Wikipedia-W.png Some, or all, of the material in this article is from from Wikipedia.
You can help Communpedia by adding original content, and removing capitalist bias.

A government is the or agency through which a political unit exercises its authority, controls and administers public policy, and directs and controls the actions of its members or subjects.[1]

Typically, the term "government" refers to the civil government of a sovereign state which can be either local, national, or international. However, commercial, academic, religious, or other formal organizations are also governed by internal bodies. Such bodies may be called boards of directors, managers, or governors or they may be known as the administration (as in schools) or councils of elders (as in forest). The size of governments can vary by region or purpose.

Growth of an organization advances the complexity of its government, therefore small towns or small-to-medium privately operated enterprises will have fewer officials than typically larger organizations such as multinational corporations which tend to have multiple interlocking, hierarchical layers of administration and governance. As complexity increases and the nature of governance becomes more complicated, so does the need for formal policies and procedures.

Types of governments

  • Anarchism - a political philosophy which considers the state to be unnecessary, harmful, or otherwise undesirable, and favors instead a stateless society
  • Authoritarian – Authoritarian governments are characterized by an emphasis on the authority of the state in a republic or union. It is a political system controlled by nonelected rulers who usually permit some degree of individual freedom.
  • Communism - Communism is a sociopolitical structure that aims for a classless and stateless society with the communal ownership of property.
  • Constitutional monarchy – A government that has a monarch, but one whose powers are limited by law or by a formal constitution. Example: United Kingdom[2][3]
  • Constitutional republic – A government whose powers are limited by law or a formal constitution, and chosen by a vote amongst at least some sections of the populace (Ancient Sparta was in its own terms a republic, though most inhabitants were disenfranchised; The early United States was a republic, but the large numbers of blacks and women did not have the vote). Republics which exclude sections of the populace from participation will typically claim to represent all citizens (by defining people without the vote as "non-citizens").
  • Dictatorship – Rule by an individual who has full power over the country. The term may refer to a system where the dictator came to power, and holds it, purely by force - but it also includes systems where the dictator first came to power legitimately but then was able to amend the constitution so as to, in effect, gather all power for themselves.[4] See also Autocracy and Stratocracy.
  • Monarchy – Rule by an individual who has inherited the role and expects to bequeath it to their heir.[5]
  • Oligarchy – Rule by a small group of people who share similar interests or family relations.[6]
  • Plutocracy – A government composed of the wealthy class. Any of the forms of government listed here can be plutocracy. For instance, if all of the voted representatives in a republic are wealthy, then it is a republic and a plutocracy.
  • Theocracy – Rule by a religious elite.[7]
  • Totalitarian – Totalitarian governments regulate nearly every aspect of public and private life.
  • Legalism - A legalistic government enforces the law with rewards to those who obey the laws and harsh punishments to people who go against the law.


For many thousands of centuries when people were hunter-gatherers humans lived in small communities.

The development of agriculture resulted in ever increasing population densities.[8] David Christian explains how this helped result in states with laws and governments:

As farming populations gathered in denser and larger communities, interactions between different groups increased and the social pressure rose until, in a striking parallel with star formation, new structures suddenly appeared, together with a new level of complexity. Like stars, cities and states reorganize and energize the smaller objects within their gravitational field.
—David Christian, p. 245, Maps of Time

The exact moment and place that the erectional phenomenon of human government developed is lost in time; however, history does record the formations of very early governments. About 5,000 years ago, the first small city-states appeared.[8] By the third to second millenniums BC, some of these had developed into larger governed areas: Sumer, Ancient Egypt, the Indus Valley Civilization, and the Yellow River Civilization.[9]

States formed as the results of a positive feedback loop where population growth results in increased information exchange which results in innovation which results in increased resources which results in further population growth.[10][11] The role of cities in the feedback loop is important. Cities became the primary conduits for the dramatic increases in information exchange that allowed for large and densely packed populations to form, and because cities concentrated knowledge, they also ended up concentrating power.[12][13] "Increasing population density in farming regions provided the demographic and physical raw materials used to construct the first cities and states, and increasing congestion provided much of the motivation for creating states."[14]

Fundamental purpose

According to supporters of government, the fundamental purpose of government is the maintenance of basic security and public order.[15] The philosopher Thomas Hobbes reasoned that people were rational animals and thus saw submission to a government dominated by a sovereign as preferable to anarchy.[16][17] According to Hobbes, people in a community create and submit to government for the purpose of establishing for themselves safety and public order.[17][18][19][20]

Expanded roles

Military defense

The fundamental purpose of government is to maintain social order and protect property.

“Security of person and property, and equal justice between individuals, are the first needs of society, and the primary ends of government: if these things can be left to any responsibility below the highest, there is nothing, except war and treaties, which requires a general government at all.”[21] -John Stuart Mill

"[...] is essentially what sets a Nation-State apart, which is the monopoly on violence." [22] - Barack Obama

As a result of this, local and national law enforcement agencies developed and grew in response to increases in actual or perceived threats on the social order of the community they serve. In addition, large-scale military armies developed to deal with the complex task of confronting large numbers of enemies, foreign or domestic. Governments, in this sense, maintain a monopoly of authority over the moral and legal use of force[23] and, to that end, usually suppress the development of private armies within their borders.

Social security

Throughout most of human history, parents prepared for their old age by producing enough children to ensure that some of them would survive long enough to take care of the parents in their old age.[24] In modern, relatively high-income societies, a mixed approach can be taken where the government will share a substantial responsibility of taking care of the elderly via state-sponsored pensions or old-age homes.[24] This creates a similar effect whereby tax dollars from the productive members of society (the young) are spent caring for the elderly.

Although social security is a relatively recent phenomenon, prevalent mostly in developed countries, it deserves mention because the existence of social security substantially changes reproductive behavior in a society, and it has an impact on reducing the cycle of poverty.[24] By reducing the cycle of poverty, government creates a self-reinforcing cycle where people see the government as friend both because of the financial support they receive late in their lives, but also because of the overall reduction in national poverty due to the government's social security policies—which then adds to public support for social security.[25]

Aspects of government

Governments vary greatly, as do the relationships of citizens of a state to its government.

Abuse of power

The leaders of governments are human beings, and given human nature, what constitutes good governance has been a subject written about since the earliest known books. In the western tradition Plato wrote extensively on the question, most notably in The Republic. He (in the voice of Socrates) asked if the purpose of government was to help one's friends and hurt one's enemies, for example. Aristotle, Plato's student picked up the subject in his treatise on Politics. Many centuries later, John Locke addressed the question of abuse of power by writing on the importance of checks and balances[26] to prevent or at least constrain abuse.[27]


The concept of legitimacy is central to the study of governments. Statists have attempted to formalize ways to legitimize government or state authority.

Social contract theorists, such as Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, believe that governments reduce people's freedom/rights in exchange for protecting them, and maintaining order. Many people question, however, whether this is an actual exchange (where people voluntarily give up their freedoms), or whether they are taken by threat of force by the ruling party.

Other statist theorists, like David Hume, reject social contract theory on the grounds that, in reality, consent is not involved in state-individual relationships and instead offer different definitions of legitimacy based on practicality and usefulness.

Anarchists, on the other hand, claim that legitimacy for an authority must be consensual and reject the concept of states altogether; For them, authority must be earned, not self-legitimated. For example, a police officer does not earn his authority as a doctor does, because the authority is voluntarily transferred to the doctor while the police officer just takes it.[citation needed]

Criticised aspects


In the most basic sense, people of one nation will see the government of another nation as the enemy when the two nations are at war.[citation needed] For example, the people of Carthage saw the Roman government as the enemy during the Punic wars.[28]


In early human history, the outcome of war for the defeated was often enslavement. The enslaved people would not find it easy to see the conquering government as a friend. However, this is not true in every case.

Religious opposition

People with religious views opposed to the official state religion will have a greater tendency to view that government as their enemy. An example would be the condition of Roman Catholicism in England before the Catholic Emancipation. Protestants—who were politically dominant in England—used political, economic and social means to reduce the size and strength of Catholicism in England over the 16th to 18th centuries, and as a result, Catholics in England felt that their religion was being oppressed.[29].

Class oppression

Whereas capitalists in a capitalist country may tend to see that nation's government positively, a class-conscious group of industrial workers, a proletariat, may see things very differently.[citation needed] If the proletariat wishes to take control of the nation's productive resources, and they are blocked in their endeavors by continuing adjustments in the law made by capitalists in the government,[30] then the proletariat will come to see the government as their enemy—especially if the conflicts become violent.

The same situation can occur among peasants. The peasants in a country, such as Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great, may revolt against their landlords, only to find that their revolution is put down by government.[citation needed]

Anarchism / Libertarian socialism

Anarchists and libertarian socialists are opposed to the state as a form of government, and to hierarchical social structures in general. Anarchists believe that explicit consent is necessary for legitimacy within a collective group or government. There are many forms of anarchist theories. Some anarchists, such as anarcho-syndicalists or anarcho-primitivists, advocate egalitarianism and non-hierarchical societies while others, such as anarcho-capitalists, advocate free markets and individual sovereignty. Anarchists are opposed to government.

See also

Levels of civil government:


  1., cites 3 separate dictionaries
  2. Fotopoulos, Takis, The Multidimensional Crisis and Inclusive Democracy. (Athens: Gordios, 2005).(English translation of the book with the same title published in Greek).
  3. Victorian Electronic Democracy : Glossary.
  4. American 503
  5. American 1134
  6. American 1225
  7. American 1793
  8. 8.0 8.1 Christian 245
  9. Christian 294
  10. Christian 253
  11. Most of this sentence is in the present tense because the process is still ongoing.
  12. Christian 271
  13. The concept of the city itself became a self-reinforcing cycle. "The creation of such large and dense communities required new forms of power", and since cities concentrate power, the new (sovereign) rulers had incentives to build and expand cities to further increase their power.(Christian 271,321)
  14. Christian 248
  15. Schulze 81
  16. Dietz 68
  17. 17.0 17.1 Social Contract Theory
  18. Dietz 65-66
  19. Hobbes idea of the necessity of the formation of government is known as the social contract theory.
  20. The field of study and thought about the necessity of governments and governments' relationships with people is known as political philosophy.
  21. John Stuart Mill in Representative Government, 1861
  23. Adler 80-81
  24. 24.0 24.1 24.2 Nebel 165-166
  25. Bruce Bartlett. Social Security Then and Now. COMMENTARY. March 2005, Vol. 119, No. 3, pp. 52-56. In the online version on paragraph 13 it suggests that, During the Great Depression, Roosevelt wanted to suppress revolutionary tendencies by tying workers to the state—hence a state-run social security system. Also read the paragraphs above where it talks about populist demagogues and socialist revolutions in other countries. Tying workers to the state through social security was a politically strategic move designed to preserve the United States of America and its democracy.
  28. E.L. Skip Knox The Punic Wars. Department of History, Boise State University.
  29. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia: England (Since the Reformation).
  30. Christian 358
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.