What Is Government?


Government is a set of rules that constrain humans in various ways, usually for the purpose of achieving some mutually beneficial collective outcome. These rules might be based on laws, customs or philosophy. The term is usually applied to national and international governments, but may be used to describe governance systems in non-governmental organizations as well.

People have different ideas about what a government should do and how it should be organized. In his 1651 book Leviathan, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes argued that humans must form some kind of organization to maintain order as they compete for resources. He believed that without some sort of organized effort, human society would devolve into violent conflict as people fight to control land and other resources.

Philosophers and historians have interpreted this idea in many different ways. One way to classify different forms of government is to consider who is in control and how much power a ruler has. An autocracy is ruled by a single person, such as a monarch or dictator. Other forms of government include oligarchies in which the power is concentrated among a small group of people, such as military officers or a wealthy family. Modern examples of oligarchies include Russia, China and Turkey.

Other ways to classify different types of government include who makes the decisions and how much democracy exists. In a democracy, citizens are allowed to participate in making the rules and governing themselves, either directly or indirectly. Direct democracy requires that the citizenry vote on each issue, whereas indirect democracy allows the citizenry to select representatives or delegates, typically through elections, but sometimes by other means such as lotteries.

All governments need to have a means of coercion to enforce the rules, and a method for collecting revenue to pay for their services. The means of coercion might include threats of violence or the use of taxation. Some governments also have a bill of rights that limits the powers of government officials and protects the rights of citizens.

Ultimately, the most important features of government are those that protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens. Some of these rights might be economic, such as the right to own property or the ability to start a business. Other rights might be personal, such as the right to privacy or the right to free speech. Other rights might be related to social issues, such as the right to equal treatment and the right not to be subjected to unreasonable discrimination. The balance of these different concerns might lead to a particular type of government. Often, these rights are written down in a document called a constitution or charter.