The Definition of Government
Government is the system of people, laws, and officials that define and control your country. The United States is a democracy, which means that every citizen gets to participate in the political process to influence the laws made by the government.
The role of government is to accomplish goals and provide benefits that are too large for private business or individuals to handle on their own. Examples of these goals include economic prosperity, secure national borders, and the safety and well-being of citizens. Governments also protect common goods, which are natural resources that everyone may use free of charge but are in limited supply, such as fish in the ocean or clean drinking water. They also redistribute income, paying money to people who don’t work (unemployment) or have retired (Social Security).
Different countries have different governments because they are a reflection of their environment, history, and political ideals. While modern classification systems recognize democracies, totalitarian regimes, and authoritarian regimes, there are many more types of governments that have existed throughout human history and still exist today.
Governments are necessary to the existence of civilized society because they provide a way for people to organize themselves into groups or states that are able to protect themselves against outside threats. These protections are difficult to achieve through the market alone because the size of a nation is too large for a private business to manage, and there is too much diversity among people to agree on who should have power over each other. Governments can protect the people by regulating the flow of goods and services, taxing citizens, creating plans for defense and attack, and compel citizens to comply with the laws.
In the United States, the Constitution guarantees basic freedoms that are important to most citizens, such as privacy, freedom of speech and religion, and the right to vote. It also establishes the separation of powers and checks and balances that limit the ability of one branch of government to veto decisions made by another. The Founders believed that these protections would prevent government from becoming oppressive and controlling, which they have done for the most part.
The definition of government has changed greatly over the centuries, with some changes occurring in response to new ideas about society and others arising out of the need to protect the common good. Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address encapsulated a new idea about the purpose of government: “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” This idea was quite revolutionary at that time. Previously, most governments were characterized by a very clear difference between rulers and the ruled, with rulers classifying themselves by rank and function while the ruled worked to pay taxes that supported the rulers.