Typically, government refers to a civil government—local, provincial, or national. However, commercial, academic, religious, or other formal organizations are also governed by internal bodies. Such bodies may be called boards of directors, managers, or governors or they may be known as the administration (as in schools) or councils of elders (as in churches).
Growth of an organization increases the complexity of its government, therefore small towns or small-to-medium privately-operated enterprises will have few officials compared to larger organizations such as multinational corporations which will have multiple interlocking, hierarchical layers of administration and governance. As complexity increases and the nature of governance becomes more complicated,so does the need for formal policies and procedures. Some people, known as anarchists believe that societies would function better without a government as they disagree with both the efficiency and the morality of using violence as a means (They deny the supposed legitimacy that has been granted through social contract theories).
Types of government
- Constitutional monarchy - A government that has a monarch, but his/her power is strictly limited by the government. Example: United Kingdom
- Constitutional republic -- Rule by a government composed of representatives who are voted into power by the people.
- Democracy - Rule by a government where all [citizens] are represented but power is held by the majority.
- Dictatorship - Rule by an individual who has full power over the country. See also Autocracy and Stratocracy.
- Monarchy - Rule by an individual who has inherited the role and expects to bequeath it to their heir.
- Oligarchy - Rule by a small group of people who share similar interests or family relations.
- Plutocracy - A government composed of the wealthy class. Any of the forms of government listed here can be plutocracy. For instance, if all of the voted representatives in a republic are wealthy, then it is a republic and a plutocracy.
- Theocracy - Rule by a religious elite.
- Anarchism - Absence of government.  Anarchism is not a form of government—it is the belief that governments are harmful and unnecessary.
- Totalitarianism - Characterized by a state that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private life.
- Authoritarianism - Characterized by an emphasis on the authority of the state in a republic or union. It is a political system controlled by nonelected rulers who usually permit some degree of individual freedom.
The extent to which a government can be classified varies by degree. For example, Iran can be seen as democratic, authoritarian and theocratic while constitutional monarchies such as the Netherlands combine elements of monarchy and democracy.
Origin of government
For many thousands of years when people were hunter-gatherers and small scale farmers, humans lived in small, non-hierarchical and self-sufficient communities. However, 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:
The exact moment and place that the phenomenon of human government developed is lost in time; however, history does record the formations of very 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.
States formed as the results of a positive feedback loop where population growth results in increased information exchange which results in innovation which results in increased resources which results in further population growth. The role of cities in the feedback loop is important. Cities became the primary conduits for the dramatic increases in information exchange that allowed for large and densely packed populations to form, and because cities concentrated knowledge, they also ended up concentrating power. "Increasing population density in farming regions provided the demographic and physical raw materials used to construct the first cities and states, and increasing congestion provided much of the motivation for creating states."
Fundamental purpose of government
According to supporters of government, fundamental purpose of government is the maintenance of basic security and public order. The philosopher Thomas Hobbes figured that people, as rational animals, saw submission to a government dominated by a sovereign as preferable to anarchy.
These are examples of some of the earliest known governments:
- Sumer—5200 BC
- Ancient Egypt—3000 BC
- Indus Valley Civilization—3000 BC
- Yellow River Civilization (China)—2000 BC
- Jiroft Civilization-3rd millennium BC
Expanded roles for government
The fundamental purpose of government is to protect one from his or her neighbors; however, a sovereign of one country is not necessarily sovereign over the people of another country. The need for people to defend themselves against potentially thousands of non-neighbors necessitates a national defense mechanism—a militaryTemplate:Fact.
Militaries are created to deal with the highly complex task of confronting large numbers of enemies. A farmer can defend himself from a single enemy person—or even five enemies, but he can't defend himself from twenty thousand—even with the help of his strongest and bravest family members. A far larger group would be needed, and despite the fact that most of the members of the group would not be related by family ties, they would have to learn to fight for one another as if they were all in the same family. An organization that trains people to do this is an army.
Wars and armies predated governments, but once governments came onto the scene, they proceeded to dominate the formation and use of armies. Governments seek to maintain monopolies on the use of force, and to that end, they usually suppress the development of private armies within their states.
Increasing complexities in society resulted in the formations of governments, but the increases in complexity didn't stop. As the complexity and interdependency's of human communities moved forward, economies began to dominate the human experience enough for an individual's survival potential to be affected substantially by the region's economy. Governments were originally created for the purpose of increasing people's survival potentials, and in that same purpose, governments became involved in manipulating and managing regional economies. One of a great many examples would be Wang Mang's attempt to reform the currency in favor of the peasants and poor in ancient China.
At a bare minimum, government ensures that money's value will not be undermined by prohibiting counterfeiting, but in almost all societies—including capitalist ones—governments attempt to regulate many more aspects of their economies. However, very often, government involvement in a national economy has more than just a purpose of stabilizing it for the benefit of the people. Often, the members of government shape the government's economic policies for their own benefits. This will be discussed shortly.
Social security is related to economic security. Throughout most of human history, parents prepared for their old age by producing enough children to ensure that some of them would survive long enough to take care of the parents in their old age. In modern, relatively high-income societies, a mixed approach is taken where the government shares a substantial responsibility of taking care of the elderly.
This is not the case everywhere since there are still many countries where social security through having many children is the norm. Although social security is a relatively recent phenomenon, prevalent mostly in developed countries, it deserves mention because the existence of social security substantially changes reproductive behavior in a society, and it has an impact on reducing the cycle of poverty. By reducing the cycle of poverty, government creates a self-reinforcing cycle where people see the government as friend both because of the financial support they receive late in their lives, but also because of the overall reduction in national poverty due to the government's social security policies--which then adds to public support for social security.
Governments play a major role (with importance varying from a country to another) in contributing to the health of the cititzens. This role includes funding (directectly or indirectly via subsidies) and even managing the healthcare system. It also intervenes by elaborating Laws aiming at protecting the health of the citizens.
Governments play a crucial role in managing environmental public goods such as the atmosphere, forests and water bodies. Governments are valuable institutions for resolving problems involving these public goods at both the local and global scales (e.g., climate change, deforestation, overfishing). Although in recent decades the economic market has been championed by certain quarters as a suitable mechanism for managing environmental entities, markets have serious failures and governmental intervention and regulation and the rule of law is still required for the proper, just and sustainable management of the environment.
The government plays a central role in the education of the citizens. In particular it finances (directly or via subsidizing) a huge portion of the educational system (Schools, Universities, continuous education).
Aspects of government
Governments vary greatly, and the situation of citizens within their governments can vary greatly from person to person. For many people, government is seen as a positive force.
Upper economic class support
Governments often seek to manipulate their nations' economies — ostensibly for the nations' benefits. However, another aspect of this kind of intervention is the fact that the members of government often take opportunities to shape economic policies for their own benefits. For example, capitalists in a government might adjust policy to favor capitalism, so capitalists would see that government as a friend. In a feudal society, feudal lords would maintain laws that reinforce their powers over their lands and the people working on them, so those lords would see their government as a friend. Naturally, the exploited persons in these situations may see government very differently.
Support for democracy
Government, especially in democratic and republican forms, can be seen as the entity for a sovereign people to establish the type of society, laws and national objectives that are desired collectively.
Government can benefit or suffer from religion, as religion can benefit or suffer from government. While governments can threaten people with physical harm for observed violations of the law, religion often provides a psychological disincentive for socially destructive or anti-government actions. Religion can also give people a perceived sense of peace and resolve even when they are in trying circumstances, and when an individual's religious beliefs are aligned with the government's, that person will tend to see government as a friend—especially during religious controversies. Although, multiculturalism makes this relevant to a far less degree.
Social contract theorists, such as Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rosseau, believe that governments reduce people's freedom/rights in exchange for protecting them, and maintaining order. Many people question however, whether this is an actual exchange (where people voluntarily give up their freedoms), or whether they are taken by threat of force by the ruling party.
Other statist theorists, like David Hume, give different definitions of legitimacy as they disagree with social contract theory.
Negative Aspects of Government
In the most basic sense, people of one nation will see the government of another nation as the enemy when the two nations are at war. For example, the people of Carthage saw the Roman government as the enemy during the Punic wars.
In early human history, the outcome of war for the defeated was often enslavement. The enslaved people would not find it easy to see the conquering government as a friend.
There is a flip side to the phenomenon of people's ability to view a government as a friend because they share the government's religious views. People with opposing religious views will have a greater tendency to view that government as their enemy. A good example would be the condition of Catholicism in England before the Catholic Emancipation. Protestants—who were politically dominant in England—used political, economic and social means to reduce the size and strength of Catholicism in England over the 16th to 18th centuries, and as a result, Catholics in England felt that their religion was being oppressed.
Whereas capitalists in a capitalist country may tend to see that nation's government as their friend, a class-aware group of industrial workers—a proletariat—may see things very differently. If the proletariat wishes to take control of the nation's productive resources, and they are blocked in their endeavors by continuing adjustments in the law made by capitalists in the government, then the proletariat will come to see the government as their enemy—especially if the conflicts become violent.
The same situation can occur among peasants. The peasants in a country, e.g. Russia during the reign of Catherine the Great, may revolt against their landlords, only to find that their revolution is put down by government.
Critical views and alternatives
The relative merits of various forms of government have long been debated by philosophers, politicians and others. However, in recent times, the traditional conceptions of government and the role of government have also attracted increasing criticism from a range of sources. Some argue that the traditional conception of government, which is heavily influenced by the zero-sum perceptions of state actors and focuses on obtaining security and prosperity at a national level through primarily unilateral action, is no longer appropriate or effective in a modern world that is increasingly connected and interdependent. One such school of thought is human security, which advocates for a more people-based (as opposed to state-based) conception of security, focusing on protection and empowerment of individuals. Human security calls upon governments to recognise that insecurity and instability in one region affects all and to look beyond national borders in defining their interests and formulating policies for security and development. Human security also demands that governments engage in a far greater level of cooperation and coordination with not only domestic organisations, but also a range of international actors such as foreign governments, intergovernmental organisations and non-government organisations.
Whilst human security attempts to provide a more holistic and comprehensive approach to world problems, its implementation still relies to a large extent on the will and ability of governments to adopt the agenda and appropriate policies. In this sense, human security provides a critique of traditional conceptions of the role of government, but also attempts to work within the current system of state-based international relations. Of course, the unique characteristics of different countries and resources available are some constraints for governments in utilising a human security framework.
Anarchists are those who disagree with using government violence as a means to solve complex social issues - or, in other words, they are those who find that explicit consent is necessary for legitimacy within a collective group or government. There are many forms of anarchist theories but under anarchy, these many different groups and individuals would seemingly need to deal with each other in the same way that people deal with their neighbors in the real world. Some anarchists, such as anarcho-syndicalists or anarcho-primitivists, advocate egalitarianism and non-hierarchical societies while others, such as anarcho-capitalists, advocate free markets, individual sovereignty and freedom.
Critics of Governmental Role, Legitimacy and Efficiency
- Noam Chomsky
- Friedrich Hayek
- Michel Foucault
- Robert Nozick
- Ludwig von Mises
- Murray Rothbard
- Lysander Spooner
- Henry David Thoreau
Types of governance
- Kenoyer, J. M. Ancient Cities of the Indus Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998
- Possehl, Gregory L. Harappan Civilization: A Recent Perspective. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1993
- Indus Age: The Writing System. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996
- “Revolution in the Urban Revolution: The Emergence of Indus Urbanisation,” Annual Review of Anthropology 19 (1990): 261–282.
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