Government is the system through which a nation or community exercises control over its members. It makes laws and enforces them. It provides essential services, such as police and fire departments, water and sewer systems, mail delivery and schools. Government also manages public lands and wildlife. It is the medium through which citizens organize themselves to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits they cannot otherwise obtain on their own.
Society develops social structures, or institutions, that persist because they play a critical part in helping it survive. These include the family, education, religion, and government. If one of these collapses or fails, the society suffers. Government is the institution most critical to civilization, because it regulates all of the other important institutions. Without it, a society would be as chaotic and unstable as a wildcat mining town.
The simplest justification for government is that it protects its citizens from violence. Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan describes a world of unrelenting insecurity without it, and the horrors of little or no government to perform this function are on constant display in many fragile states and in essentially ungoverned regions. This function is the reason government exists, and it is why most people support it.
Another key function of government is to preserve property and contracts. A government must enforce contracts and the law in a predictable, clear and honest way. It must respect and punish those who break the law, and it must protect private property from infringements. Without respect for property rights, society can only grow in an erratic fashion. Its progress will be slow and uneven, and it will not be as free and prosperous as the most successful societies.
Government also must promote economic growth and provide social security. It must impose reasonable taxes and regulations that encourage business investments, while at the same time keeping inflation under control. Government must maintain a level playing field in trade agreements with other nations, and it must keep the national debt under control so as not to burden future generations with excessive obligations and expenses.
Most importantly, governments must uphold the Constitution. The Constitution establishes three levels of government: national, state and local. The national level is the top rung of the ladder. The states and local levels are the next two rungs. The national and state levels cannot pass laws that conflict with the decisions/laws of the lower rungs, nor can they enact laws that exceed their constitutional authority.