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, Government (1896). Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.]]

A government is the body within an organization that has the authority to make and enforce rules, laws and regulations.

Typically, the government refers to a civil government which can be either local, national, or international. However, commercial, academic, religious, or other formal organizations are also governed by internal bodies. Such bodies may be called boards of directors, managers, or governors or they may be known as the administration (as in schools) or councils of elders (as in churches).

Growth of an organization increases the complexity of its government, therefore small towns or small-to-medium privately-operated enterprises will have few officials compared to larger organizations such as multinational corporations which will have multiple interlocking, hierarchical layers of administration and governance. As complexity increases and the nature of governance becomes more complicated,so does the need for formal policies and procedures.

Public sector governance is studied as Public Administration while that in the private sector is studied as Business Administration.

The concept of government has been around since humanity itself where hunter-gatherers would commonly establish tribes high authority and have unique ideals. However, government is not limited to the human species itself as many animals establish groups such as ants, lions, and bees.


Types of State Governments

houses the law making (legislative) branch of American government.]]

, the law making (legislative) branch of Indian government.]]

  • Constitutional monarchy - A government that has a monarch, but his/her power is strictly limited by the government. Example: United Kingdom[1][2]
  • Constitutional republic -- Rule by a government composed of representatives who are voted into power by the people.
  • Democracy - Rule by a government where all [citizens] are represented but power is held by the majority.
  • Dictatorship - Rule by an individual who has full power over the country.[3] See also Autocracy and Stratocracy.
  • Monarchy - Rule by an individual who has inherited the role and expects to bequeath it to their heir.[4]
  • Oligarchy - Rule by a small group of people who share similar interests or family relations.[5]
  • Plutocracy - A government composed of the wealthy class. Any of the forms of government listed here can be plutocracy. For instance, if all of the voted representatives in a republic are wealthy, then it is a republic and a plutocracy.
  • Theocracy - Rule by a religious elite.[6]

Other Classifications:

  • Anarchism - Absence of government. [7] Anarchism is not a form of government—it is the belief that governments are harmful and unnecessary.
  • Totalitarianism - Characterized by a state that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life.
  • Authoritarianism - Characterized by an emphasis on the authority of the state in a republic or union. It is a political system controlled by nonelected rulers who usually permit some degree of individual freedom.

The extent to which a government can be classified varies by degree. For example, Iran can be seen as democratic, authoritarian and theocratic while constitutional monarchies such as the Netherlands combine elements of monarchy and democracy.[8][9]

Origin of government

For many thousands of years when people were hunter-gatherers and small scale farmers, humans lived in small, non-hierarchical and self-sufficient communities. On occasion a chief of a tribe was elected by various rituals or tests of strength to govern his tribe, sometimes with a group of elder tribesmen as a council. Though this was not always the case. The human ability to precisely communicate abstract, learned information allowed humans to become ever more effective at agriculture,[10] and that allowed for ever increasing population densities.[11] David Christian explains how this resulted in states with laws and governments:

As farming populations gathered in larger and denser communities, interactions between different groups increased and the social pressure rose until, in a striking parallel with star formation, new structures suddenly appeared, together with a new level of complexity. Like stars, cities and states reorganize and energize the smaller objects within their gravitational field.

David Christian, p. 245, Maps of Time

The exact moment and place that the phenomenon of human government developed is lost in time; however, history does record the formations of very early governments. About 5,000 years ago, the first small city-states appeared.[11] By the third to second millenniums BC, some of these had developed into larger governed areas: Sumer, Ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization, and the Yellow River Civilization.[12]

States formed as the results of a positive feedback loop where population growth results in increased information exchange which results in innovation which results in increased resources which results in further population growth.[13][14] The role of cities in the feedback loop is important. Cities became the primary conduits for the dramatic increases in information exchange that allowed for large and densely packed populations to form, and because cities concentrated knowledge, they also ended up concentrating power.[15][16] "Increasing population density in farming regions provided the demographic and physical raw materials used to construct the first cities and states, and increasing congestion provided much of the motivation for creating states."[17]

Fundamental purpose of government

According to supporters of government, fundamental purpose of government is the maintenance of basic security and public order.[18] The philosopher Thomas Hobbes figured that people, as rational animals, saw submission to a government dominated by a sovereign as preferable to anarchy.[19][20]

People in a community create and submit to government for the purpose of establishing for themselves, safety and public order.[20][21][22][23]

Early governments

These are examples of some of the earliest known governments:

Expanded roles for government

Military defense

The fundamental purpose of government is to protect one from his or her neighbors; however, a sovereign of one country is not necessarily sovereign over the people of another country. The need for people to defend themselves against potentially thousands of non-neighbors necessitates a national defense mechanism—a military[citation needed].

Militaries are created to deal with the highly complex task of confronting large numbers of enemies. A farmer can defend himself from a single enemy person—or even five enemies, but he can't defend himself from twenty thousand—even with the help of his strongest and bravest family members. A far larger group would be needed, and despite the fact that most of the members of the group would not be related by family ties, they would have to learn to fight for one another as if they were all in the same family. An organization that trains people to do this is an army.

Wars and armies predated governments, but once governments came onto the scene, they proceeded to dominate the formation and use of armies. Governments seek to maintain monopolies on the use of force,[25] and to that end, they usually suppress the development of private armies within their states.

Security (Internal)

One of the most important roles of the government is to provide security, and to enforce Law. The instruments that are used for this purpose are Police, the management of Identity documents, etc.

Economic security

Increasing complexities in society resulted in the formations of governments, but the increases in complexity didn't stop. As the complexity and interdependency's of human communities moved forward, economies began to dominate the human experience enough for an individual's survival potential to be affected substantially by the region's economy. Governments were originally created for the purpose of increasing people's survival potentials, and in that same purpose, governments became involved in manipulating and managing regional economies.[26] One of a great many examples would be Wang Mang's attempt to reform the currency in favor of the peasants and poor in ancient China.[27]

At a bare minimum, government ensures that money's value will not be undermined by prohibiting counterfeiting, but in almost all societies—including capitalist ones—governments attempt to regulate many more aspects of their economies.[28] However, very often, government involvement in a national economy has more than just a purpose of stabilizing it for the benefit of the people. Often, the members of government shape the government's economic policies for their own benefits. This will be discussed shortly.

Social security

Social security is related to economic security. Throughout most of human history, parents prepared for their old age by producing enough children to ensure that some of them would survive long enough to take care of the parents in their old age.[29] In modern, relatively high-income societies, a mixed approach is taken where the government shares a substantial responsibility of taking care of the elderly.[29]

This is not the case everywhere since there are still many countries where social security through having many children is the norm. Although social security is a relatively recent phenomenon, prevalent mostly in developed countries, it deserves mention because the existence of social security substantially changes reproductive behavior in a society, and it has an impact on reducing the cycle of poverty.[29] By reducing the cycle of poverty, government creates a self-reinforcing cycle where people see the government as friend both because of the financial support they receive late in their lives, but also because of the overall reduction in national poverty due to the government's social security policies--which then adds to public support for social security.[30]


Governments play a major role (with importance varying from a country to another) in contributing to the health of the cititzens. This role includes funding (directectly or indirectly via subsidies) and even managing the healthcare system. It also intervenes by elaborating Laws aiming at protecting the health of the citizens.

Environmental security

Governments play a crucial role in managing environmental public goods such as the atmosphere, forests and water bodies. Governments are valuable institutions for resolving problems involving these public goods at both the local and global scales (e.g., climate change, deforestation, overfishing). Although in recent decades the economic market has been championed by certain quarters as a suitable mechanism for managing environmental entities, markets have serious failures and governmental intervention and regulation and the rule of law is still required for the proper, just and sustainable management of the environment.


The government plays a central role in the education of the citizens. In particular it finances (directly or via subsidizing) a huge portion of the educational system (Schools, Universities, continuous education).

Aspects of government

Governments vary greatly, and the situation of citizens within their governments can vary greatly from person to person. For many people, government is seen as a positive force.

Upper economic class support

Governments often seek to manipulate their nations' economies — ostensibly for the nations' benefits. However, another aspect of this kind of intervention is the fact that the members of government often take opportunities to shape economic policies for their own benefits. For example, capitalists in a government might adjust policy to favor capitalism, so capitalists would see that government as a friend. In a feudal society, feudal lords would maintain laws that reinforce their powers over their lands and the people working on them, so those lords would see their government as a friend. Naturally, the exploited persons in these situations may see government very differently.

Support for democracy

Government, especially in democratic and republican forms, can be seen as the entity for a sovereign people to establish the type of society, laws and national objectives that are desired collectively.


Government can benefit or suffer from religion, as religion can benefit or suffer from government. While governments can threaten people with physical harm for observed violations of the law, religion often provides a psychological disincentive for socially destructive or anti-government actions.[31][32] Religion can also give people a perceived sense of peace and resolve even when they are in trying circumstances, and when an individual's religious beliefs are aligned with the government's, that person will tend to see government as a friend—especially during religious controversies. Although, multiculturalism makes this relevant to a far less degree.


Anarchists question the legitimacy of government/state power. Statists have attempted to come up with a way to legitimize this authority.

Social contract theorists, such as Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rosseau, believe that governments reduce people's freedom/rights in exchange for protecting them, and maintaining order. Many people question however, whether this is an actual exchange (where people voluntarily give up their freedoms), or whether they are taken by threat of force by the ruling party.

Other statist theorists, like David Hume, give different definitions of legitimacy as they disagree with social contract theory.

Negative Aspects of Government


In the most basic sense, people of one nation will see the government of another nation as the enemy when the two nations are at war. For example, the people of Carthage saw the Roman government as the enemy during the Punic wars.[33]


In early human history, the outcome of war for the defeated was often enslavement. The enslaved people would not find it easy to see the conquering government as a friend.

Religious opposition

There is a flip side to the phenomenon of people's ability to view a government as a friend because they share the government's religious views. People with opposing religious views will have a greater tendency to view that government as their enemy. A good example would be the condition of Catholicism in England before the Catholic Emancipation. Protestants—who were politically dominant in England—used political, economic and social means to reduce the size and strength of Catholicism in England over the 16th to 18th centuries, and as a result, Catholics in England felt that their religion was being oppressed.[34]

Class oppression

Whereas capitalists in a capitalist country may tend to see that nation's government as their friend, a class-aware group of industrial workers—a proletariat—may see things very differently. If the proletariat wishes to take control of the nation's productive resources, and they are blocked in their endeavors by continuing adjustments in the law made by capitalists in the government,[35] then the proletariat will come to see the government as their enemy—especially if the conflicts become violent.

The same situation can occur among peasants. The peasants in a country, e.g. Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great, may revolt against their landlords, only to find that their revolution is put down by government.

Critical views and alternatives

The relative merits of various forms of government have long been debated by philosophers, politicians and others. However, in recent times, the traditional conceptions of government and the role of government have also attracted increasing criticism from a range of sources. Some argue that the traditional conception of government, which is heavily influenced by the zero-sum perceptions of state actors and focuses on obtaining security and prosperity at a national level through primarily unilateral action, is no longer appropriate or effective in a modern world that is increasingly connected and interdependent. One such school of thought is human security, which advocates for a more people-based (as opposed to state-based) conception of security, focusing on protection and empowerment of individuals. Human security calls upon governments to recognise that insecurity and instability in one region affects all and to look beyond national borders in defining their interests and formulating policies for security and development. Human security also demands that governments engage in a far greater level of cooperation and coordination with not only domestic organisations, but also a range of international actors such as foreign governments, intergovernmental organisations and non-government organisations.

Whilst human security attempts to provide a more holistic and comprehensive approach to world problems, its implementation still relies to a large extent on the will and ability of governments to adopt the agenda and appropriate policies. In this sense, human security provides a critique of traditional conceptions of the role of government, but also attempts to work within the current system of state-based international relations. Of course, the unique characteristics of different countries and resources available are some constraints for governments in utilising a human security framework.


Anarchists are those who disagree with using government violence as a means to solve complex social issues - or, in other words, they say that no entity can be self-legitimated to use force and explicit consent is necessary for legitimacy within a collective group or government. There are many forms of anarchist theories but under anarchy, these many different groups and individuals would seemingly need to deal with each other in the same way that people deal with their neighbors in the real world. Some anarchists, such as anarcho-syndicalists or anarcho-primitivists, advocate egalitarianism and non-hierarchical societies while others, such as anarcho-capitalists, advocate free markets, individual sovereignty and freedom.

See Anarchic Governments Paradox.

Critics of Governmental Role, Legitimacy and Efficiency

See also

Governmental roles

Types of governance

Related topics


  1. ^ Fotopoulos, Takis, The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy. (Athens: Gordios, 2005). (English translation of the book with the same title published in Greek).
  2. ^ "Victorian Electronic Democracy : Glossary". July 28, 2005. Retrieved on 2007-12-14. 
  3. ^ American 503
  4. ^ American 1134
  5. ^ American 1225
  6. ^ American 1793
  7. ^ American 65
  8. ^ "CIA World Factbook -- Iran". Central Intelligence Agency. 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-04.  (printable version)
  9. ^ "CIA - World Factbook -- Netherlands". Central Intelligence Agency. 2007. Retrieved on 2007-12-04. 
  10. ^ Christian 146-147
  11. ^ a b Christian 245
  12. ^ a b c d e Christian 294
  13. ^ Christian 253
  14. ^ Most of this sentence is in the present tense because the process is still ongoing.
  15. ^ Christian 271
  16. ^ The concept of the city itself became a self-reinforcing cycle. "The creation of such large and dense communities required new forms of power," and since cities concentrate power, the new (sovereign) rulers had incentives to build and expand cities to further increase their power.(Christian 271,321)
  17. ^ Christian 248
  18. ^ Schulze 81
  19. ^ Dietz 68
  20. ^ a b Social Contract Theory
  21. ^ Dietz 65-66
  22. ^ Hobbes idea of the necessity of the formation of government is known as the social contract theory.
  23. ^ The field of study and thought about the necessity of governments and governments' relationships with people is known as political philosophy.
  24. ^ Higham, "Indus Valley Civilization"
  25. ^ Adler 80-81
  26. ^ Schulze 13,58
  27. ^ General Zhaoyun par. 1
  28. ^ Interestingly, during World War I, the "capitalist" countries of Europe implemented economic measures that would make a socialist proud.(Schulze 275)
  29. ^ a b c Nebel 165-166
  30. ^ Bruce Bartlett. Social Security Then and Now. COMMENTARY. March 2005, Vol. 119, No. 3, pp. 52-56. In the online version on paragraph 13 it suggests that, During the Great Depression, Roosevelt wanted to suppress revolutionary tendencies by tying workers to the state—hence a state-run social security system. Also read the paragraphs above where it talks about populist demagogues and socialist revolutions in other countries. Tying workers to the state through social security was a politically strategic move designed to preserve the United States of America and its democracy.
  31. ^ Dietz 151n70
  32. ^ Dietz 138
  33. ^ E.L. Skip Knox. "The Punic Wars". Department of History, Boise State University. Retrieved on 2007-12-14. 
  34. ^ "CATHOLIC ENCYCLOPEDIA: England (Since the Reformation)". 1913. Retrieved on 2007-12-14. 
  35. ^ Christian 358


  • Adler, Mortimer J. (1996). The Common Sense of Politics. Fordham University Press, New York. ISBN 0-8232-1666-7. 
  • executive editor, Joseph P. Pickett (1992). American Heritage dictionary of the English language (4th ed.). 222 Berkeley Street, Boston, MA 02116: Houghton Mifflin Company. pp. 572, 770. ISBN 0-395-82517-2. 
  • Christian, David (2004). Maps of Time. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24476-1. 
  • Dietz, Mary G. (1990). Thomas Hobbes & Political Theory. University Press of Kansas. ISBN 0-7006-0420-0. 
  • Miller, George A.; Christiane Fellbaum, and Randee Tengi, and Pamela Wakefield, and Rajesh Poddar, and Helen Langone, and Benjamin Haskell (2006). "WordNet Search 3.0". WordNet a lexical database for the English language. Princeton University/Cognitive Science Laboratory /221 Nassau St./ Princeton, NJ 08542. Retrieved on 2007-11-10. 
  • Nebel, Bernard J.; Richard T. Wright (2007). Environmental Science (7th ed.). Prentice Hall, Inc., Upper Saddle River, NJ 07458. ISBN 0-13-083134-4. 
  • Schulze, Hagen (1994). States, Nations and Nationalism. Blackwell Publishers Inc, 350 Main Street, Malden, Massachusetts 02148, USA. 

Additional references

  • Kenoyer, J. M. Ancient Cities of the Indus Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998
  • Possehl, Gregory L. Harappan Civilization: A Recent Perspective. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993
  • Indus Age: The Writing System. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
  • “Revolution in the Urban Revolution: The Emergence of Indus Urbanisation,” Annual Review of Anthropology 19 (1990): 261–282.

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Most common English words: according « walked « office « #600: government » particular » charge » church


From Middle English governement, < Old French, < Latin gubernatio (management, government), < Ancient Greek κυβερνισμός (kubernismos), κυβέρνησις (kubernēsis), steering, pilotage, guiding), < κυβερνάω (kubernaō), I steer, drive, guide, pilot) + -ment.




countable and uncountable; plural governments

government (countable and uncountable; plural governments)

  1. The body with the power to make and/or enforce laws for a country, land area, people, or organization.
  2. A group of people who hold a monopoly on the legitimate use of force in a given territory.
  3. The state and its administration viewed as the ruling political power.
  4. (uncountable) The management or control of a system.
  5. The tenure of a chief of state.

Derived terms

Related terms

Usage notes

In the United States, "government" most often refers to the permanent body of the bureaucracy, courts, etc., what might be called the state in Britain. The British sense of "the government" is the prime minister and his cabinet ministers, what Americans would call an administration. In Canada government is used in both senses and neither state nor administration are used.


The translations below need to be checked and inserted above into the appropriate translation tables, removing any numbers. Numbers do not necessarily match those in definitions. See instructions at Help:How to check translations.

Simple English

A government is a group of people that has the power to rule in a territory, according to the law. This territory may be a country, a state or province within a country, or a region.

  • Governments make laws, rules, and regulations, collect taxes and print money.
  • Governments have systems of justice that list the acts or activities that are against the law and describe the punishments for breaking the law.
  • Governments have a police force to make sure people follow the laws.
  • Governments have diplomats who communicate with the governments of other countries by having meetings. Diplomats try to solve problems or disagreements between two countries, which can help countries to avoid war, make commercial agreements, and exchange cultural or social experiences and knowledge.
  • Governments have a military force such as an army that protects the country if other countries attack, or which can be used to attack and invade other countries.
  • The leader of a government and his or her advisors are called the administration.


Types of governments


  • The most common in the Western world is called democracy. In democracies, all of the people in a country can vote during elections for representatives or political parties that they prefer. The people in democracies can elect representatives who will sit on legislatures such as the Parliament or Congress. Political parties are organizations of people with similar ideas about how a country or region should be governed. Different political parties have different ideas about how the government should handle different problems. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.


  • A monarchy is a government ruled by a king or a queen who inherits their position from their family, which is often called the "royal family." There are two types of monarchies: absolute monarchies and constitutional monarchies. In an absolute monarchy, the ruler has no restrictions on his or her commands or powers. In a constitutional monarchy a ruler's powers are restricted by a document called a constitution.


  • An aristocracy is a government by the "best" people. A person who rules in an aristocracy is an aristocrat. Aristocracy is different from nobility, in that nobility means that one bloodline would rule, an aristocracy would mean that a few or many bloodlines would rule, or that rulers be chosen in a different manner.


  • Under a dictatorship, the government is run by one person who has absolute power over the people in a country. Originally, the Roman Republic made dictators to lead during time of war. The Roman dictators (and Greek tyrants) were not necessarily bad. The Roman dictators only held power for a limited time. In modern times, a dictator's rule is not restricted by any laws, constitutions, or other social and political institutions. After World War II, many governments in Latin America, Asia, and Africa were controlled by dictators. Examples of dictators include Idi Amin, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and Gamal Abdul Nasser.


  • An oligarchy is a government ruled by a small group of powerful individuals. These people may divide power equally or not equally. An oligarchy is different from a true democracy because very few people are given the chance to change things. An oligarchy does not have to be hereditary or passed down from father to son. An oligarchy does not have one clear ruler, but several powerful people. Some past examples of oligarchy are the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Apartheid South Africa. A fictional example is the dystopian society of Oceania displayed in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four. Some critics of representative democracy think of the United States as an oligarchy. This view is shared by anarchists.

History and theory of government

The simplest idea of government is those who rule over people and land. This may be as small as a community with some sort of board that looks after the goings on of those who live within it or something a little larger like a village or as big as a continent (like Australia and India).

Those people who rule the land can allow others to own it. It is a deed by government that gives this right in the way that laws describe. Some think they have the right to hold land without government permission. This view is called libertarianism. Others think they can do so together as a group with others if they live in peace, without government. This view is called anarchism.

Almost every place on Earth is connected to one and only one government. Places without government are where people follow traditions instead of government rules, small border disputed areas and the continent of Antarctica, because almost no people live there. For every other place on Earth there is a government that claims sovereign control over it. The word "sovereign" is old and means "control by a King" (sovereign). Governments of villages, cities, counties and other communities are also subordinate to the government of the state or province where they exist, and then to that of the country.

It is from Kings and feudalism that modern governments and nation-states came. The capital of a country, for instance, is where the King kept his assets. From this we get the modern idea of capital in economics. A government is said to regulate trade as well as to rule over land.

Governments also control people and decide things about what morality to accept or punish. In very many countries, there are strict rules about sexual intercourse and drugs that are part of law and offenders are punished for disobeying them.

Tax is how government is paid for in most countries. People who buy, sell, import, invest, own a house or land, or earn money are made to pay some of the money to a government.

There are many theories of how to organize government better. These are called theories of civics. Because government is run by people who can be greedy, many people think leaders must be elected by some kind of democracy. That way, if government does not act nice, they can be replaced in the next election. Still many countries' governments are not a democracy but other forms in which only a few people have power.

There are many theories of how to run a government better, and keep people from hurting each other. These theories are part of politics. No matter how a government is chosen, it must do politics to keep power.

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