjects”, without their consent, and without any input on their part; they were excluded from the power relationship. Over the centuries, during which our modern-day democracies were built, we have moved on to styles of governance of ourselves and others that allow people to participate more and more in the development of the rules of life, both personal and social. We have also moved on from a situation whereby each person’s life was decided by his or her destiny, and limited to the narrow prospects dictated by the place of birth and status, to an “indeterminate” life situation, which is open to the building a personal identity and history. 

These are therefore (1) changes in the sources of normativity and their operationalization in society, and (2) changes in our relationship to these norms. In the first case, we are slowly becoming involved in the external formalization of the sources of behavioural norms. As they no longer ensue from divine right, from the sovereign or the church prelate, they are built through the political manifestation of the will of the people. They are entrenched in national constitutions, in legal decisions (in British Common Law) or in legal codes (the Civil Code). It follows that the supra-legal normativity (inherited from divine right) or the infra-legal (not set out in law), lose both their symbolic value and their real influence on social relationships, to the benefit of legal rules that are registered according to a recognized and legitimate procedure in the social system by means of statutory provisions. Modern societies are legal societies, that is to say societies that base their management of relationships between people and between individuals, groups and institutions, on the rule of law. Never completely incorporated into the legal system, other sources of normativity have not disappeared completely but the pre-legal or infra-legal sources of normativity are less apparent, and sometimes less legitimate.  

With this change of source comes a change in operation: while the sovereign or the church representative could convict, or even execute, without challenge to the legitimacy or rationality of their decision – except by risking the same fate – the means of expressing the will of the people, setting it out in the legal system, is now in the hands of judges and the legal system entirely. The legal establishment of norms is set in motion either by the public authority provided in the legislation (civil and criminal cases, for example) or by citizens themselves (private and civil lawsuits) and is put in effect primarily by the courts. Remedies exist, and most importantly, these remedies are theoretically the same for, and accessible to, one and all.

The relationship that a person has to the norms, and through this to all aspects of social life, is the third change. Choice and uncertainty have both increased, to the point that, today, the connection is not so much to the other person, but to the risk represented by being in contact with them. Normativity in and of itself is no longer considered inevitable, nor even a duty. Without being rejected, social normativity is called into question based on personal experience and worldview. The gap between the subject of the norm and the norm itself seems to be widening, while conflict resolution models are being made more formal.

Through the conjunction of these processes, governance becomes more and more instrumental. The mechanisms of formal normativity, i.e. lawyers, judges and the courts, sometimes take on a greater importance than the actual substance of the norms themselves: the immediate personal question is whether I have access to the recognized mechanisms of conflict resolution, or if, through my condition or my actions, I am excluded in one way or another. In other words, the means is replacing the end, the rule of law is replacing the requirement for a connection to the other, which is the very basis of normativity and of social life itself.

Modern societies are therefore faced with a series of sometimes paradoxical injunctions. Collective governance must: (1) allow social relationships to be regulated in the most orderly but least restrictive manner possible, (2) give expression to the norms and values shared by the community and (3) give each person the opportunity to define themselves in relationship to these norms and values. How can these seemingly obvious opposites be reconciled?

Based on Professor Taylor’s work[1][9], we can say that there are two central spheres or preferred means of governance: the governance of relationships with others, and the governance of the self. The governance of collective relations is obviously part of the traditionally recognized areas of intervention of the state, even if the form and substance change. On the other hand, governance of the self does not come immediately or systematically under the jurisdiction of the state.


[1][9]  Among others: Taylor, C., (1989) Les sources du moi. Montréal: Boréal..

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