A government is the system or group of people governing an organized
community, often a state.
In the case of its broad associative definition, government normally
consists of legislature, executive, and judiciary.
Government is a
means by which state policies are enforced, as well as a mechanism for
determining the policy. Each government has a kind of constitution, a
statement of its governing principles and philosophy. Typically the
philosophy chosen is some balance between the principle of individual
freedom and the idea of absolute state authority (tyranny).
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 subsidiary
Historically prevalent forms of government include aristocracy,
timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, theocracy and tyranny. The main
aspect of any philosophy of government is how political power is
obtained, with the two main forms being electoral contest and
1 Definitions and etymology
3 Political science
3.1 Classifying government
3.2 Social-political ambiguity
3.3 The dialectical forms of government
4 Forms of government
5 Scope of government
6 Economic systems
8 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
Definitions and etymology
A government is the system to govern a state or community.
The word government derives, ultimately, from the Greek verb
κυβερνάω [kubernáo] (meaning to steer with gubernaculum
(rudder), the metaphorical sense being attested in Plato's Ship of
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".
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
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[citation
needed] or, metonymically, to the governing cabinet as part of the
Finally, government is also sometimes used in English as a synonym for
Political history of the world and Political philosophy
The moment and place that the phenomenon of human government developed
is lost in time; however, history does record the formations of early
governments. About 5,000 years ago, the first small city-states
appeared. 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.
The development of agriculture and water control projects were a
catalyst for the development of governments. For many thousands of
years when people were hunter-gatherers and small scale farmers,
humans lived in small, non-hierarchical and self-sufficient
communities. On occasion a chief of a tribe was
elected by various rituals or tests of strength to govern his tribe,
sometimes with a group of elder tribesmen as a council. The human
ability to precisely communicate abstract, learned information allowed
humans to become ever more effective at agriculture, and that
allowed for ever increasing population densities. David Christian
explains how this resulted in states with laws and governments:
As farming populations gathered in larger and denser 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
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. Since the fall
of the Berlin Wall, liberal democracy has become an even more
prevalent form of government.
In the nineteenth and twentieth century, there was a significant
increase in the size and scale of government at the national
level. This included the regulation of corporations and the
development of the welfare state.
In political science, it has long been a goal to create a typology or
taxonomy of polities, as typologies of political systems are not
obvious. It is especially important in the political science
fields of comparative politics and international relations. Like all
categories discerned within forms of government, the boundaries of
government classifications are either fluid or ill-defined.
Superficially, all governments have an official or ideal form. The
United States is a constitutional republic, while the former Soviet
Union was a socialist republic. However self-identification is not
objective, and as Kopstein and Lichbach argue, defining regimes can be
tricky. For example, elections are a defining characteristic of an
electoral democracy, but in practice elections in the
Soviet Union were not "free and fair" and took place in a
Voltaire argued that "the Holy Roman
neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire". Many governments that
officially call themselves a "democratic republic" are not democratic,
nor a republic; they are usually a dictatorship de facto. Communist
dictatorships have been especially prone to use this term. For
example, the official name of North Vietnam was "The Democratic
Republic of Vietnam". China uses a variant, "The People's
China". Thus in many practical classifications it would not be
Identifying a form of government is also difficult because many
political systems originate as socio-economic movements and are then
carried into governments by parties naming themselves after those
movements; all with competing political-ideologies. Experience with
those movements in power, and the strong ties they may have to
particular forms of government, can cause them to be considered as
forms of government in themselves.
Other complications include general non-consensus or deliberate
"distortion or bias" of reasonable technical definitions to political
ideologies and associated forms of governing, due to the nature of
politics in the modern era. For example: The meaning of "conservatism"
United States has little in common with the way the word's
definition is used elsewhere. As Ribuffo notes, "what Americans now
call conservatism much of the world calls liberalism or
neoliberalism". Since the 1950s conservatism in the United States
has been chiefly associated with the Republican Party. However, during
the era of segregation many
Southern Democrats were conservatives, and
they played a key role in the
Conservative Coalition that controlled
Congress from 1937 to 1963.
Every country in the world is ruled by a system of governance that
combines at least three or more political or economic
attributes. Additionally, opinions vary by
individuals concerning the types and properties of governments that
exist. "Shades of gray" are commonplace in any government and its
corresponding classification. Even the most liberal democracies limit
rival political activity to one extent or another while the most
tyrannical dictatorships must organize a broad base of support thereby
creating difficulties for "pigeonholing" governments into narrow
categories. Examples include the claims of the
United States as being
a plutocracy rather than a democracy since some American voters
believe elections are being manipulated by wealthy Super PACs.
The dialectical forms of government
Main article: Plato's five regimes
The Classical Greek philosopher
Plato discusses five types of regimes:
aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny.
assigns a man to each of these regimes to illustrate what they stand
for. The tyrannical man would represent tyranny for example. These
five regimes progressively degenerate starting with aristocracy at the
top and tyranny at the bottom.
Forms of government
For a more comprehensive list, see List of forms of government.
One method of classifying governments is through which people have the
authority to rule. This can either be one person (an autocracy, such
as monarchy), a select group of people (an aristocracy), or the people
as a whole (a democracy, such as a republic).
The division of governments as monarchy, aristocracy and democracy has
been used since Aristotle's Politics. In his book
Thomas Hobbes expands on this classification.
The difference of Commonwealths consisteth in the difference of the
sovereign, or the person representative of all and every one of the
multitude. And because the sovereignty is either in one man, or in an
assembly of more than one; and into that assembly either every man
hath right to enter, or not every one, but certain men distinguished
from the rest; it is manifest there can be but three kinds of
Commonwealth. For the representative must needs be one man, or more;
and if more, then it is the assembly of all, or but of a part. When
the representative is one man, then is the
Commonwealth a monarchy;
when an assembly of all that will come together, then it is a
democracy, or popular Commonwealth; when an assembly of a part only,
then it is called an aristocracy. Other kind of
Commonwealth there can
be none: for either one, or more, or all, must have the sovereign
power (which I have shown to be indivisible) entire.
An autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power is
concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject
to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of
popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup
d'état or mass insurrection).
A despotism is a government ruled by a single entity with absolute
power, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal
restraints nor regular mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps
for implicit threat). That entity may be an individual, as in an
autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy. The word
despotism means to "rule in the fashion of despots".
A monarchy is where a family or group of families (rarely another type
of group), called the royalty, represents national identity, with
power traditionally assigned to one of its individuals, called the
monarch, who mostly rule kingdoms. The actual role of the monarch and
other members of royalty varies from purely symbolical (crowned
republic) to partial and restricted (constitutional monarchy) to
completely despotic (absolute monarchy). Traditionally and in most
cases, the post of the monarch is inherited, but there are also
elective monarchies where the monarch is elected.
Aristocracy (Greek ἀριστοκρατία aristokratía, from
ἄριστος aristos "excellent", and κράτος kratos "power")
is a form of government that places power in the hands of a small,
privileged ruling class.
An oligarchy is ruled by a small group of segregated, powerful or
influential people who usually share similar interests or family
relations. These people may spread power and elect candidates equally
or not equally. An oligarchy is different from a true democracy
because very few people are given the chance to change things. An
oligarchy does not have to be hereditary or monarchic. An oligarchy
does not have one clear ruler but several rulers.
Some historical examples of oligarchy are the former Union of Soviet
Socialist Republics. Some critics of representative democracy think of
United States as an oligarchy. The
Athenian democracy used
sortition to elect candidates, almost always male, Greek, educated
citizens holding a minimum of land, wealth and status.[citation
A theocracy is rule by a religious elite; a system of governance
composed of religious institutions in which the state and the church
are traditionally or constitutionally the same entity. The Vatican's
(see Pope), Iran's (see Supreme Leader), Tibetan government's (see
Dalai Lama), Caliphates and other Islamic states are historically
considered theocracies.
In a general sense, in a democracy, all the people of a state or
polity are involved in making decisions about its affairs. Also refer
to the rule by a government chosen by election where most of the
populace are enfranchised. The key distinction between a democracy and
other forms of constitutional government is usually taken to be that
the right to vote is not limited by a person's wealth or race (the
main qualification for enfranchisement is usually having reached a
certain age). A democratic government is, therefore, one supported (at
least at the time of the election) by a majority of the populace
(provided the election was held fairly). A "majority" may be defined
in different ways. There are many "power-sharing" (usually in
countries where people mainly identify themselves by race or religion)
or "electoral-college" or "constituency" systems where the government
is not chosen by a simple one-vote-per-person headcount.[citation
In democracies, large proportions of the population may vote, either
to make decisions or to choose representatives to make decisions.
Commonly significant in democracies are political parties, which are
groups of people with similar ideas about how a country or region
should be governed. Different political parties have different ideas
about how the government should handle different problems.[citation
Liberal democracy is a variant of democracy. It is a form of
government in which representative democracy operates under the
principles of liberalism. It is characterised by fair, free, and
competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a
separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule
of law in everyday life as part of an open society, and the protection
of human rights and civil liberties for all persons. To define the
system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a
constitution, either formally written or uncodified, to delineate the
powers of government and enshrine the social contract. After a period
of sustained expansion throughout the 20th century, liberal democracy
became the predominant political system in the world. A liberal
democracy may take various constitutional forms: it may be a republic,
such as France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Taiwan, or the United
States; or a constitutional monarchy, such as Japan, Spain, or the
United Kingdom. It may have a presidential system (Argentina, Brazil,
Mexico, or the United States), a semi-presidential system (France,
Portugal, or Taiwan), or a parliamentary system (Australia, Canada,
Germany, Ireland, India, Italy, New Zealand, or the United
A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered
a "public matter" (Latin: res publica), not the private concern or
property of the rulers, and where offices of states are subsequently
directly or indirectly elected or appointed rather than inherited. The
people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over
the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by
elected people. A common simplified definition of a republic
is a government where the head of state is not a monarch.
Montesquieu included both democracies, where all the people have a
share in rule, and aristocracies or oligarchies, where only some of
the people rule, as republican forms of government.
Other terms used to describe different republics include Democratic
republic, Parliamentary republic, Federal republic, and Islamic
Scope of government
Rule by authoritarian governments is identified in societies where a
specific set of people possess the authority of the state in a
republic or union. It is a political system controlled by unelected
rulers who usually permit some degree of individual freedom. Rule by a
totalitarian government is characterised by a highly centralised and
coercive authority that regulates nearly every aspect of public and
private life.
In contrast, a constitutional republic is rule by 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). Republics that exclude sections of the populace from
participation will typically claim to represent all citizens (by
defining people without the vote as "non-citizens"). Examples include
the United States, South Africa, India, etc.
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it. (January
Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are
bound together by covenant (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing
representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a
system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided
between a central governing authority and constituent political units
(such as states or provinces).
Federalism is a system based upon
democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is
shared between national and provincial/state governments, creating
what is often called a federation. Proponents are often called
Further information: Economic system
Historically, most political systems originated as socioeconomic
ideologies. Experience with those movements in power and the strong
ties they may have to particular forms of government can cause them to
be considered as forms of government in themselves.
A social-economic system in which the means of production (machines,
tools, factories, etc.) are under private ownership and their use is
A social-economic system in which means of production are commonly
owned (either by the people directly, through the commune or by
communist society), and production is undertaken for use, rather than
Communist society is thus stateless, classless,
moneyless, and democratic.
A social-economic system in which widespread property ownership as
fundamental right; the means of production are spread as widely as
possible rather than being centralized under the control of the state
(state socialism), a few individuals (plutocracy), or corporations
Distributism fundamentally opposes socialism and
capitalism, which distributists view as equally flawed and
exploitative. In contrast, distributism seeks to subordinate economic
activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our
intellectual life, our family life".
A social-economic system of land ownership and duties. Under
feudalism, all the land in a kingdom was the king's. However, the king
would give some of the land to the lords or nobles who fought for him.
These presents of land were called manors. Then the nobles gave some
of their land to vassals. The vassals then had to do duties for the
nobles. The lands of vassals were called fiefs.
A social-economic system in which workers, democratically and socially
own the means of production and the economic framework may be
decentralized, distributed or centralized planned or self-managed in
autonomous economic units. Public services would be commonly,
collectively, or state owned, such as healthcare and education.
A social-economic system that concentrates power in the state at the
expense of individual freedom. Among other variants, the term subsumes
theocracy, absolute monarchy, Nazism, fascism, authoritarian
socialism, and plain, unadorned dictatorship. Such variants differ on
matters of form, tactics and ideology.
A social-economic system in which the state plays a key role in the
protection and promotion of the economic and social 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.
States by their systems of government. For the complete list of
systems by country, see List of countries by system of government.
parliamentary republics, an executive presidency elected
by and dependent on parliament
parliamentary constitutional monarchies in which the
monarch does not personally exercise power
constitutional monarchies in which the monarch personally
exercises power, often alongside a weak parliament
republics whose constitutions grant only one party the
right to govern
republics where constitutional provisions for government
have been suspended
states that do not fit in any of the above listed systems
Democracy Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 2017.
World administrative levels
A world map distinguishing countries of the world as federations
(green) from unitary states (blue).
List of forms of government
History of politics
List of countries by system of government
List of European Union member states by political system
Prime ministerial government
Certain major characteristics are defining of certain types; others
are historically associated with certain types of government.
Rule according to higher law (unwritten ethical principles) vs.
Separation of church and state
Separation of church and state or free church vs. state religion
Civilian control of the military
Civilian control of the military vs. stratocracy
Totalitarianism or authoritarianism vs. libertarianism
Majority rule or parliamentary sovereignty vs. constitution or bill of
rights with separation of powers and supermajority rules to prevent
tyranny of the majority and protect minority rights
Androcracy (patriarchy) or gynarchy (matriarchy) vs. gender quotas,
gender equality provision, or silence on the matter
This list focuses on differing approaches that political systems take
to the distribution of sovereignty, and the autonomy of regions within
Sovereignty located exclusively at the centre of political
Sovereignty located at the centre and in peripheral areas.
Federation and federal republic
Diverging degrees of sovereignty.
States with limited recognition
Government in exile
League of Nations
Decentralisation and devolution (powers redistributed from central to
regional or local governments)
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Look up government in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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