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What Is Government and Why Is It Necessary?

US President, Barack Obama

US President, Barack Obama

US Speaker of the House, John Boehner

US Speaker of the House, John Boehner

What Is Government?

Is government necessary? Why do people have government? Could we do without it? These are questions that people often ask. There are several definitions of the term government, but most deal with the idea of authority over a group that is governed. The source of government varies by political unit. Before the rise of the nation-state, many political units tended to be small and locally based. There were, of course, large empires, such as those led by Rome, Greece, Persia, and various Chinese dynasties, that had imperial control over large expanses of territory.

Prior to the eighteenth century, most of these small states and large empires had a single ruling authority embodied in a king/emperor. With the rise of the United States and republican governments, the function of government expanded to include more people. There had been a few republics before, but most were short-lived and were located in smaller regional entities. It could also be argued that the British system was a representative government before the American system arose, but there was nonetheless a monarchy present (as it still is), and suffrage was very limited. Today, many governments are representative of the people living in a nation, at least in theory.

Governments can range from autocracies (rule by one) to democracies (rule by the people). Monarchies and dictatorships would both fall under the autocratic rubric. Other forms of government include plutocracies (rule by wealth), oligarchies (rule by a few), republics (a representative government, in which representatives are elected by the people), and a democracy (rule by the people). While many today speak of democratic governments, pure democracies are unusual in large political units like nation-states because all constituents would need to be involved in every situation. More common are republican governments in which the people theoretically rule through their elected representatives.

Governmental functions include legislation/lawmaking, execution of the laws, and judicial decisions. In a monarchy, a king/queen or their chosen appointees hold these powers. In more democratic forms, the citizens have an opportunity to influence those who hold these powers to a greater degree. In the United States, the government refers to the entire apparatus given the charge of governing the nation, while in parliamentary nations, the government is more closely tied to the particular prime minister/president and the party that controls the government at a given time, i.e, the Thatcher government or the Labor government.

Books on Government

Why Is Government Necessary?

Most people argue that some form of government is necessary, although their reasoning may differ. Those from a Christian background tend to argue that the problem of original sin and human depravity make government necessary. Others may argue that the complexity of life and interpersonal/international relations make some form of government necessary for adjudicating conflicts, protection of personal property from others within the group, or from invaders from outside the group.

People tend to differ on their view of how active governments should be. Those from a libertarian viewpoint argue that the state should only protect such things as life, liberty, and property, while leaving all other issues for private individuals to handle. Even people who argue for a more vigorous state vary in their opinion of how much government is necessary.

A few dispute the need for any government. Anarchists want no laws or government to impede their society, although this has not been officially tried on a large scale.

Governments are beneficial for promoting internal improvements such as roads, canals, ports, airports, and railroads. They are also beneficial for adjudicating disputes between individuals through court systems. Governments have traditionally been responsible for defending their subjects or citizens from outside harm. While some may argue that no government is necessary, a group consensus on a given situation that refers to precedent would still be a form of self-government on a small scale. The chaos that would ensue if everyone did what they wanted all of the time would necessitate the formation of government to protect the innocent and correct or punish the wrongdoers. While governments can be oppressive, in the opinion of Henry David Thoreau or Thomas Paine, they are necessary evils.


Mick Bert from Australia on June 04, 2016:

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Thanks great hub CP

Suzie from Carson City on April 26, 2016:

An excellent explanation of "government." Ours is much TOO BIG! There's much we could/should do to change things, make them better & more positive FOR the American people. However, it's all a long hard process that requires the expertise & determination of the majority. I maintain faith & hope that one day we'll be successful~~for our own good & that of the entire Nation.

Chris Price (author) from USA on April 04, 2012:

Thanks for the vote of confidence, John. I'm glad you enjoyed the hub. You are correct in your argument on Hobbes and Locke. You can't get to thinkers like Marx and Smith without building upon their understanding of political science. You also need capitalism for Marx, but that's another story altogether.

John Sarkis from Winter Haven, FL on April 03, 2012:

Great hub. I think Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau are three of the most important forerunners to modern political science. I don't think Adam Smith, Hegel, Proudhon or Marx could have been without them three.

Voted up


Chris Price (author) from USA on April 03, 2012:

Thanks for the vote of support and the share.

Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on April 03, 2012:

An excellent Hub, very well written and easy to understand. Thank you for undertaking this topic. Great job. SHARING

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