The concept of ‘good government’ promises an ideal for how governments – and their constituent agencies and/or individuals – should act, be structured, and be held accountable. It stands as the putative opposite of various pathologies of ‘bad government’ such as corruption, capture, despotism, negligence, misrule, conflicts of interest and fragility. Its attendant commitments might also be thought to be the reasonable object of public (dis)trust. But what exactly is ‘good government’? One view might equate good government with ‘legitimacy’. However, legitimacy is typically glossed as a relatively minimal standard for the right to hold public power, rather than a more demanding standard for how such public power should be wielded. Another view might equate ‘good government’ with realising aspects of ‘justice’ and/or the ‘good’, defined by some set of substantive values. However, at least in an unqualified fashion, this view is prima facie too partisan, making ‘good government’ as controversial as public policy itself.
This basic puzzle sets the framework for the philosophical exploration of the concept of ‘good government’:
- Is ‘good government’ somehow an independent ideal, not easily reducible to such standard concepts in political philosophy? If so, what is that ideal? And what is properly articulated relationship with legitimacy, justice and the common good?
- Can ‘good government’ be distilled down to one value like ‘impartiality’? Or is it pluralist in character?
- Should ‘good government’ be understood on a contractual, agency, democratic and/or fiduciary model?
- What exactly is the relationship between ‘good government’ on the one hand, and political morality and administrative ethics on the other? Is good government best thought of individuals or institutions?
- Does ‘good government’ demand some idea of ‘public integrity’, individual or institutional? Is this consistent with ‘good government’ a more flexible realist disposition, sometimes, to do ‘bad things’?
- Does good government conceptually entail democracy, and indeed a large degree of participatory democracy? Or is democracy in part justified by its conduciveness to producing good government? Or, indeed, is good government achievable without democracy?
- What systems, institutions, and structures are needed to best promote ‘good government’? What if such systems, institutions and structures require compromises in other values such as justice and democracy?
- Does good government help us define, justify and/or critique, commonplace ideals of actual government institutions such as ‘frank and fearless advice’, being ‘apolitical’, ‘loyal opposition’, ‘transparency’, ‘professionalism’, ‘policy expertise’ and ‘accountability’? As well real-world institutions like anti-corruption commissions, public accounts committees, supreme audit institutions, and other independent agencies that challenge the traditional tripartite separation of powers? Does it ground calls for institutional and constitutional innovation? Or the halt of reforms like privatisation?
- What is the scope of ‘good government’? Does it apply simply to the executive, and attendant administrative and regulatory institutions? Does it also apply to the legislature and judiciary? Does it apply across all levels of ‘government’, local, state and national? Does it, or some cognate, in fact generalise to other domains of ‘governance’ qua entrusted power: global, international or private? Is it salient in AI governance debates?
- What role does the public, and indeed private organisations, have in realising ‘good government’? Is a ‘good government’ owed support, loyalty and trust? And what does ‘bad government’ entail? Does it permit outside intervention? Impeachment? Pressure? Resistance?
This conference aims to bring philosophers and political theorists together to address these questions.