"We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness -- That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men..."
- Thomas Jefferson (The Declaration of Independence)
What is the central purpose of a government? This is one of the most fundamental questions of political science and it would be instructive to ponder this question if you are a student of this field. Answering this question is understanding the nature of governance and the principles underlying its need. Depending on the type of government, one can have various answers for this question. In what follows, I present a generic view about the purpose of having a government, by looking at it, from the perspective of a democracy, which is the most successful form of governance (but certainly not the perfect one), known to man.
Prima facie, one of the primary objectives of any government is to create rules to protect a commonly accepted way of life. From prehistoric tribal rules to modern legislation, one of the primary motivations for their creation has been the protection of people and their property, from internal and external threats.
An individual sacrifices a quantum of his own personal freedom, to become part of and serve a community, a state, and a nation. In return for his sacrifice, the state or government offers him benefits, within a certain framework, which includes protection, equal opportunities to earn a living, and freedom, with certain strings attached in the form of taxation, and being subject to some rules of conduct.
The need for governance is a natural consequence of the fact that man is a social animal. For a society to stabilize and grow in peace, it is necessary that man becomes a political animal and adopts a particular type of government, that ensures internal stability and gets things done for the collective whole.
A government is any organization that holds the highest power in a region or a country and is the ultimate arbitrator in matters of public policy, law, and order. A nation state is defined by the existence of a government which has control over a nation's dominion. The three branches of government, which include the executive, legislative, and judicial system, are the three pillars on which the edifice of a democratic government rests.
There can be various types of governments, depending on how power is shared among the people. There are democratic regimes like USA, which elect their own government and at the other end, there are totalitarian regimes which hold power by force. The kind of government that is discussed here is a democracy. It is guided by a chosen set of principles, which are together assimilated into a constitution. Most decisions are made by a central government, that is made up of a set of elected representatives.
What is the Purpose of a Government?
Understanding the purpose of an established government is trying to comprehend the need for distribution of power in a society. Here are some of the most important reasons why governments need to exist.
Upholding Fundamental Human Rights
The primary purpose of any government is to uphold and protect the fundamental human rights of freedom, equality, peace, and justice for its people. Most importantly, what must be safeguarded is the freedom of thought, freedom to determine your own destiny, and above all, the right to pursue happiness.
Upholding the Constitution
Governments and religions have something in common; they go by the book. For a government, it is the constitution, that precisely specifies the role to be played by it. The body of elected representatives, the judiciary, and the entire government machinery has the primary objective of following the constitution, which clearly spells out the expectations of the people and above all, aims to protect human rights and freedom. It is also the responsibility of the legislative body of elected representatives to make amendments to the constitution and bring in new laws, that do better justice to people.
Maintaining Peace Through Enforcement of Law and Order
If we need to peacefully coexist, share the resources offered by nature, and protect the right to liberty, which belongs to every man, we need a government. A system like a society will not sustain without the backbone of law and order, as inherently, we are a highly individualistic species. Hence, the adoption of a rule of law, that is common to all.
The state needs to establish an impartial judicial system that can hand out justice and punish crime. The creation of an internal organization for implementing the rule of law (like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and State Wise Police Units) is necessary. This function includes safeguarding private property and the life of citizens.
Protect the Sovereignty of the Nation
Every government must safeguard its land and people from elements that threaten freedom of the nation. For these principles, it must build defense forces to protect its borders and economic interests. This is one of its most important functions. For this purpose, every country must maintain a land, sea, and air fleet to protect its borders from external aggression.
Create and Maintain the Monetary System
To make domestic and international trade possible and link the country with the international financial system, a government must create and maintain a central bank, that establishes the monetary system, which facilitates banking and commerce.
Implementing Economic and Social Reform
Another prime purpose of local, as well as federal government is to create laws that achieve economic as well as social reform. The policies of the government must be repaired or modified according to evolving needs and requirements of the country. This is done by unanimous vote of the elected representatives of people.
Collecting Taxes and Deciding the National Budget
The economic resources for provision of all the governance facilities and implementation of policies cannot be made available without collection of taxes from the general public. It needs to have an impartial taxation system for that purpose. For defense spending, paying government employees, paying bills, financing infrastructure, and for other such purposes, the government treasury uses the tax revenue. This spending is pre-planned, through a yearly budget, that decides where the funds must flow.
Create an Environment For Job Creation
Though it is not expected that a government directly creates jobs, it should indirectly create an economic atmosphere that helps small businesses to grow and create employment opportunities. Promoting enterprise of all kinds by ensuring that businesses get access to credit lines is important. Fostering the entrepreneurial spirit not only helps people get jobs, but also creates self-sufficiency within a country, and creates opportunities for international trade.
Maintain International Diplomatic Relations
The maintenance of diplomatic relations with neighboring countries and those spread around the world is an important purpose. For trade relations and knowledge sharing to occur, the national borders need to be opened through diplomatic channels to facilitate cooperation.
As far as the aspect of acting as a welfare state is concerned, I maintain the belief that there should be no free lunch, but everybody should have an equal opportunity to gain and master the means to earn that lunch. In this aspect, every country's government has maintained its own different position. Some prefer funding education and ensuring cheaper healthcare, while some prefer to let the private sector handle the job.
The points presented here, only touch the tip of the iceberg, as far as governance is concerned. There are a multitude of other reasons why we need a governing entity, which will require a tome to do complete justice. Despite the lofty ideals set by founding fathers in most countries, reality fails to live up to them, as difference of opinions, human greed, aggression, self-interest, and lust for power come in the way of good governance. Policies implemented by the governments look good on paper, but falter in implementation. However, despite the corruption and the growing influence of the corporations, there remains hope that we will evolve towards better governance. Hopefully, better leaders will emerge, that can steer the world beyond nationalistic and other differences, where humanity as a whole works together to fulfill higher ideals and collectively overcomes the challenges posed by the future.