Self-governance is an abstract concept that refers to several scales of organization. It may refer to personal conduct or family units but more commonly refers to larger scale activities, i.e. professions, industry bodies, religions and political units, up to and including autonomous regions and aboriginal peoples (or others within nation-states who enjoy some sovereign rights). See governance for a fuller definition, and discussion of non-profit organization and corporate governance.
Generally when self-governance of nation-states is discussed, it is called national sovereignty - a concept important in international law. Self-governance of cities is urban autonomy, and the democratic governance of an ecoregion is bioregional democracy. These will not be covered in this article.
This article focuses on the self-governance of professions, industries including unions, and formal or informal political units including ethnic or ethical 'nations' not defined by national borders, and of religious organizations, which have professional and political elements. There are many historical examples of such organizations or groups, and some, e.g. the Roman Catholic Church, the Freemasons, the Iroquois Confederacy, have histories going back centuries, including vast bodies of precedent and shared culture and knowledge.
A means of self-governance usually comprises at least the following:
- an ethical code that outlines acceptable behavior within the unit or group, e.g. the Hippocratic Oath of doctors, the Ten Key Values of Green parties.
- some set of criteria whereby an outside legal code or political authority can be called in - unless the group itself opposes such authority, e.g. organized crime groups which are self-governing almost by definition.
- a means of ensuring that outside authority does not become involved unless and until these criteria are satisfied, usually a code of silence regarding the activities of insiders when conversing with outsiders.
- a process for registering and resolving grievances, e.g. medical malpractice, union procedures, and for achieving closure regarding them.
- the power to discipline its own members, ranging from fines and censure up to and including killing them, e.g. the Irish Republican Army, mafia or Tong groups, and militaries (see Uniform Code of Military Justice)
- a means of selecting or electing leaders, e.g. a voting system, gang wars, identification of divinely selected individuals (e.g. Dalai Lama discovery).
- a means of controlling parties, factions, tendencies or other sub-groups that seek to break away and form new entities that would compete with the group or organization that already exists.