What Is Government?
Government is the activities, methods and principles involved in governing a country or other political unit. Its central function is to provide stability and security for citizens, which can be accomplished through various means. Government can also provide important services such as education, health care, law enforcement and mail service. Some governments are very large and have a wide scope of powers, while others are more limited in their authority.
Some important features of government include:
A centralized, top-down structure that exercises a monopoly over political power, often through the exercise of force. It is a form of rule that may be collective or individual, and it can be democratic, authoritarian or a combination of both. Government can be found in countries at all levels of development, from the local community to the world stage. It is the dominant form of organization in almost all societies and has the longest history of existence, originating in ancient times as the ruling class for tribes and then evolving into a wider range of forms with increasing complexity over time.
There are many different types of government, but all share the same basic function: to provide people with a measure of peace and security. This has required assertion of power over vast distances, the raising of armies, and the collection of taxes. It also has fostered literacy and numeracy and the emergence of bureaucracy, which in turn helped spread civilization.
While many people have strong opinions about the size and scope of government, most of us can agree that it has an important role to play in society. The way this is best achieved is through democracy, where people have the opportunity to choose their representatives. In the United States, our federal government consists of the executive branch (President and 5,000,000 employees), the legislative branch (Senate and House of Representatives) and the judiciary branch (Supreme Court and lower courts). In addition, there are many independent agencies with unique and specific functions, such as NASA, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency.
It is important to be familiar with the framers’ ideas about democracy, separation of powers and federalism, because these will likely appear as a multiple choice or free response question on the AP Civics or Government exam. In addition, it is helpful to understand theories put forth by political scientists that may be related to these topics.
One of the most interesting things to study about government is how the various branches interact with each other. This is referred to as the “checks and balances” system and is a cornerstone of our Constitutional democracy. For example, the President can issue executive orders, but Congress can override them. The Senate is required to give “advice and consent” before the President nominates Supreme Court judges, cabinet officers, department secretaries and ambassadors to foreign countries. Likewise, the judicial branch can interpret laws and rule on their constitutionality, but the executive and legislative branches can overturn these rulings.