What Is Government?


Government is the system by which adults set the rules for everyday behavior and protect people from outside interference. Governments also provide benefits that help citizens live a good life. The type of government is different for every country, but most have some common goals, such as economic prosperity, secure national borders and the safety and health of citizens.

Many governments also regulate access to common goods like water and wildlife. This is because such goods are in limited supply and if too many people take freely from them there will not be enough for everyone. Governments often hire people to make sure these resources are distributed fairly. These are called public servants and include police, mail carriers and firefighters. Governments may also provide education and health care for their citizens. The exact kind of benefits vary by country and type of government, but most have some form of social security and universal healthcare for the elderly and disabled.

Some governments are run by elected officials, such as city councils, state legislatures and Congress in the United States. This type of government is known as a representative democracy. Elected officials are responsible for making laws that govern the community. They are held accountable for their actions by an independent judiciary. Governments that are run by an individual or small group of individuals are known as autocratic. The founding fathers of the United States designed a government with three distinct branches: legislative, executive and judicial. The intent was to limit the power of any one branch and create a system of checks and balances.

Other forms of government may be based on religious beliefs, political ideas or socio-economic theories. Some of these ideas are ancient, while others are quite modern. One of the more recent notions about government was enunciated by President Abraham Lincoln in his Gettysburg Address. He spoke of a government that was “of the people, by the people and for the people.”

The role of the government in society has been debated for thousands of years. Ancient writers, including Plato and Aristotle, favored aristocracy—leadership by a small privileged class of the wisest and most morally superior people. Other philosophers argued that the majority should rule. Still others advocated limited government with a Bill of Rights, which limits the power of the governing body while guaranteeing citizens certain rights.

Most nations today have some kind of government that is regulated by the constitution and laws of that nation. These laws are enforced by a legal system that includes courts and magistrates. Some countries have more than one court, while others have a single supreme court that hears appeals from lower courts. Many governments have a national security force that keeps citizens safe from terrorist attacks and other major threats. Some have diplomacy departments that attempt to resolve problems between other countries or exchange cultural and social experiences. Governments may also have a department that provides information to the general public about their policies, programs and services.