A government is the system by which a state or community is governed. In the case of its broad definition, government normally consists of legislative, executive and judicial. Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state. A form of government, or form of state governance, refers to the set of political systems and institutions that make up the organization of a specific government. States are served by a continuous succession of different governments.
Each successive government is composed of a body of individuals who control and exercise control over political decision-making. Their function is to make and enforce laws and arbitrate conflicts. 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. Government of any kind currently affects every human activity in many important ways.
For this reason, political scientists generally argue that government should not be studied by itself; but should be studied along with anthropology, economics, history, philosophy, science, and sociology. Every modern government deals with the leadership task by creating a mix of political and administrative officials at top. The fundamental puzzle is how to set that mix: political officials provide a larger measure of responsiveness, while career administrators bring a larger measure of professional competition.
American government and politics are extraordinarily complex. The framers of the United States Constitution divided governmental power and responsibility both among the legislative, executive, and judicial branches and, again, federally between the national government and the states. Although this complexity was designed to disperse power in American politics, it has also placed significant burdens on citizens seeking to participate in politics and to influence government policy.
Government is the term generally used to describe the formal institutions through which a land and its people are ruled; the term refers as well to institutions as simple as a tribal council and more complex establishments known as “states. ” Governments vary both in terms of the number of people included in government decision making and the extent of the government’s authority. Autocracies are governments ruled by a single individual. Oligarchies are ruled by a small group of people. Democracies permit citizens to play a significant part in the governmental process. Constitutional governments recognize and often codify broad limits on their authority.
Authoritarian governments are checked (often reluctantly) by other political, economic, and social institutions. Totalitarian governments recognize no formal limits on their authority. Politics refers to the conflicts and struggles that exist within organizations over the organizations’ leadership, structures, and policies. Political participation can take many forms including running for office, voting or joining a political party, contributing money to a political candidate or cause, lobbying, joining a group, writing a letter or otherwise communicating to others about politics, and many other activities.
Although politics involves many different activities, there are underlying patterns or “principles” that help us to categorize and understand politics better. The American separation of powers, in contrast to European systems, leaves the president less in command of administrative agencies than are European executives, who have more administrative freedom. In parliamentary systems, leaders can count on legislative support because their party or coalition has the most votes.
The U. S. president, in contrast, faces a Congress that engages in active oversight and intervention in administrative agencies affairs and often confronts a situation in which one or both houses are under the opposite party’s control. The Principles for Government start with the assertion that public office is a public trust. The moral obligation to view government and the use of public power as stewardship is found in and supported by most religious and ethical traditions. In the modern era of bureaucratic legalisms, this important moral grounding for justice has been more and more overlooked.
Thus, a vacuum in our appreciation of what is expected from politicians and public officials has contributed to our current malaise. The Caux Round Table offers the following Principles for Government which they derive from two ethical ideals: “Kyosei” and “Human Dignity”. The Japanese concept of “Kyosei” looks to living and working together for the common good while the moral vision of “Human Dignity” refers to the sacredness or value of each person as an end, not simply as a means to the fulfillment of others’ purposes or even of majority demands. 1.
Public power is held in trust for the community. Power brings responsibility; power is a necessary moral circumstance in that it binds the actions of one to the welfare of others. Therefore, the power given by public office is held in trust for the benefit of the community and its citizens. Officials are custodians only of the powers they hold; they have no personal entitlement to office or the prerogatives thereof. Holders of public office are accountable for their conduct while in office; they are subject to removal for malfeasance, misfeasance or abuse of office.
The burden of proof that no malfeasance, misfeasance or abuse of office has occurred lies with the office holder. The state is the servant and agent of higher ends; it is subordinate to society. Public power is to be exercised within a framework of moral responsibility for the welfare of others. Governments that abuse their trust shall lose their authority and may be removed from office. 2. Discourse should guide application of public power.
Public power, however allocated by constitutions, referendums or laws, shall rest its legitimacy in communicative action and discourse among autonomous moral agents who constitute the community to be served by the government. Free and open discourse, embracing independent media, shall not be curtailed except to protect legitimate expectations of personal privacy, sustain the confidentiality needed for the proper separation of powers, or for the most dire of reasons relating to national security. 3. The Civic Order must not forget its duties to citizens. Public power constitutes a civic order for the safety and common good of its members.
The civic order, as a moral order, protects and promotes the integrity, dignity, and self-respect of its members in their capacity as citizens and, therefore, avoid all measures, oppressive and other, whose tendency is to transform the citizen into a subject. The state shall protect, give legitimacy to, or restore all those principles and institutions which sustain the moral integrity, self-respect, and civic identity of the individual citizen, and which serve to inhibit the processes of civic estrangement, dissolution of the civic bond, and civic disaggregation.
This protects the citizen’s capacity to contribute to the well-being of the civic order itself. 4. Corruption may not be condoned. Public office is not to be used for personal advantage, financial gain or as a prerogative manipulated by arbitrary personal desire. Corruption – financial, political and moral – is inconsistent with stewardship of public interests. Only the Rule of Law is consistent with a principled approach to use of public power. 5. Security of persons, individual liberty and ownership of property are the foundation for individual justice.
The civic order, through its instrumentalities, shall provide for the security of life, liberty and property for its citizens in order to insure domestic tranquility. The civic order shall defend its sovereign integrity, its territory, and its capacity to pursue its own ends to the maximum degree of its own choice and discretion, within the framework of international law and principles of natural justice. 6. Justice shall be provided. The civic order and its instrumentalities shall be impartial among citizens without regard to condition, origin, sex or other fundamental, inherent attributes.
Yet the civic order shall distinguish among citizens according to merit and desert where rights, benefits or privileges are best allocated according to effort and achievement, rather than as birth-rights. The civic order shall provide speedy, impartial and fair redress of grievances against the state, its instruments, other citizens and aliens. The Rule of Law shall be honored and sustained, supported by honest and impartial tribunals and legislative checks and balances. 7. General welfare contemplates improving the well-being of individual citizens.
The state shall nurture and support all those social institutions, most conducive to the free self-development and self-regard of the individual citizen. Public authority shall seek to avoid, or to ameliorate conditions of life and work which deprive the individual citizen of dignity and self-regard or which permit to powerful citizens the exercise of dateless opportunities of exploitation of the weak. The state has a custodial responsibility to manage and conserve the material and other resources that sustain the present and future well-being of the community Government is not benign, but it is necessary.
The only way to protect human freedom from government’s enormous power is to contain it inside agreed-upon boundaries, where it can administrate its essential functions well. Whatever is agreed upon today will not remain static for tomorrow. Freedom-loving people must take their place at the discussion table and remain there, patiently, persistently and persuasively debating government’s essential role. These discussions should bear fruit at the ballot box. We will always be tempted to elect citizens who promise to pass laws to benefit us or a small group of people for a short period of time. But this is short-sighted and dangerous.
Self-governance is the essential nurturing place for liberty. In the end, reorganizing government to deliver the goods more efficiently doesn’t matter much if we haven’t answered the more essential question: What is the proper role of government? Countries around the globe will answer that question differently, depending on tradition, culture and who’s in charge at the time. Essentially it boils down to this: Those of us who believe in human liberty should make our case whenever and wherever possible. At some point in time, opportunity is created, and we freedom-loving reformers should be on hand to seize the opportunity.