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- Governments make laws, rules, and regulations, collect taxes and print money.
- Governments have systems of justice that list the acts or activities that are against the law and describe the punishments for breaking the law.
- Governments have a police force to make sure people follow the laws.
- Governments have diplomats who communicate with the governments of other countries by having meetings. Diplomats try to solve problems or disagreements between two countries, which can help countries to avoid war, make commercial agreements, and exchange cultural or social experiences and knowledge.
- Governments have a military force such as an army that protects the country if other countries attack or which can be used to attack and invade other countries.
- The leader of a government and his or her advisors are called the administration.
Types of governments
The most common type of government in the Western world is called democracy. In democracies, all of the people in a country can vote during elections for representatives or political parties that they prefer. The people in democracies can elect representatives who will sit on legislatures such as the Parliament or Congress. Political parties are organizations of people with similar ideas about how a country or region should be governed. Different political parties have different ideas about how the government should handle different problems. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people and for the people.
A monarchy is a government ruled by a king or a queen who inherits their position from their family, which is often called the "royal family." There are two types of monarchies: absolute monarchies and constitutional monarchies. In an absolute monarchy, the ruler has no limits on their wishes or powers. In a constitutional monarchy a ruler's powers are limited by a document called a constitution.
An aristocracy is a government by the "best" people. A person who rules in an aristocracy is an aristocrat. Aristocracy is different from nobility, in that nobility means that one bloodline would rule, an aristocracy would mean that a few or many bloodlines would rule, or that rulers be chosen in a different manner.
Under a dictatorship, the government is run by one person who has all the power over the people in a country. Originally, the Roman Republic made dictators to lead during time of war. The Roman dictators (and Greek tyrants) were not always bad. The Roman dictators only held power for a small time. In modern times, a dictator's rule is not stopped by any laws, constitutions, or other social and political institutions. After World War II, many governments in Latin America, Asia, and Africa were ruled by dictators. Examples of dictators include Idi Amin, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and Gamal Abdul Nasser.
An oligarchy is a government ruled by a small group of powerful people. These people may spread power equally or not equally. An oligarchy is different from a true democracy because very few people are given the chance to change things. An oligarchy does not have to be hereditary or passed down from father to son. An oligarchy does not have one clear ruler, but several powerful people. Some past examples of oligarchy are the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Apartheid South Africa. A fictional example is the dystopian society of Oceania in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four. Some critics of representative democracy think of the United States as an oligarchy. This view is shared by anarchists.
The history and the theory of government
The simplest idea of government is those who rule over people and land. This may be as small as a community with some sort of board that looks after the goings on of those who live within it or something a little larger like a village or as big as a continent (like Australia and India).
Those people who rule the land can allow others to own it. It is a deed by government that gives this right in the way that laws describe. Some think they have the right to hold land without government permission. This view is called libertarianism. Others think they can do so together as a group with others if they live in peace, without government. This view is called anarchism.
Almost every place on Earth is connected to one and only one government. Places without government are where people follow traditions instead of government rules, small border disputed areas and the continent of Antarctica, because almost no people live there. For every other place on Earth there is a government that claims 'sovereign control' over it. The word "sovereign" is old and means "control by a King" (sovereign). Governments of villages, cities, counties and other communities are also subordinate to the government of the state or province where they exist, and then to that of the country.
It is from Kings and feudalism that modern governments and nation states came. The capital of a country, for instance, is where the King kept his assets. From this we get the modern idea of capital in economics. A government is said to regulate trade as well as to rule over land.
There are many theories of how to organize government better. These are called theories of civics. Because government is run by people who can be greedy, many people think leaders must be elected by some kind of democracy. That way, if government does not act nice, they can be replaced in the next election. Still many countries' governments are not a democracy but other forms in which only a few people have power.
There are many theories of how to run a government better, and keep people from hurting each other. These theories are part of politics. No matter how a government is chosen, it must do politics to keep power.