What is Government? Types, forms of government and roles

US Capitol Representing Government Building

Table of Contents

What is Government?

The world is occupied by humans, and these humans need a government because they are numerous in number. This poses a threat to order and lawful living. In fact, the question of law will never come up if there is no mechanism put in place to craft laws. Thomas Hobbs and John Locke referred to that period as the ‘state of nature.’ The state of nature is the period when no form of established authority exists.  By implication, people were left to decide what life should be like for them.

What does a Government do?

Following this preexistence, the need for a system to guide the activities of people was established. The mechanism for checking the excesses of people became a necessity to salvage the weak and naive. This necessitated the establishment of government.

In this article, we will be looking at the government types. We will have a little overview of what a government is, the roles that the government plays in society.

Government Definition?

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines government as

1the body of persons that constitutes the governing authority of a political unit or organization: such as
  1. the officials comprising the governing body of a political unit and constituting the organization as an active agency
  2. the executive branch of the U.S. federal government
  3.  a small group of persons holding simultaneously the principal political executive offices of a nation or other political unit and being responsible for the direction and supervision of public affairs
  1. the organization, machinery, or agency through which a political unit exercises authority and performs functions and which is usually classified according to the distribution of power within it
  2. the complex of political institutions, laws, and customs through which the function of governing is carried out
3the act or process of governing specificallyauthoritative direction or control
Considering the definition above definition, we can assert that government is an institution established by law to exercise authority and monitor the activities of the citizenry and to ensure that all goes smoothly within the state. Government is concerned with the well-being of the inhabitants within its jurisdiction. It was originally established as a matter of trust, where several individuals come together and lease out their individual powers to a few for the common good of all.
Moreover, the existence of government is meant to ensure that people’s rights are guarded and respected. The government’s responsibility is enshrined in the legal books that guide the affairs of the land.

Some Features Of Government

The institution of government in its totality has several features it possesses to make it a formal body of leadership. These features are:


This feature entails the acceptability of the government by the citizens and other members of the neighboring environment. Every government must be legally accepted by its citizens and other governments. However, there are peculiar governments that transit through illegal means such as coup d’eta and other authoritarian forms.

Political Power

Every government must possess political power to enable it to carry out its functions. It is the political power that equips them with the capacity to make and enforce laws and to provide needed amenities for its people. The government’s power also enables it to earn respect from other nations.


Every government must own a means through which it generates funds to aid in running the day-to-day affairs. Revenue is an important feature for any government. Without revenue, many tasks will be left unattended by any government because even small organizations run on money and talk more of a government.


One important quality a government possesses is that it experiences change. In essence, there is usually a transition from one government to another.  No government stays forever because opportunity must be given to other people to offer their own qualities of leadership. Change in government is also necessary for checking excesses of government officials who might want to use the opportunity for exploitative reasons.


Every government must possess a body of laws, norms, and principles, conventions, and customs that guide its existence. As a matter of fact, for a government to exist, it needs a constitution to state how it comes about. The constitution is essential for stating the responsibilities of government and the rights and obligations of citizens.


This refers to the political society established to enhance government performance. Government must possess institutions that enable it judiciously operate without bias. Such institutions could result from the structure of the government and they may include: ministries and agencies.
The above features are possessed by various governments on a general note. However, there are different government types and each has qualities that are peculiar to it. In this article, we will be considering several different types of government. Different nations have different types of government which uniquely suit their backgrounds.

Government Types

Many different forms of government exist and possess quite many features that are exclusively peculiar to them. In this article, we will be looking at as many government types as possible. These types are as follows:


Voting as a sign of Democratic Government

For a while now, democracy has shown itself to be a popularly accepted and practiced norm in society. Its existence has been for centuries now. We have a new world order that has walked only towards democracy, thereby making it important to consider it first.
The provisions of democracy are vests power in the hands of the majority. This means that before a matter is said to be accepted, it must reach the hearts of the majority of the populace within a said geographical location. This means that democracy is a government that depends on the majority.


Democracy in its simplest form can be referred to as a government system where the people are involved in the governance of their land either actively or passively. It is a system that depends on the choices of the majority.

Democracy has been defined in different ways by different scholars and thinkers. The definition of all these thinkers drives towards one direction which is the people in political governance. One of such popular definitions is the one by Abraham Lincoln, the former American President. He defined it as the government of the people, for the people, and by the people. This definition might appear to have some sort of limitations by factual practice.

Democracy has two sides, the first is the one where participation is direct, and citizens sit together to deliberate and make decisions on matters that affect them. This form of democracy is the unpopular one. it is old-fashioned and is less likely practiced in formal political settings.

The second form of democracy is the type in which people choose legislators who would represent their interests in government. The legislators are the ones who are practically in government and their mandate is to make decisions in the interest of the people who have elected them. This form of democracy is the popularly practiced and the one simpler to operate considering the population and administrative processes.

Some Features of Democracy

Rule of Law

The rule of law places everyone to be subject to the law. It entails that the law is above everyone within the state and anyone can seek redress from a court of law in cases of grievances. The rule of law ensures justice and facilitates checks on the government of the day.

Periodic Election

In a democracy, the process for changing leadership is a consistent one. It ensures that elections are carried out within a particular interval to give other people the opportunity to be in governance. This is a major feature of democracy to ensure that power is not excessively abused.

Separation of Power

Democracy is a system that strives to dissuade autocratic rule which is a result of the concentration of power in one arm of government. In a democracy, power is decentralized to limit an individual from misusing excessive power within his reach. The concept of separation of power distributes the responsibilities and powers of government among separate bodies.

Fundamental Human Rights

A democratic system equips citizens with certain rights that they can exercise. These rights are protected by the government and its agencies as enshrined in the constitution of the country. The rights of citizens entail their freedom to exercise free will on matters that are legally allowed. Examples of such fundamental human rights include freedom of speech, freedom of movement, freedom of association, and so on.


Democracy is often ushered in by the existence of a constitution, which is the document that facilitates its creation. The constitution states the type of government that is adopted, the system of leadership, the rights o the citizens, as well as their obligations, the responsibilities of the government, and so. The presence of a constitution makes it easy for laws to be made and executed.

Operation of Political Parties

Political Parties are like channels through which candidates emerge to contest elections. These political parties are more like ideological entities where people are shaped based on their beliefs and principles. Political parties also play the role of checks and balances on the government of the day by raising objective criticisms.


Oligarchy is a type of government whose system depends on rule by a few individuals for selfish reasons due to their social, economic, political, religious, educational, etc inclinations. The rule in an Oligarchy is largely about the selfish gains of the people in government.  Mostly, this system is associated with corruption and autocracy of the ruler(s) over the ruled.
Oligarchy is mostly triggered by the selfishness and ignorance of the people who sell out their rights and privileges for the little things they stand to gain from the little elites. Oligarchy is normally synonymous with Totalitarianism because the leadership is often dictatorial in nature.
The term Oligarchy is only different from Plutocracy because of the emphasis on selfish gains and corruption. While Plutocracy considers a pluralistic benefit, Oligarchy is mostly concerned about satisfying the few people in power.
Oligarchy may not have been given a constitutional provision to exist, all it needs is for the practice to be initiated and sustained. An Oligarchy may exist alongside other forms of government. For example, it has been argued that Oligarchy thrives well in a democratic regime because so much leverage is bestowed on citizens and institutions. It has also been speculated that American Capitalism is a typical example of an Oligarchy. This is because a tiny fraction of the American population can do the unthinkable and they can use their money to buy a lot of access that only the law can grant.
In fact, Robert Michels propounded in his book published in 1911 titled ‘Political Parties’ that all forms of government have the propensity to become n Oligarchy. This development results from the fact that even democracy, provided it is not direct, gives room for the representatives to increase their power over the masses.

Some Forms of Oligarchy

Oligarchy in itself exists as a result of some forms of government. In essence, Oligarchy depends on the existence of democracy for instance, or dictatorship to thrive. We will consider a few forms of Oligarchy.


This is a form of governance that depends on the elite class to run the affairs of the state. It normally results from their affiliations with royalty which births economic and social privileges in the society. This system was said to have been of Greek origin, practiced between 621 to 528 BC. Also, the term was derived from the Greek term “aristokratia” meaning “the rule of the best born”


Also of Greek origin, the term is derived from two Greek words “ergates” meaning worker, and “cratia” meaning government. Ergatocracy, therefore, means a government by the working class. The system somewhat replicates a communist style which enhances equality especially when it comes to wealth allocation. It is obviously an unpopular system of government that thrived in ancient days.


This is a form of government that gives room to geniuses to run the affairs of government. This style promotes rapid development because it only allows innovation, creativity, and problem-solving abilities to qualify as a government official. This is however an unpopular system that has been recorded basically in Canada and Germany.


This is derived from the Greek word “Krateros” which means “strong”. This implies that Kraterocracy is a form of government where the ruling power got to the position of authority because of their physical strength. The use of physical strength or force is the major source of authority by the people in power.


Meritocracy is the system of government where people who occupy the political seat of power are there based on merit, not necessarily wealth or some sort of physical might. What is taken into consideration is the wealth of knowledge possessed by that person, or how much contributions he has made in society.


Plutocracy is a system where the rich and wealthy are at the helm of affairs in the state. Their rein could be either direct where they make political decisions, or indirectly where they influence decisions made by people in government. This system is prevalent in many countries today as wealthy people have some sort of say in government decisions.


This is the system of government where military hands are given political authority over the state. This is not the same as a government taken over by a military coup. Instead, it is a government legitimately given to the military to have control over. It is asserted that ancient Sparta practiced a stratocracy


A Technocratic government is one in which the place of political authority is entrusted to people who possess expertise in certain technical areas. Such technocratic systems are in most cases practiced in some administrative systems like bureaucracies. It is also said that the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China are in such practice in recent times.

There some other types of oligarchy, however, we will stop at these few to look at other types of government.

Authoritarian Form of Government

An Authoritarian Government gets itself into power by force. In this type of government, the will of the people is absent and the government of the day rules with or without their consent. An Authoritarian government in most cases is dictatorial in nature, however, it differs a little from a dictatorship.

Authoritarianism is a government type that may hold elections, however, power resides with only a few individuals who call the shots. Such governments are normally out to equip themselves with the power to run things in the land.

The people are engaged during elections in this type of government, but results are mostly manipulated in favor of the Authoritarian ruler. To buttress further, let’s look at the three basic types of Authoritarianism as identified by scholars.

Types Of Authoritarian Government

Basically, Authoritarianism can be looked at in three areas, which is what we will consider in this article.

Military Authoritarianism

Military Authoritarianism is the system of government in which the military takes total control of leadership within a state. During this administration, the military is in control of the political heart of the state. The military calls the shot at any point in this type of government.

Military Authoritarianism takes place due to certain reasons which may include:

  1. Threats from outside the country against the security or political authority of that country
  2. Inconsistency of the government of the day, for instance, the government does not fulfill its mandate as entrusted by its people or exhibits bias in executing its functions
  3. When the military lacks the autonomy to operate within the ambiance of law to reach its goal as the defense mechanism of the state
  4. In some cases, selfish interest is the reason for military take over

Bureaucratic Authoritarianism

A Bureaucratic Authoritarianism vests some degree of power in the hands of bureaucratic experts who have had much experience in the field of administration and other technical functions. Bureaucratic Authoritarianism does not imply that these technocrats are directly ruling the state, however, it emphasizes an uneasy relationship between the military and the bureaucracy. In this situation, technocrats are given political offices to hold and bring up policies that will make the government look good.

Party Authoritarianism

Party Authoritarianism witnesses the presence of a political party in the government, however, the political party that is present is single and dominating. The party is the ruling one as well as the one that dominates.  This does not mean that other parties do not exist. Other parties exist, yet, they are under dominance by the ruling party.

In Party Authoritarianism, there is a little element of opposition that is overlooked by the day’s government. The system tries to show itself as a legitimate one by demonstrating some elements of democracy.

Monarchical Government

Government Castle for Monarch

Monarchy is a system of rule by a single individual who is given supreme authority as head of state. The ruler is referred to as the Monarch and his decisions stand sovereign in the land. In most cases, the Monarch gains his place of authority hereditarily. It is an inheritance that translates from generation to generation.

Monarchy is a government type whose system is associated with Kingdoms and Dynasties in most cases as entities of its rulership. However, in modern days, the system is mostly only applicable in small geographical settlements within a state.  Again, in most Monarchies, the head is either a King or a Queen.

In most systems where Monarchy is practiced, the rights of the King or Queen as the case may be, are obtained from some sort of sacred rights that are believed to be part of the Kingdom’s heritage. In some systems, the Monarch is someone who has been groomed to help in fulfilling the wish of the people and preserving the heritage of the people.

Monarchy in most cases is a result of heredity, however, there are instances where the Monarch is elected by a group of respected elites in the setting within which the system is practiced.

Types of Monarchy

There are basically two types of Monarchy that have received a wide range of recognition. These types of Monarchy are Constitutional and Absolute Monarchy.

Constitutional Monarchy

A Constitutional Monarchy is the type of Monarchy where the power of the Monarch is limited by the presence of a constitution. The constitution instructs the Monarch on how to govern and lead the people.

In most Constitutional Monarchies, the Parliament is present to check the excesses of the Monarch which restricts his powers. The Parliament helps in creating the balance in case the ruler is trying to become supreme in his leadership.

In some Monarchies, the Monarch only occupies the seat as a figurehead, while the real administration is executed by the head of Parliament and or Prime Minister. In some cases, the Monarch is consulted before certain political decisions that will affect the entire state’s interest are made.

Absolute Monarchy

An Absolute Monarchy just like the word implies vest some sort of absolute power in the hands of the Monarch. The system projects the Monarch as a supreme ruler whose authority cannot be questioned. It is believed in some political settings that challenging the supreme powers of the King is more like challenging the powers of God.

In an Absolute Monarchy, a constitution is usually absent because the words of the ruler are viewed as the existing constitution. When the King or Queen says a word, the words become the final authority that the state is expected to run with.

An Absolute Monarchy is not a popular system in contemporary society, especially, considering how democracy happens to penetrate societies of modern-day. However, there are countries with such practices, such as Saudi Arabia. The legislative and judicial functions are delegated by the Monarch. In such a case, it is said that “he who pays the piper dictates the tune”.

Monarchy can be an interesting system of government in cases where the Monarch happens to have the interest of the people at heart more than his and that of his family. However, the system can be a painful experience if a selfish ruler is crowned ruler over the people.

Totalitarian Government

Totalitarianism is a government type that vests power in its totality in the hands of the political party that is in government. This political party operates without restrain and sees any form of opposition as enmity with the state.

A totalitarian government replaces every existing legal structure, political values, and social traditions with a new one. In most cases, it is in pursuance of its intended goals for the state. Predominantly, the intended goals could cut across industrialization and a quest to conquer.

Totalitarianism normally comes with ideologies to help drive the state towards achieving the intended goals of the ruling party. These ideologies normally come with mechanisms to frown at any form of opposition and to stir the political sphere into chaos, should there be a situation of conflict.

In this system, law enforcement is normally carried out with some sort of magnified powers. Any act of resistance faces brutal treat by the police because the police are allowed to help impose the state’s ideologies on the people at all cost possible.

In this system, the state controls the individual life of citizens, their private lives are watched. There is no freedom to religious affairs at will, or to education, or even to one’s economic standing. The state exercises dominance on virtually every aspect of the citizens’ lives.

Types of Totalitarianism

Communist Totalitarianism

A Communist Totalitarianism is a totalitarian system practiced in a Communist dispensation because the totalitarian ruler operates in a system where the state is at the center of the economy. Therefore, we can say that Communist Totalitarianism controls the economy of all aspects of the state, including that of individuals.

A typical example is the Republic of North Korea under the Kim dynasty

Right-Wing Totalitarianism

The Right-Wing Totalitarian system is that which allows some individuals to exercise their economic freedom, while it is a system that denies individuals the right to exercise any form of political freedom. Some individuals are allowed to own properties of their own and live a certain level of flamboyant lives. Yet, no one is allowed to have separate political views from that which the government has shown.

Theocratic Totalitarianism

Theocratic Totalitarianism is that system where the individual or group who exercises political power in the state does so using religious doctrines. The emphasis on rulership is based on some sort of beliefs that rely on religious norms. This system dictates for the people what to do from some book which the religion believes to be sacred.

Similarly, good examples of such government types are Iran and Vatican City

Tribal Totalitarianism

This is a government type where the people who are at the helm of power exercise their powers for the interest of a certain tribe or ethnic group. For some reason, only the tribe whose interest is represented stands to benefit from most of the government policies.


This is not a government type in itself, it is rather the absence of an active government within a political environment. In most cases, this is a response of the people to the government’s breach of the trust given to them.

In the case of Anarchy, the government of the day has either unofficially relinquished its place of authority, or the people fail to recognize the existence of government for some possible obvious reasons.

Anarchy is often regarded as a system where the state has become stateless. In some cases, the apparatus for enforcing the law become loggerheads with the people, and everyone becomes their own government.

In some cases, Anarchy is a result of strong and well-equipped oppositions which make the land ungovernable for the government, irrespective of how well the government operates or not. Another reason that could give rise to Anarchy is when the government woefully fails in fulfilling its mandate as an agency of the state to implement quality policies and programs. Such a scenario may lead to the people’s revolt against the government.

Every government is responsible for its people’s well-being. The government has to provide the needed amenities for the people and protect their rights. In turn, the people have to carry out their obligations to the state. However, there are setbacks to the people’s response in carrying out their obligations. Sometimes, it’s because the government has failed in its duties, and other times, it is because the people are too dependent on the government.

One way the people can be free from the yoke of over-dependence on the government is by thinking of ways to start up a business.