The Importance of Government

Government is a system or group of people that has the power to rule a territory, be it a country, a state within a country, or a region. Governments make laws, rules and regulations, collect taxes, print money, and enforce the law using their police force. Governments can be democratic, parliamentary, presidential, federal or unitary.

There are many different types of government systems, each reflecting the environment, history and political philosophy of a particular nation or area. The term “government” is usually used to refer to a nation’s central authority, but it may also be applied to local authorities that provide essential services for their communities such as waste collection, schools, social care and business support.

The most basic justification for government is that it protects citizens from violence. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan describes a world of unrelenting chaos and insecurity without it, a horror that is evident throughout the world’s fragile states and essentially ungoverned regions. The need for governments to serve this vital function is so profound that it has led to the creation of even the most repressive and totalitarian of systems in order to provide security and safety.

Another important role of government is to provide support and services for its citizens in the form of jobs, education, health insurance and food. These functions are less controversial, although polling shows that Americans differ in their opinions about the scope of this responsibility. Generally speaking, lower-income adults take a more expansive view of this role than middle and upper income citizens.

A third reason for the existence of government is that it helps to balance the power of competing factions. This idea goes back at least to Plato’s five regimes, which distinguished the power of rulers between one person (autocracy), a select few people (“aristocracy”) and all the people as a whole (democracy). In this way, government can ensure that the interests of those who have a good deal more wealth or influence are balanced against those who do not.

Finally, government enables its members to work together to pursue common goals that cannot be achieved by individual action alone. The Gettysburg Address famously invokes the notion that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people” is “of the utmost necessity.” However, most Americans do not believe that their elected representatives always operate according to this principle, as reflected in many surveys showing that large majorities believe they are often bureaucratic, inefficient and incompetent. In this context, it is worth noting that the founder James Madison argued in Federalist 51 that the best way to limit politicians’ ambitions was to create a system of separation of powers so that each branch of government has the check and balance of the other two. This is an important principle in any democracy. In fact, most Americans have consistently evinced a preference for elected leaders to compromise in order to get things done rather than fight for their own ideological positions and personal values.