The government has been defined as the dominant decision-making arm (the policy elite) of the state. The latter has been defined (by the political economist Max Weber and later political philosophy) as the organization that holds a monopoly in legitimate use of violence within its territory. If seen in ethical terms, the definition of "legitimate" is open to discussion, and implies that an organisation may be considered a state by its supporters but not by its detractors. Some define "legitimate" as simply involving active and tacit support by the vast majority of the population, i.e., the absence of civil war. (An entity that shares military/police power with independent militias and bandits is not a state in this view. It may be a "failed state.") Democratic control over the government -- and thus the state -- would encourage the legitimacy of the state in this view.
Government can also be defined as the political means of creating and enforcing laws; typically via a bureaucratic hierarchy. Under this definition, a purely despotic organisation which controls a territory without defining laws would not be considered a government.
An alternative is to define a government as an organisation that attempts to maintain control of a territory, where "control" involves activities such as collecting taxes, controlling entry and exit to the state, preventing encroachment of territory by neighbouring states and preventing the establishment of alternative governments within the country.
The modern standard unit of territory comprises a country. In addition to the meaning used above, the word state can refer either to a government or to its territory. Within a territory, subnational entities may have local governments which do not have the full power of a national government.
Governments use a variety of methods to maintain the established order, such as police and military forces, (particularly under despotism, see also police state), making agreements with other states, and maintaining support within the state. Typical methods of maintaining support and legitimacy include providing infrastructure for justice, administration , transport, social welfare etc., claiming support of deities, providing benefits to influential groups, holding elections for important posts within the state, limiting the power of the state through laws and constitutions and appealing to nationalism. Different political ideologies hold different ideas on what the government should or should not do.
Various forms of government have been implemented or proposed. A government in a developed state is likely to have various sub-organisations known as offices, departments, or agencies, which are headed by politically appointed officials, often called ministers or secretaries. Ministers may in theory act as advisors to the head of state, but in practice have a certain amount of direct power in specific areas. In most modern democracies, the elected legislative assembly has the power to dismiss the government, though the head of state generally has great latitude in appointing a new one.
In British English, the word "government" sometimes refers to the cabinet, and is therefore a synonym for the word "administration" in American English (e.g. the Blair Government, the Bush Administration).
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