- Date: 1654
- 1 : self-control, self-command
- 2 : government under the control and direction of the inhabitants of a political unit rather than by an outside authority; broadly : control of one's own affairs
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). It falls within the larger context of governance and principles such as consent of the governed, and may involve non-profit organizations and corporate governance.
It can be used to describe a people or group being able to exercise all of the necessary functions of power without intervention from any authority which they cannot themselves alter. Self rule is associated then in contexts where there is the end of colonial rule, absolute government or monarchy, as well as demands for autonomy by religious, ethnic or geographic regions which perceive themselves as being unrepresented or underrepresented in a national government. It is therefore a fundamental tenet of republican government and democracy as well as nationalism. Gandhi's term "swaraj" (see also "satygraha") is a branch of this self rule ideology. Another major proponent of self-rule when a government's actions are immoral is Thoreau.
Some degree of consensus decision making is usually involved in any self-governance system, if only because individual members of the group may choose to violate the criteria for invoking outside authority, break the code of silence, or otherwise cause the group to lose its autonomy. For instance, any member of the mafia can, and many do, "rat" (inform) on their colleagues, gaining a new identity, e.g., via the FBI Witness protection program in the U.S.. Such betrayal ends the individuals' involvement in the group, and he can no longer access its unique social capital. However, he will remember the instructional capital and possibly be able to restart activities without the help of his former group. To curtail this possibility, most groups have very powerful means of coercion to prevent breakaway factions (or, in religions, "heresies") from competing directly with the old group.