Government is the institution that has the power to manage a political unit, organization or more often, a State. The word government is derived from the Latin word gubernare which means “steer a ship or vessel.” Governments are usually organized into distinct institutions with specific powers, functions, duties and responsibilities. These institutions are called branches of government. The number of branches varies between governments as does the distribution of powers between them.
The most fundamental task of government is protecting the nation and its citizens from threats from outside the borders. The military and law enforcement are two examples of government protection services. Governments also provide public goods such as education, transportation, and mail service. These services are free of charge to the general public. Governments protect the natural environment by providing clean air and water. They also provide parks and recreation areas for the enjoyment of all.
These essential activities of government are accomplished through a system of laws and policies. These laws and policies can be either restrictive or liberal, depending on the values of the society in which the government operates. A basic principle of government is that laws should serve the common good rather than the interests of individuals or special interest groups. Governments should also promote the rights of individuals to life, liberty and property, as well as ensure that citizens are treated fairly and equally.
In order to accomplish their important tasks, governments need a variety of tools and resources. These may include the ability to tax and raise large armies, to develop plans for attack or defense, and to gather intelligence about their citizens and neighbors. Governments also need to be able to communicate with each other and to distribute information to their citizens. Governments need an infrastructure to support these activities, including a network of roads and railroads and an efficient way to deliver mail.
The first step in forming a government involves choosing which people will be in control of it. This selection can be by one person (autocracy), a select group of people (aristocracy) or the people as a whole (democracy). Different forms of government exist, but most governments are some form of democracy.
The United States is a democratic republic with a Constitution that defines the three levels of government – national, state and local. This system of government provides the following advantages to its citizens: majority rule with protection for minority rights, accountability of elected officials, checks and balances between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, limited government and a Bill of Rights. These features help limit the power of the federal government and prevent it from becoming too big, too fast. They also allow citizens to choose their leaders and provide a choice of competing political parties. These factors are the foundation for a democratic republic.