Skip to main content Skip to Search Box
Summary Article: government from The Columbia Encyclopedia

system of social control under which the right to make laws, and the right to enforce them, is vested in a particular group in society. There are many classifications of government. According to the classical formula, governments are distinguished by whether power is held by one man, a few, or a majority. Today, it is common to distinguish between types of government on the basis of institutional organization and the degree of control exercised over the society. Organizationally, governments may be classified into parliamentary or presidential systems, depending on the relationship between executive and legislature. Government may also be classified according to the distribution of power at different levels. It may be unitary—i.e., with the central government controlling local affairs—or it may be federated or confederated, according to the degree of autonomy of local government. The basic law determining the form of government is called the constitution and may be written, as in the United States, or largely unwritten, as in Great Britain. Modern governments perform many functions besides the traditional ones of providing internal and external security, order, and justice; most are involved in providing welfare services, regulating the economy, and establishing educational systems. The extreme case of governmental regulation of every aspect of people's lives is totalitarianism.

  • See R. M. MacIver, The Web of Government (rev. ed. 1965);.
  • S. H. Beer, Patterns of Government (3d ed. 1973);.
  • Almond, G. A.;Powell, G. B., Comparative Politics: A Developmental Approach (1966);.
  • Finer, S. E., Comparative Government (1970).
The Columbia Encyclopedia, © Columbia University Press 2017

Related Credo Articles

Full text Article Government
Encyclopedia of Governance

The term government comes from the Greek word kubernân , which means steering a ship. The analogy with navigation and technical expertise has...

Full text Article government
A Glossary of Political Theory

A concept that is often used as a synonym for the state . Where government is differentiated from the state, it is usually taken to describe...

Full text Article government
Collins Dictionary of Economics

the primary decision-making body in a nation state responsible for national defence, maintaining law and order, etc. Government's economic role...

See more from Credo