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.
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:
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.