What Is a Government?


A government is a group of people that governs an organized community, usually a State. Its basic functions are leadership, maintaining order, supplying services, and protecting citizens from outside threats. Governments also make laws to guide their citizenry’s behavior. The word “government” is derived from the Latin locution gubernare, which means to steer or direct a ship or vessel.

The main types of modern governments are democracies, totalitarian regimes and authoritarian regimes. There are also many variations of these, and some countries have hybrid systems. Other forms of government are monarchy, oligarchy, timocracy and theocracy.

In addition to the Federal government, there are State and local governments. Most Americans have much more contact with their State and local governments than they do with the Federal government. State and local governments are responsible for things such as police departments, libraries and schools. They may also oversee utilities, such as water and electricity companies.

Most States have a legislature that makes State laws and fulfills other governing responsibilities. The smaller upper chamber of the legislature is often called the Senate, while the larger lower chamber is usually called the House of Representatives. Except for Nebraska, most States have a bicameral legislature, with two chambers rather than one.

Another important function of the government is funding its operations. Congress, the governing body of the United States, sets an annual budget for the Federal government. It raises money to fund this budget by levying taxes and tariffs. If the revenues from these sources are not enough, then Congress can also authorize borrowing to cover the difference. In addition, Congress can direct the spending of funds for specific projects, known as earmarks.

The judicial branch of the government, under Article III of the Constitution, evaluates laws by hearing and eventually making decisions on legal cases. It can also overturn laws deemed unconstitutional by the executive and legislative branches.

The third branch of the government, the judicial branch, is a check on other branches of the federal government by ensuring that the President’s executive and legislative power are not abused. This is done through a system of checks and balances, where each branch has its own unique powers to respond to actions by the other branches. Bruce Peabody, an associate professor of government and politics at Fairleigh Dickinson University, wrote in a 2019 article in The Conversation that this three-branch system has been effective in preventing abuses by the executive and legislative branches. However, he cautions that it does not mean that the system can operate on autopilot. In order for the system to work effectively, those in each of the branches need to possess particular qualities. The three branches need to be able to discuss issues with each other and negotiate solutions that will serve the best interests of all Americans. This is why it is so important that we value people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints in positions of leadership in our national and State governments.