Government is the system of people, laws, and officials that define and control a country. Government is primarily concerned with public life, but it can regulate the activities of private citizens as well. The role of government includes the authority to make laws that establish, protect, and enforce social norms and property rights. It also creates a structure by which goods and services can be made available to the public. Governments can be categorized as democracies, authoritarian regimes, and those that sit somewhere in between, with a variety of hybrid systems also common.
Throughout human history, governments have developed to meet the same basic need: to provide protection for their people. Governments first evolved as people recognized that it was easier to protect themselves if they remained together in groups, and if some in the group had more power than others. This recognition led to the development of sovereign control, the idea that a people or group (later called a nation) has a right to self-determination without interference from other groups or outsiders. Governments are primarily about protecting people and their property, providing order, and ensuring that all have access to the essentials of life.
In a democratic government, the people choose their representatives to act on their behalf in city councils, state legislatures, and Congress. These bodies draft laws to govern their jurisdictions and pass measures to raise money, including taxes on income and property. Local, state, and federal government agencies then use the funds they receive to provide a wide range of services. These services include education, police and fire departments, road maintenance, national parks, and wildlife management.
One of the most controversial functions of government is its responsibility for social programs that help citizens in need. These programs can include welfare benefits, unemployment compensation, and national medical insurance. While some critics argue that the government should not provide these programs, others believe they are an important part of a society’s obligation to its citizens.
There are many different forms of government in existence today, and each has its own particular political philosophy. Generally, these philosophies are classified by the way that people have power: one person (an autocracy, such as a monarchy), a select group of people (aristocracy), or the whole population (democracy). These classifications are sometimes simplified into two categories: those that allow direct democracy and those that do not. In the United States, the Constitution assigns to Congress the responsibility for organizing the executive and judicial branches, raising revenue, declaring war, and making all laws necessary for executing these powers. The President has the power to veto specific legislative acts, but Congress can override these vetoes by a two-thirds majority in each House. The Constitution further provides for the Senate to advise and consent on key executive and judicial appointments, and to approve treaties. This division of power between the President and Congress is known as the Great Compromise or Separation of Powers. The Constitution prohibits anyone from holding office in the President’s place more than once.