Government: Definition, Purpose & Types

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  • 0:02 Government
  • 0:42 Purpose of Governments
  • 2:01 Types of Government
  • 4:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore the concept and forms of government and discover how different types of government use and control their power. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.


Hey, you know what we should do today? We should start a government. A government is the system by which a state or community is governed. Sometimes, it can also refer to the body of leaders who control a state. In either sense, a government directly influences the lives of the people under its control. Government determines rights of the people, the laws by which they must live their lives, and the penalties for breaking those laws. So to start a government, we need to have a state, or a political and geographical territory. There we go. Let's call it Videolia. And now we can start building up our government to control Videolia.

Purpose of Governments

Before we make our government, we should discuss why human societies have governments. It's important to remember that not all societies in history had governments. Many did just fine without them until they reached a certain size. After societies became large enough, it is very difficult to remain unified without something to organize people and resources. This is where government comes in. The government collects resources, from money to food, organizes people into areas where they are needed, and passes laws to maintain order and stability. Laws are especially important to governments because they define social order. People who break the laws are seen as a threat to overall order and peace and are arrested.

Governments kept society organized, but also kept them safe, especially in ancient times. You see, for a government to exist, people often have to give up individual freedoms. Rather than doing what they want, the government tells them what to do. Many people throughout history accepted this because the government was able to protect them. By collecting taxes in the form of grain, governments in ancient Egypt had extra food in case there was a drought and could give grain to people whose farms failed to grow enough. By collecting taxes as money, governments in medieval Asia could pay for armies that protected their people from invaders.

Types of Government

Despite the fact that governments provide similar basic functions, there can be many, many kinds of government. Some ways to define government include the sort of leadership, the relationship between leaders and people, the amount of limitations on the power of the government, and the process of selecting or changing the government.

One of the most basic ways to define a government is by the power of the leadership. In a monarchy, a single ruler controls the government, such as a king or emperor. A monarchy may also be described as authoritarian because the government alone determines the laws. This is different than a system of government in which the people have a voice.

For example, a constitutional monarchy is ruled by a single leader, but their power is limited by a constitution that gives rights to the people.

Another example of a government with more equality is the republic, where people elect representatives to run the government. Governments that give more power to the people are very often democratic, which means that people have the power to vote, ensuring that their opinions are heard.

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