Government is an institution or system made up of people that takes care or manages a country or state. Generally speaking, governments have rules they follow to make sure their country or state runs smoothly and safely for its citizens. Governments come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are smaller than others, and each type of government has its own set of rules.
One of the main reasons why people form governments is to protect their personal property and other people from harm. This is why a police department exists, and why a military exists. Governments also provide stability and security at the federal, state, and local levels. For example, if your house catches on fire or someone breaks into it, the fire department and the police will try to protect you from harm without demanding payment. They do this because they provide a valuable service that cannot be replicated by private businesses (Figure 1.2).
Besides protecting personal property, governments also perform other important functions. They regulate public access to common goods like natural resources that are in limited supply. Governments do this so that a few people do not take all the fish in the sea or all the clean water, leaving the rest with nothing. Likewise, government protects the right of everyone to use common goods such as education, mail delivery, and road maintenance.
Another function of governments is to create and enforce laws. For example, a federal law might require that companies pay their employees fair wages and give them health insurance. In addition, a federal law might prevent states from entering into agreements that violate national interests. These laws help ensure the integrity of the nation’s economy and protect its citizens from harmful activities that could damage or even destroy it.
At the state level, government allocates money to such things as maintaining state colleges and universities, building roads and bridges, preserving forests, and managing wildlife. The federal government prioritizes funding for such things as social security, defense, and the maintenance of courts and prisons.
In order for a government to function properly, it must have a strong sense of legitimacy. According to philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and Albrecht Durer, legitimate governments emerge out of a “social contract” between the citizens of a nation. In other words, a nation’s citizens agree to allow a central government to impose laws and protect them from other nations and outside invaders.
The human race has experimented with many forms of government over the centuries. It has experienced the rise and fall of monarchy, imperialism, fascism, communism, and democracy, among other political extremes. However, no political system has yet to achieve a perfect balance between individual rights and the greater good. Nevertheless, governments continue to exist and evolve in an effort to solve this dilemma.