Self-governance, self-government, or self-rule is the ability of a person or group to exercise all necessary functions of regulation without intervention from an external authority.[2][3][4] It may refer to personal conduct or to any form of institution, such as family units, social groups, affinity groups, legal bodies, industry bodies, religions, and political entities of various degree.[4][5][6] Self-governance is closely related to various philosophical and socio-political concepts such as autonomy, independence, self-control, self-discipline, and sovereignty.[7]

In the context of nation-states, self-governance is called national sovereignty which is an important concept in international law. In the context of administrative division, a self-governing territory is called an autonomous region.[8] Self-governance is also associated with political contexts in which a population or demographic becomes independent from colonial rule, absolute government, absolute monarchy or any government which they perceive does not adequately represent them.[9] It is therefore a fundamental tenet of many democracies, republics and nationalist governments.[10] Mohandas Gandhi's term "swaraj" is a branch of this self-rule ideology. Henry David Thoreau was a major proponent of self-rule in lieu of immoral governments.

In ancient Greek philosophy, Plato posits the concept of self-mastery as the ability to be one's own master; he states that individuals or groups cannot achieve freedom unless they govern their own pleasures and desires, and instead will be in a state of enslavement.[11][12] Accordingly, this principle is not only a fundamental moral freedom but also as a necessary condition of political freedom and by extension the freedom and autonomy of any political structure.[11]

John Locke furthers this principle in that genuine freedom requires cognitive self-discipline and self-government, and that man's capacity for this is the source of all freedom. In this sense, freedom is not a possession but an action.[13] Locke proposes that rationality is the key to true agency and autonomy, and that political governance is enabled by the governing of one's own judgement.[14] His political philosophy was a prominent influence on Immanuel Kant, and was later taken up in part by the Founding Fathers of the United States.

The nature of self-governance, that freedom relies upon self-regulation, has further been explored by contemporary academics Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault, Judith Butler, William E. Connolly, and others.[15]

The means of self-governance usually comprises some or all of the following: