What Is the Purpose of Government?

We asked professionals to explain the importance and purpose of the government, and here’s what they have to say.

Paul Lachelier, Ph.D.

Paul Lachelier

Political Sociologist | Founder, Learning Life

The government serves the interests of the ruling classes.

For thousands of years of human history, the implicit or explicit purpose of government was to serve the interests of its rulers, be they monarchs, dictators, aristocracies, or ruling classes.

Only with the birth of democracy in ancient Greece around 500 B.C. does the idea of the government of, by and for the people arise. Since then, that idea has spread worldwide, but even the most developed democracies still disproportionately serve the purposes and interests of privileged groups.

Moreover, the popular notions that “government is best that governs least” or that government is best that just protects individual rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” make it easier for privileged groups to use government for their purposes.

Why? Because citizens busily pursuing their own happiness are too distracted or disinterested to notice when privileged groups (usually quietly) shape the government to serve their purposes.

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Rob Moore

Rob Moore

Principal, Scioto Analysis | Master of Public Policy, University of California, Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy

The government balances the goals and decides the mixture of policies for society.

When I think of the purpose of government, I always go back to the preamble to the United States Constitution, which succinctly puts forth the framers’ idea of what government is about:

We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

But what does this look like in practice? As an analyst, my job is to help policymakers conceptualize the tradeoffs between competing goals. Most people would agree that the government should work to grow the economy, reduce poverty and inequality, and help its citizens live more free, meaningful lives.

That being said, each tax, program, or regulation government puts in place impacts economic growth, the distribution of resources, and the health, education, and fulfillment of citizens in different ways.

Policymakers in a democracy are tasked with balancing these goals against each other and deciding what mixture of policies to adopt to achieve the above outcomes in ratios that its citizens support.

Dr. Heather L. Katz

Heather L. Katz

Assistant Professor of Political Science, Southwestern Oklahoma State University

The government seeks to balance the interests of the individual with the interests of the community.

Even at its barest—the libertarian’s “night-watchman state”—government pits the safety of the community against individuals’ liberty. Individuals must give up something, like taxes, to gain the state’s protection.

Disputes about the purpose of government stem from arguments about how far the government’s role in protecting and shaping the community should extend.

In Western democracies, we disagree about whether the state should provide things like healthcare and higher education, and whether the state should take an active role in shielding individuals from undesirable behavior ranging from not wearing seatbelts to drug use.

One of the most demonstrative policy disputes today is the debate over vaccinations. To what degree should the government mandate individual behavior it believes is in society’s best interest over the protests from individual citizens it claims to protect?

Na’ilah Amaru

Na’ilah Amaru

Advocacy and Policy Strategist

The government is rooted in the power of the people.

As such, the purpose of government is to reflect the public will and govern in the public interest. The question becomes, how does government as an institution determine who represents the “public?’

America’s diversity is its greatest strength and the deepest source for tension. The battles that are birthed from that conflict are reflected in the process of government decision-making for budgets, policies, and programs. The challenge of government and the citizenry is achieving a meaningful system of grassroots governance.

Our tiered system of democracy fails a majority of the public and the consequence has been dire: eroded trust of government from the public it’s supposed to serve. By providing equitable access to influence government decisions, there is an opportunity for the government to fulfill its purpose of truly serving “We, the People.

Tina Willis

Tina Willis

Lawyer | Owner, Tina Willis Law

The government’s most important purpose is protection.

As a lawyer, my view of the government is probably more complicated than most would have.

Overall, I think the most important purpose of government is protection, which includes national security, personal security (i.e., laws that prevent harm & crime), safe infrastructure, care for the sick and elderly, and corporate regulation so that things like airplanes, semi-trucks, medications, and products & premises are safe.

Our government should also give us the best foundation for achieving freedom and happiness, but that requires equal opportunity and safety.

As a Florida accident lawyer, I am regularly appalled by the government’s failure to pass laws needed to protect us from unsafe conditions or products because, again, I think the government’s main function should be to protect us from harm.

Jason Patel


Founder, Transizion

The government deals with essential services.

The purpose of government is to provide essential services, fulfill the fundamental duties of safety, prosperity, and justice, ensure the rights of each human and protect the country so that its citizens, businesses, and organizations have the ability the pursue happiness, live a healthy life, and chase opportunities.

The government needs to ensure that the essentials run smoothly and that our populations are connected, which ensures that the country can grow. With growth comes more opportunities. And more opportunities equal great outcomes for our communities.

Finally, the government should ensure the existence and improvement of the conditions that will help citizens build a nation.

Frequently Asked Questions 

How do the different types of governments differ in their objectives?

Depending on their structure, system, and ideology, different types of government have different purposes and goals. Here are some important differences between the different types of governments:

Democracy: The purpose of a democracy is to give priority to the will of the people through free and fair elections. Democracies aim to protect individual rights and freedoms, promote equality, and ensure that government policies reflect the wishes of the majority of citizens.

Monarchy: Monarchies are based on a hereditary system of rule in which the monarch has supreme power over the government and society. The purpose of a monarchy is to maintain order and stability through the leadership of a single person.

Monarchies vary in terms of power and influence, but the interests of the ruling family often take precedence over those of the general public.

Dictatorship: Dictatorships are characterized by one person or group has complete control over the government and society. The goal of a dictatorship is often to maintain power and suppress opposition. Dictatorships may focus on maintaining law and order, enforcing strict regulations, or promoting the interests of the ruling elite.

Communist: Communist governments emphasize economic equality and eliminate social class distinctions through collective ownership of property and resources. The purpose of a communist government is to ensure that wealth and resources are distributed equally among all members of society.

Republic: Republics are based on a system of representation and aim to balance the power of the various branches of government to protect individual rights and freedoms. The purpose of a republic is to ensure that government policies and actions can be reviewed and held accountable.

While these are just a few examples, it is essential to note that each form of government has its own characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. In addition, the purpose of a government may change over time, depending on the evolving needs and priorities of society.

For example, a monarchy that once emphasized stability and order may shift its focus to promoting social justice and equality.

A government’s purpose depends on a complex interplay of factors, including its leaders’ and citizens’ values and beliefs and the challenges and opportunities presented by the world around it.

Is the purpose of government the same in every country?

No, the purpose of government is not the same in every country. The role and functions of the state can vary greatly depending on a country’s history, political system, culture, and social values.

For example, in some countries, the focus is on economic development, while in others, the focus is more on ensuring social well-being or protecting civil liberties.

In addition, different countries engage to varying degrees in areas such as health care, education, and infrastructure development. And even within a country, the purpose of government can be subject to debate and change over time.

Political leaders and citizens may have different ideas about what the government’s priorities should be and what role it should play. As a result, the purpose of government can change over time as circumstances and public opinion change.

What is the role of citizens in a government?

The role of citizens in a government is to participate in the democratic process by casting their votes for policymakers, engaging in peaceful protest or activism when needed, and speaking with elected officials about issues that matter to them.

Citizens are also responsible for following government laws and regulations, paying taxes to fund public goods and services, and serving on juries when asked to do so.

By staying informed and participating in the political process, citizens can help shape the direction of policy and the priorities of their government.

What happens when a government fails to fulfill its purpose?

When a government fails to fulfill its purpose, it can lead to a breakdown of order and stability in society and widespread discontent among citizens. This can manifest itself in many ways, including:

Unrest: Citizens may become restless and dissatisfied with the government’s failure to address their needs, which can lead to protests, strikes, and other forms of civil disobedience. These actions can disrupt daily life and lead to further tension between citizens and the government.

Political turmoil: When a government fails to perform its duties, it can lead to political instability as competing factions vie for power and influence. This can lead to a loss of confidence in the government and undermine citizens’ trust in the political process.

Economic impact: A government that fails to serve its purpose can also have negative economic consequences, such as high unemployment rates, inflation, and a decline in investment and economic growth. This can further exacerbate social tensions and lead to widespread frustration and dissatisfaction.

In extreme cases, government failure can lead to unrest, rebellion, or even revolution. This may be the case when citizens feel their government no longer serves their interests, and more radical measures are needed to bring about change.

In some cases, a new government may emerge from the turmoil, while in other cases, the situation may deteriorate further, leading to continued instability and chaos.

The failure of a government can have far-reaching consequences for society, including political, economic, and social impacts that can last for years or even decades.

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