The underlying context for so many ideas and practices regarding government is territoriality. A government presides over a particular geographical area even if its borders are uncertain, enforcing laws and customs as it sees fit on the people who live in that territory rather than having jurisdiction over people because those persons belong to some group, whether ethnic or religious, whose interests the government sees as its own. That means governments intrude in the lives of nomads who pass through their territory, as well as native Indian tribes whose land has become incorporated into some jurisdiction defined by the government. This idea of territoriality is traced by anthropologists to the time when agriculture became domesticated and so the wealth of a territory was something worth fighting over and so warlords and kings gained power by conquering one territory or another and so gaining access to its cultivated acres. But it might also be the case that warlords took to the domination of territory because that was all they could do, which was something short of commanding the hearts and minds of the inhabitants which were at the disposal of the gods of the local territories if even that, given that religion was ceremonial rather than deep. Moreover, government may have preceded territoriality in that it may not amount to anything more than the warlord deciding he and no one else has the power over life and death, and that he can enforce that on any territory or set of clans that come under his rule even if only temporarily before he moves on to another site. Either way, nations and tribes become identified with their territories more than with their values or customs. America is beautiful from sea to shining sea and a tribe regards its traditional lands as sacred.
Another idea that has taken hold in understanding government is that the rights of citizens arise as a limitation on the power of monarchs or warlords. This also is based originally on an idea of territoriality. The English Common Law has it that a man’s home is his castle, which means his own territory, and that no one can intrude there without a warrant. A rental apartment is ever as much to be respected as the seat of a feudal underling who also has a territory that he may, perhaps, be able to defend with the bodies of his own vassals. The expansion of law turns these feudal rights into rights of citizenship, which means the rights of all subjects to the crown as well as all citizens of a republic. And so territoriality is at the heart of government.
Another example of this fact is that representation in Parliament is based on territory when, if you think about it, it need not be that way at all. New seats in Parliament were awarded by Acts of Parliament to additional districts when they could have been assigned because of the prominence of an ethnic group or on the basis of including a religious order, which is the way seats were awarded in the House of Lords: to titles rather than to places. The United States Constitution tried to regularize such territorial practices by assigning the number of seats in the House of Representatives that a state would hold to the results of a decennial census. That has not worked out very well within states where politics decides the boundaries of congressional districts. But even a finding that gerrymandering is a violation of the Constitution would not solve the problem of how to form contiguous districts when different districts are “traditionally” of one ethnic group or another or contain largely rural rather than urban folk. It would take a very elaborate algorithm to give redistricting the air of both being objective and fair.
In general, democratic governments have not done very well in trying to go beyond the idea of territoriality. Voting by at large districts seems undemocratic because it does not provide representation for segments of the population, whether ethnic or religious or of separate social classes, that happen to be majorities in only some parts of a city. At large voting has been widely criticized as a way to cover up the reduction of minority representation. The use of proportional representation, whereby parties are given a number of seats in a parliament because of the proportion of votes they get in an election regardless of where the votes come from territorially, has led to a fractious politics in israel, for example, where small parties are able to command a position in governing coalitions and pursue the interests of only their constituencies. Democracy is tied to territoriality. People represent regions.
And yet the fact is, when you come to think about it, most organizations do not work by a territoriality principle. The Catholic Church which only in the past 150 years, and then only reluctantly, gave up its hold on regional political power, has gone back to being what it has been since its inception: a bonding of hearts and minds in a fellowship of believers, regardless of where they live, holding only that Jesus is the path to salvation (whatever that might be), and this is so even if for practical purposes the Church is divided into bishoprics and the Vatican makes deals for how it will be treated by any nation state in which it has parishioners. Languages and ethnicities and communities and families have their territorial components, but social classes, corporations and universities do not. People who work in auto plants have the same relation to the means of production whether they are working in China or the united States. Corporations extend their tentacles all around the world, shifting assets from one place to another depending on tax policy, exchange rates, and the politics of the main host government. Universities build satellite campuses on the other side of the globe, and so the home campus is an icon, like its football team, for the capability of this organization to turn out “well-educated” graduates.
So it might seem that territoriality is in the past, everywhere to be replaced by some other principle of organization. However, governments can be thought of as the last bastions of freedom in an organizationally driven world. Because a citizen need only swear allegiance to the nation of which he or she is a member, which requires little enough action, if there is no military draft, other than standing for the Pledge of Allegiance and voting, if one cares to, allegiance to a family or an organization is far more consequential. Your livelihood depends on the organization which employs you, and the hours you put in for the organization make up a major portion of your waking hours. No wonder people feel they are prisoners of their jobs, not of their countries. Similarly, while a church may not require that many hours of your time, it demands of you your heart and your soul, the essence of what it is for you to be a human being, to be at its disposal for praise or condemnation. Though this is a wrenching challenge only for some congregants, it is an abiding one for all of them, every person having to come to terms with how much of their independence they surrender for the honor of calling themselves members of this church, synagogue or mosque. And anyone who has been a member of a family, and no one escapes that, even if they cut themselves off from the family at an early age, knows how ingrained into one’s psyche are the images and emotions and events surrounding that family. A family may be the set of people who live in a certain household, and so share a geographical space; but it is all the emotional connections made there that can outlast cross country moves and twenty year grudges. A family is a spiritual state of mind, never really put behind you, even as the family originates in a set of rooms in a tenement.
So, for all its quaintness as dependant on the primary quality of geography, a government supplies the opportunity for freedom, especially when the culture of a nation, including its founding documents, would inculcate a person with the belief in a sense of freedom, whatever that might entail, however it sets the spirit free to pursue its own rather than collective goals. Indeed, government sets out what might be the most primitive of battles for freedom in its contest with that other territorial entity, the community, which exists in its customs and usages, and so encourages conformity, while governments function as a set of laws and overt loyalties acting to protect the autonomy of institutions, such as a free press or universities or a judicial system, which tries to reach, as best they can, rational solutions to problems and encourage a rational frame of mind. People are notorious for wanting to escape their communities, every bit as much as their families, so that they can think of themselves as making their own decisions for good or ill. And that desire, whether it be to fall in love rather than to have an arranged marriage, or to choose an occupation rather than have it chosen by the family or by the state, which often seemed to be the case in Communist societies, or to watch escapist movies that carry with them a whiff of the extraordinary, the transvaluative, or the libidinous, these feelings of freedom which may lie very deep and be motivated by things more transcendent than a government, are nonetheless either protected or not protected by government, and so it is necessary for government to be ever vigilant in its defense of freedom rather than to turn itself into the instrument of an irrational frenzy that may have burst upon the scene and so place the whole prospect of freedom into jeopardy.