During these testing times, it is important to consider what we actually want from those in power. We expect those who govern to do so in the interests of the governed, providing services that can best or only be achieved through collective action. Governance looks to reconcile conflicting interests in order to protect the weak, through the rule of law, from unjust exploitation, and introduce security for all. It is also a process through which collective good and goods are generated so that all are better off than they would be acting individually. Thus good governance implies a concern by those who govern with both the security and development, or provision of basic human needs, of those who are governed.
There are major differences, however, over which of these aims is most important, and how best to achieve them. Is a strong state (a “leviathan” in Hobbes’ terminology) the best way to preserve the security of all against internal and external threats, or should we instead focus on transparency, democratic checks and balances, and the protection and promotion of human rights? Likewise, is macroeconomic development (whether through a developmental state or neoliberal free trade), followed by “trickle down” through the society, better than a distributive justice focus on social mechanisms aimed at levelling the playing field?
With the normative caveat that human beings are ends in of themselves and cannot be used as a means to an end (for example sacrificed for the common good), my first contention is that the theoretical principles behind the policies matter less than their impact. That is to say, policies and decisions should be judged by the impact they have on all who are governed, but in particular on the interests of the most vulnerable; the individuals and groups whose interests are most likely to be overlooked by those who govern. This may not necessarily be as a result of callous disregard be elites, but rather because the vulnerable and unempowered will not be represented among their number. Meanwhile, the most fundamental interests and basic human needs are best summed up by the paradigm of human security: freedom from fear, freedom from want, and freedom to live in dignity.
My second contention is that, having established there are certain fundamental entitlement rights held by all who are governed, this implies a concurrent set of obligations on those who govern (in whatever capacity). At the international level these obligations have been recognized in the principle of a Responsibility to Protect (R2P) with regard to freedom from fear, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with regard to freedom from want. Freedom from indignity is reflected in many international human rights documents. At the level of domestic governance, we see the concepts of duty of care, liability, and welfare provision, as well as the recognition of democracy as the only/most acceptable form of government.
Thus, good governance at all levels can be recognized as a test of the extent to which those who govern do so in the interests of all those governed, but also the extent to which the vulnerable are empowered and given a voice, in order for their interests to become known. The incoming administrations at Ewha and in the Blue House, after periods of turmoil during which these principles were forgotten, need to prioritize good governance. Not only because it is the normatively right thing to do, but also because it is the rational thing to do from the perspective of regime survival. Neglect of the principles of good governance brought down the presidents of both university and country.
Associate Dean Professor Brendan M. Howe earned his B.A. in Modern History at Oxford University and Ph.D. in Political Science from Trinity College. He joined GSIS in 2001 and mainly lectures on international security and international relations.