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A government is the system by which a state or community is managed.[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[edit]

The word government derives, ultimately, from the Greek verb κυβερνάω [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 massive increase in the size and scope of governments.[4] This included the development of the welfare state.[7]

Philosophy of government[edit]

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

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.[8]

And to compare monarchy with the other two, we may observe: first, that whosoever beareth the person of the people, or is one of that assembly that bears it, beareth also his own natural person. And though he be careful in his politic person to procure the common interest, yet he is more, or no less, careful to procure the private good of himself, his family, kindred and friends; and for the most part, if the public interest chance to cross the private, he prefers the private: for the passions of men are commonly more potent than their reason. From whence it follows that where the public and private interest are most closely united, there is the public most advanced. Now in monarchy the private interest is the same with the public. The riches, power, and honour of a monarch arise only from the riches, strength, and reputation of his subjects. For no king can be rich, nor glorious, nor secure, whose subjects are either poor, or contemptible, or too weak through want, or dissension, to maintain a war against their enemies; whereas in a democracy, or aristocracy, the public prosperity confers not so much to the private fortune of one that is corrupt, or ambitious, as doth many times a perfidious advice, a treacherous action, or a civil war.[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[edit]

Governments may control the economy, social freedoms, police and other law enforcement[8], school system, and political systems.

Types of governments[edit]

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[edit]

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[edit]

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 c International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Elsevier. 2001. ISBN 0-08-043076-7. 
  5. ^ "government.". Oxford Dictionaries e. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 7 December 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. ^ a b Michael T. Gibbons (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Political Thought. Wiley Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-4051-9129-6. 
  9. ^