A government is the system to govern a state or community.[1] In the case of this broad associative definition, government normally consists of legislators, administrators, and arbitrators. Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state. Forms of government, or forms of state governance, refers to the set of political systems and institutions that make up the organisation of a specific government.

Governments may control the economy, social freedoms, law enforcement, school system, and political systems.

Definitions and etymology

The word government derives, ultimately, from the Greek verb ???????? [kubernáo] (meaning to steer, the metaphorical sense first being attested in Plato).[2]

The Columbia Encyclopedia defines government as "a system of social control under which the right to make laws, and the right to enforce them, is vested in a particular group in society".[3]

While all types of organizations have governance, the word government is often used more specifically to refer to the approximately 200 independent national governments on Earth, as well as their subsidiary organizations.[4]

In the Commonwealth of Nations, the word government is also used more narrowly to refer to the ministry (collective executive), a collective group of people that exercises executive authority in a state[5] or, metonymically, to the governing cabinet as part of the executive.

Finally, government is also sometimes used in English as a synonym for governance.


Governments have been in existence for thousands of years. The development of agriculture and the water control projects to support it were one catalyst for the development of governments.[6]

The Encyclopedia Brittanica notes Lycurgus of Sparta, Solon, Moses, and Alfred the Great as several individuals who created new governments.[2]

During the middle ages, the divine right of kings was a philosophical backing for government by monarchy. The mandate of heaven was a similar concept in China.

Starting at the end of the 17th century, the prevalence of republican forms of government grew. The Glorious Revolution in England, the American revolution, and the French revolution contributed to the growth of representative forms of government. The Soviet Union was the first large country to have a Communist government. [4] Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, liberal democracy has been the most prevalent form of government.[7]

In the nineteenth and twentieth century, there was a significant increase in the size and scale of government at the national level.[8] This included the regulation of corporations and the development of the welfare state.[7]

Philosophy of government

Most western philosophical traditions trace their origins to the Greek city states and the Roman republic. Plato used the Ship of State metaphor to describe the functioning of governance.

In his book Leviathan, Hobbes describes the ideal form of government as monarchy, because the monarch's private interest will coincide with the public interest.[9]

Other philosophers, including John Locke and Immanuel Kant, support a philosophy that allows for a constitutional state. In Two Treatises of Government, Locke argues against the divine right of kings.

Powers of governments

Governments may control the economy, social freedoms, police and other law enforcement[9], school system, and political systems.

Separation of powers is a model for the governance of a state (or who controls the state). Under this model, the state is divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict with the powers associated with the other branches. The typical division is into three branches: a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary. It can be contrasted with the fusion of powers in some parliamentary systems where the executive and legislature (and sometimes parts of the judiciary) are unified.


Most national-level governments maintain a military for defense of the state. A few nations, such as Costa Rica, currently do not.[10]

Welfare state

The welfare state is a concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the social and economic well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life. The general term may cover a variety of forms of economic and social organization.[11] The sociologist T.H. Marshall described the modern welfare state as a distinctive combination of democracy, welfare, and capitalism.[12]

State school

State schools (known as public schools in the United States) are primary or secondary schools mandated for or offered to all children without charge, funded in whole or in part by taxation. State education is generally available to all. In most countries, it is compulsory for children to attend school up to a certain age, but the option of attending private school is open to many. In the case of private schooling, schools operate independently of the state and generally defray their costs (or even make a profit) by charging parents tuition fees.

Forms of government

The division of governments as monarchy, aristocracy and democracy dates to Aristotle.[]


A monarchy is a form of government in which a group, usually a family called the dynasty, embodies the country's national identity and one of its members, called the monarch, exercises a role of sovereignty. The actual power of the monarch may vary from purely symbolic (crowned republic), to partial and restricted (constitutional monarchy), to completely autocratic (absolute monarchy). Traditionally and in most cases, the monarch's post is inherited and lasts until death or abdication, but there are also elective monarchies where the monarch is elected.[13]


Aristocracy is a form of government that places power in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class.[14] The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning "rule of the best".[15]


Democracy, in modern usage, is a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament.[16] Democracy is sometimes referred to as "rule of the majority".[17] Democracy is a system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do but no single force controls what occurs and its outcomes. The uncertainty of outcomes is inherent in democracy, which makes all forces struggle repeatedly for the realization of their interests, being the devolution of power from a group of people to a set of rules.[18] Western democracy, as distinct from that which existed in pre-modern societies, is generally considered to have originated in city states such as Classical Athens and the Roman Republic, where various schemes and degrees of enfranchisement of the free male population were observed before the form disappeared in the West at the beginning of late antiquity.

People in government

A cabinet is a body of high-ranking state officials, typically consisting of the top leaders of the executive branch. They are usually called ministers, but in some jurisdictions are sometimes called secretaries. The supranational European Commission of the European Union uniquely refers to its executive cabinet as a "college", with its top public officials referred to as "commissioners".

Types of governments

In addition to varying based on how power is allocated, governments can also differ in size and scope. Governments have three main functions: legislation, judicature, and administration.[2]

National government

A main distinction between various democratic governments is the relationship between the legislature and the executive.[7] In parliamentary systems, the executive power is generally vested in individual members of the legislature; the prime minister and cabinet. In a presidential system, the executive power is vested in an elected president.

A second distinction is the relation between various levels of government.[7] In federal republics, some sub-national governments are considered separate from the federal government. In a unitary state, local governments can be created or modified by the national government at-will (e.g. Local Government Act 1985). Some large cities have a consolidated government that replaces multiple tiers of government found in other areas, e.g. prefecture-level city or consolidated city-county .

Local government

Local government is a form of public administration which, in a majority of contexts, exists as the lowest tier of administration within a given state. Local governments generally act within powers delegated to them by legislation or directives of the higher level of government. In federal states, local government generally comprises the third (or sometimes fourth) tier of government, whereas in unitary states, local government usually occupies the second or third tier of government, often with greater powers than higher-level administrative divisions.

Common names for sub-national government entities include state, province, region, department, county, prefecture, district, city, township, town, borough, parish, municipality, shire, village, and local service district.


  1. ^ "government". Oxford English Dictionary, Oxford University Press. November 2010. 
  2. ^ a b c The Encyclopædia Britannica: A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, Literature and General Information. Encyclopædia Britannica Company. 1911. 
  3. ^ Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th edition. Columbia University Press. 2000. 
  4. ^ a b International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Elsevier. 2001. ISBN 0-08-043076-7. 
  5. ^ "government.". Oxford Dictionaries e. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2014. 
  6. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica (15th edition)
  7. ^ a b c d Adam Kuper and Jessica Kuper (ed.). The Social Science Encyclopedia. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-47635-5. 
  8. ^ The Oxford Handbook of State and Local Government, 2014, ISBN 978-0-19-957967-9 
  9. ^ a b Michael T. Gibbons (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Wiley Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-9129-6. 
  10. ^ On December 1, 1948, president José Figueres Ferrer abolished the military of Costa Rica after victory in a civil war. El Espíritu del 48. "Abolición del Ejército". Retrieved .  (Spanish)
  11. ^ Welfare state, Britannica Online Encyclopedia
  12. ^ Marshall, T H. Citizenship and Social Class: And Other Essays. Cambridge [Eng.: University Press, 1950]. Print.
  13. ^ Stuart Berg Flexure and Lenore Carry Hack, editors, Random House Unabridged Dictionary, 2nd Ed., Random House, New York (1993)
  14. ^ "Aristocracy". Oxford English Dictionary. December 1989. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved 2009. 
  15. ^ The Oxford Companion to British History, John Cannon (Editor), Oxford University Press, 1962, ISBN 978-0-19-866176-4
  16. ^ Oxford English Dictionary: Democracy.
  17. ^ "Democracy - Definition of Democracy by Merriam-Webster". 
  18. ^ Przeworski, Adam (1991). Democracy and the Market. Cambridge University Press. pp. 10-14. 

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