concepts section: copyright Robert Ellis 2011

Integration of government

The concept of integration of government in Middle Way philosophy depends on that of integration in general. Please read the concept section on integration first.

If psychological integration consists in the uniting of previously opposed energies in the psyche so that they share desires, meanings and beliefs, integration of government is exactly the same concept applied at the political level. The parallel between our individual characters and the state is not a new one, but has been used by many thinkers thoughout history, beginning with Plato. Of course it is not an absolute parallel, merely a useful one: our psyches are in some ways like a state, and in other ways not. However, in the key respect of the interactions between different opposed energies and the importance of integrating those energies, the parallel holds.

Governments can be integrated in different respects, each of which contributes to the overall integration of a government. Government can be integrated in the sense that its different branches, ministries, and employees are all working harmoniously towards shared goals. It can also be integrated in the sense of its goals coinciding with those of the people that it rules over (a sense that roughly coincides with democratic credentials, as effective democracy leads governments to act in harmony with the goals of the people). Thirdly, the integration of the society served by the government is also a factor in the integration of the government. A society split into two warring groups, for example, is likely to be very difficult to rule over regardless of the effectiveness of the government. Fourthly, the integration of a government is supported or limited by its degree of integration with other governments or agencies beyond itself.

This integration is a matter of degree (no government is wholly integrated or unintegrated), and also analysable in terms of the same three types of integration used in psychological terms. A government has integrated desires to the extent that it is working towards sustainable common purposes. It has integration of meaning to the extent that its different parts (and its people) share an understanding of the terms or other symbols that they use to represent those goals. It has integrated beliefs to the extent that it and its people share beliefs that are both coherent with each other and take into account their degree of ignorance.

Each of these levels provides a foundation for the next. For example, a socialist government that emphasises justice in society in its public pronouncements will be integrated to the extent that everyone in the government, and the people in that country, share those goals, that they are united in their understanding of social justice when it is being appealed to (as well as in their understanding of the government's policies) and that they share a coherent set of beliefs about social justice and government which take into account the limitations of knowledge on which they are based. A socialist government might particularly lack integration in the areas of integrating the whole of society behind its programme (not just those who stand to gain from redistribution) and in addressing the long-term economic implications of higher government spending. These weaknesses in the government would also be limitations in its integration.

The concept of governmental integration is a tremendously useful one in providing an overall basis for judging the value of governments, and thus for making political judgements. Its starting point is a recognition that all political ideologies address conditions to some extent, but that their strengths and limitations consist in the extent to which conditions are addressed. The addressing of conditions is dependent on the integration of the government. To be maximally effective and justified in its actions, a government needs to follow the Middle Way by avoiding political ideologies with a metaphysical basis, and rather developing an integrated pragmatic basis of value.


Further related discussion:

'Political ethics' from A New Buddhist Ethics

'Political Authority' from thesis


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