What Is Government?

A government is a group of people that rules a territory, whether a country, state or region within a country. It makes laws and regulations, collects taxes, prints money, and provides security, education, transportation, health care, food and housing to its citizens. Governments are also responsible for addressing social and environmental problems. The type of government a country has depends on many factors, including its history and culture, the environment in which it lives, and the needs and wants of its citizens. Governments can be democratic, monarchical, oligarchy, or socialist.

Almost every place on earth has some kind of government. The only places that do not have governments are small, border disputed areas and the continent of Antarctica, which has no humans living there. Governments evolved as people found that it was easier to protect themselves and their property if they worked together in groups. The leaders of those groups, known as sovereigns or kings, claimed a special power called sovereignty that gave them control over the territory they ruled. Eventually, these sovereigns realized that it was more efficient to use an army to defend their borders, rather than each person having to raise and maintain his or her own. The emergence of large armies and the need for centralized command led to the development of what is now known as bureaucracy, an organization of people dedicated to the management of government.

In modern democracies, the majority of citizens believe that governments should operate for the good of all, which is reflected in phrases like those spoken by Abraham Lincoln at the Gettysburg address—”government of the people, by the people, for the people.” These concepts are relatively recent developments, though. Governments have been a source of conflict, frustration and abuse for most of human history.

Governments are typically organized into distinct institutions, or branches, with different powers, functions and duties. Generally, the more complex governments have three or more of these branches. This separation of power is designed to make it difficult for one political faction to dominate the government. As James Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51, “Ambition must be made to counter ambition.”

The way a government is structured may determine what it values and how it works. If it is focused on national security, for example, it might be more willing to tap people’s phones and limit what newspapers publish. If it is devoted to protecting liberty, on the other hand, it might place greater limits on how far law enforcement agencies can intrude into private communications.

Governments have diplomats who interact with the governments of other countries. This interaction can help to avoid war, resolve disputes, make commercial agreements and exchange cultural and social experiences. Governments have courts where citizens can get help in a legal dispute, and they have police and fire departments to prevent crime. They also have a military force that protects the nation from terrorist attacks and other major threats. The leader of the government usually has advisors and ministers for various departments, all of whom work together to form the administration.