What is the government?

What Does government Mean

We explain what the government is, its functions and the characteristics of each of its forms. Also, differences with the State.

The government encompasses all the leaders of a community.

What is the government?

The government is one of the main operational pillars of all forms of state. It is in charge of exercising and managing political power , if we consider the executive branch of power (or executive power ). The term comes from the Greek word kybernéin , which translates to “pilot a ship”.


"Government" is called the set of leaders of a community , and within a republican State, the total of the ministers of a management , that is, the "cabinet" of a head of state, as well as the head of state same.

However, a broader definition of government includes the set of diverse administrative authorities, institutions and bodies that exercise the powers of the State , or that execute the functions of the State. That is, the political system through which a community regulates or manages itself.

Of course, it should not be confused with the State itself. The simplest way to differentiate them is that governments are temporary, but the state is not.

The first governments probably arose in human conglomerates whose economic activities were more complex, thus producing an economic surplus that was necessary to manage for its proper use.

However, throughout history there have been many forms of government and many changes that have suffered. Traditionally, depending on who or who exercise power, a distinction is made between:

  • Autocracies. Or forms of government in which power is exercised by a single individual and his clique.
  • Oligarchies . Or forms of government in which power is exercised by a powerful minority.
  • Democracies . Or forms of government in which power is exercised by a consensual majority.

See also: Oligarchy

Functions of a government

Governments must respond to irregular situations, such as a pandemic.

Governments are usually defined and limited by the respective constitutional texts that govern the political exercise of their countries, and that attribute powers, obligations and limitations to them. However, the most common is that the functions of a government include:

  • Exercise the defense and leadership of the State , both in military and territorial aspects, as well as in administrative and civil matters.
  • Conduct the internal policy of the State in matters of public order, citizen security , social services and economic life.
  • Conduct the foreign policy of the State, that is, the chancellery and diplomatic relations.
  • Administer the national budget and ensure the proper functioning of the State, within the provisions of the laws and in accordance with the legislative power .
  • Prepare political proposals and management plans for the State, as well as call consultations, referendums and elections.
  • Confront irregular or exceptional situations that may arise, both internally and externally, including wars , natural catastrophes , epidemics, etc.
  • Appointment of certain state authorities , as established by law and the National Constitution.

Forms of government

The Islamic Republic of Iran and the Vatican City are the only current theocracies.

At present, the different existing forms of government, that is, the models or systems through which political power is exercised in countries, can be summarized as:

  • Republics. Forms of State administration in which the rule of law is established, that is, the rule of law . They are not necessarily democratic, since democracy and republic are not the same, although they tend to be, insofar as the reappearance of the republics in the West was inspired by the ideals of equality , freedom and brotherhood of the French Revolution . These republics can be of different types:
    • Presidentialists. When an elected president occupies the head of the executive branch, whose functions are independent of the legislature. Examples of this form of government are the nations of Argentina, Turkey, the Philippines, Indonesia and Brazil, to name a few.
    • Semipresidentialists. Those republics in which the president is elected to occupy the executive power and designates a prime minister with whom he will share the leadership of the State, and whose tasks will respond to the legislative power. Examples of these forms of government are the nations of Algeria, Egypt, Haiti, Portugal, France, Russia and Taiwan.
    • Parliamentarians. In which the legislative power is the most important political force and a prime minister is elected from within it to exercise the functions of the executive power, under the control of the rest of the parliament. In some of them, a president is also usually elected, but who exercises only representative and ceremonial functions. Examples of this form of government are the nations of India, Armenia, Trinidad and Tobago, Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary and Greece.
    • One-party. When the executive power is in the hands of a single party that hegemonizes the control of the State, limiting or preventing the emergence of opposition and generally constituting non-democratic regimes. Examples of this form of government are the nations of Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, Laos, China and Eritrea.
  • Monarchies. In monarchies, the head of government is normally exercised by a monarch or king, a personal and life-long position, which can be hereditary or elected. It is a form of government that dates back to ancient times and flourished during medieval feudalism in Europe . Today they tend, at least in the West, towards more lax and democratic forms in which the monarch fulfills certain roles and is subject to the power of a parliament. These monarchies can be of the following types:
    • Constitutional. When the monarch or king reserves the right to appoint the government, that is, to control the executive power, and leaves the other public powers in charge of their respective institutions, such as parliament or the courts. It is a system that combines the republican separation of powers with the monarchy. Currently there is no such government, but there were many in Europe throughout the 19th and mid-20th centuries.
    • Parliamentarians. When the monarch or king has the formal position of the head of state, but actually fulfills ceremonial and representative functions, leaving the executive power in the hands of an elected Prime Minister, President or Head of government. In these governments there is a rule of law and the monarch is never above the law. Examples of this form of government are the nations of Belgium, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, Sweden and Thailand.
    • Semiparliamentary. Also called semi-constitutional, they operate as parliamentary governments with separation of powers and an elected Prime Minister, but at the same time there is a monarch with significant powers through which he can exercise total power over the different instances of the State. Examples of this form of government are the nations of Jordan, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Kuwait, and Monaco.
    • Absolute. When the government is fully exercised by the monarch, as happened in the governments of yesteryear. Surprising as it may seem, these forms of government still survive, in nations like Swaziland, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman or Brunei.
  • Theocracies. These are governments exercised by a religious institution, that is, by some type of church. There is no separation between State and Church, and its legislation corresponds to the legislation of the dominant religion. They are a minority in today's world panorama, but they were once predominant in the West, during the Middle Ages. Currently there are only the Islamic Republic of Iran and the Vatican City.
  • Military boards. Finally, we refer to the nations governed entirely by their armed forces, without any type of separation of powers, through a total regime that is normally transitory, but can also lead to a permanent dictatorship. An example of this today is the nation of Sudan.

More in: Forms of government

Difference between government and state

The government is a transitory institution, while the state remains.

Government and State are separate bodies and their confusion usually leads to serious scenarios of loss of the rule of law and the separation of powers. In fact, in totalitarian regimes and in the most brutal autocracies, state, government and ruling party can be amalgamated into one single thing, and that is when it is almost impossible for them to have an end.

The State is a primary instance of social and community organization , which through a social pact guarantees peace, coexistence and order, in exchange for giving it the monopoly of violence. There is a State where the law exists, and where human beings recognize themselves as part of a community.

Instead, the government is an ideally transitory institution, charged with the administration of the powers that citizens confer on the State, in the name of the common welfare and mutual happiness. The government is ephemeral, the state is not . The government represents a sector of the total population, while the State is absolutely all of us.

A useful metaphor to understand this would be that of a ship, whose captain and crew ensure that it navigates, that the crew is safe and orderly during its transit through the sea, receiving authority in return.

The ship, in its entirety, would be the State: even the stowaways are part of it. But the government is the captain and his merchant sailors, who manage the ship during that particular voyage. Thus, it is possible that, when the same passengers return home, the same ship will be manned and managed by others.

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