Government is the means by which a people or society organizes itself and allocates authority in order to accomplish collective goals and provide benefits that are needed by the community as a whole. Governments around the world have many different functions, but they typically seek to ensure economic prosperity, secure national borders, and protect citizens’ safety and well-being. Governments are also responsible for establishing and enforcing laws that citizens must obey. They often provide services like education, healthcare, and public transportation. Governments can be classified in a variety of ways, but the most common types of government are democracies, totalitarian regimes, and authoritarian regimes, with mixed governments often found.
Governments must exist in order to control the societal resources and responsibilities that are too large for any single person or business to manage. These include national defense, education, and social welfare. The government’s ability to tax, draw upon the combined efforts of its entire population, and compel citizen compliance allow it to manage these resources and provide these services. Governments can only provide these things if there is some trust that its intentions are good. This trust is built through a democratic process, in which the people choose representatives to make laws on their behalf. Governments that are perceived to be fair and equitable to all their citizens enjoy widespread support.
A key part of a democracy is the separation of powers, in which each branch of the government has a unique and specific set of duties. The legislative branch, which includes Congress and the Senate, makes the laws. The executive branch carries out those laws, and the judicial branch enforces and judges those laws. This system allows citizens to express their views and make changes to legislation as it moves through the policymaking process. If a law is passed that a citizen disagrees with, he or she can work to persuade the President to veto it.
As civilization developed, its expansion required assertion of authority over long distances, raising of large armies, and collecting taxes to pay for them. This fostered literacy and numeracy, which enabled governments to develop bureaucracies that could function over large areas. This bureaucracy grew to be a necessary part of human existence, because it allowed people to focus on other activities while still managing their homes and communities.
Governments also play a vital role in protecting our freedom. They must be able to prevent people from hurting one another, or taking advantage of the weak. They must also be able to protect the environment. Whether a nation’s governments are western democracies that respect the rights of the individual, or authoritarian regimes that use fear and force to control their populations, they must be able to impose laws that prohibit slavery, involuntary servitude, and restrictions on free speech and the press. Without these freedoms, people would not be able to interact with one another in an organized way and advance their collective interests. Governments must also have the authority to impose fines and penalties on people who violate the rules, and they must be able to punish those who do so.