- This article uses content from the Wikipedia article on Government (edition) under the terms of the CC-by-SA 3.0 license.
In the social sciences, the term government refers to the particular group of people, the administrative bureaucracy, who enjoy a quasi-socially granted monopoly on the initiation of force. This monopoly is expressed as control of a (nation-)state at a given time, and the manner in which the group's governing organizations are structured. That is, governments are the means through which state power is employed. States are served by a continuous succession of different governments.
Each successive government is composed of a specialized and privileged body of individuals, who monopolize political decision-making, and are separated by status and organization from the population as a whole. Their function is to enforce existing laws, legislate new ones, and arbitrate conflicts via their monopoly on violence. In some societies, this group is often a self-perpetuating or hereditary class. In other societies, such as democracies, the political roles remain, but there is frequent turnover of the people actually filling the positions.
In most Western societies, there is a clear distinction between a government and the state. Public disapproval of a particular government (expressed, for example, by not re-electing an incumbent) does not necessarily represent disapproval of the state itself (i.e. of the particular framework of government). However, in some totalitarian regimes, there is not a clear distinction between the regime and the state. In fact, leaders in such regimes often attempt to deliberately blur the lines between the two, in order to conflate their own selfish interests with those of the polity.
The 14th century Arab scholar Ibn Khaldun defined the government as "an institution which prevents injustice other than such as it commits itself". The British philosopher-anthropologist Ernest Gellner considered Ibn Khaldun's definition to be the best in the history of political theory. For Ibn Khaldun, government should be restrained to a minimum for as a necessary evil, it is the constraint of men by other men.
Elements of Government The role of government is decided by the party with the necessary influence to establish it. In general, however, we have must have rules and the means to enforce them.
Rules are generally created through some process or interpretted by some process from a special source. Joseph Smith, the prophet, for example interpretted divine law with the Seer Stone and a hat. More mundanely, Americans elected politicians in nifty wigs to do the job.
To the extent that resources are taken from the industrious for public use, the rules must encompass the distribution of that resource pool.
Enforcement can take any number of forms, but the strategic use of force is generally effective. Agents of the state are typically granted special powers to accomplish the goals of the those who influence the rules and enforcement. These special powers are legal in nature, rather than super powers. The authorities possess no super powers, other than x-ray vision at airports.
Additionally, enforcement typically involves some system of judgment. These are also quite diverse. In some times and places, the community would act as an impromptu judiciary. Using their understanding of fluid dynamics and the buoyancy of witches, they relied on lake water to judge the accused. Juries, committees and dictators' whims are also quite popular ways of dispensing justice.
- "government". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. November 2010.
- Bealey, Frank, ed (1999). "government". The Blackwell dictionary of political science: a user's guide to its terms. Wiley-Blackwell. p. 147. ISBN 9780631206958. http://books.google.com/books?id=6EuKLlzYoTMC&pg=PA147.
- Flint, Colin & Taylor, Peter (2007). Political Geography: World Economy, Nation-State, and Locality (5th ed.). Pearson/Prentice Hall. p. 137. ISBN 978-0-13-196012-1. http://books.google.com/books?id=GXz9xHdHeZcC.
- Barclay, Harold (1990). People Without Government: An Anthropology of Anarchy. Left Bank Books. p. 31. ISBN 1871082161.
- Holsti, Kalevi Jaako (1996). The state, war, and the state of war. Cambridge University Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN 9780521577908. http://books.google.com/books?id=5S_jQSUghsYC&pg=PA84.
- Gellner, Ernest (1992). Plough, Sword, and Book. University of Chicago Press. p. 239. ISBN 0226287027. http://books.google.com/books?id=CwZFV7J7Id8C&pg=PA239&dq=Gellner+Plough+Sword+and+Book+Ibn+Khaldun%27s+definition#v=onepage&q=&f=false. "(Ibn Khaldun's definition of government probably remains the best:...)"
- Nelson, Russell M., Elder (1993). A Treasured Testament. Ensign, July 1993. LDS. pp. 61.
- Contra Conventional Measures of the Growth of Government by Robert Higgs, July 2011