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The first aim of government is to secure the right to life; this comprehends the safety of fellow citizens as regards one another and the self-preservation of the country as regards foreign powers.
Life exists for the exercise of liberty, in terms of both natural and civil rights, and these, along with other specific functions of government, provide those conditions upon which men may pursue happiness, an end that is finally entirely private and beyond the competence of government.
Government has thus become the major or even the dominant organizing power in all contemporary societies.
The historical stages by which governments have come to exercise their contemporary functions make an interesting study in themselves.
The scope of government in the ancient polis involved the comprehensive regulation of the ends of human existence.
When the feudal world succeeded the Roman Empire, however, the enforcement of the sanctions of religion became one of the first objects of political authority.In those countries favouring social democracy, the government owns or regulates business and industry.Even in the free-market economy of the United States—where there remains a much greater attachment than in most societies to the idea that government should be only an umpire adjudicating the rules by which other forces in society compete—some level of government regulation, such as the use of credit controls to prevent economic fluctuations, is now accepted with relatively little question.Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.Join Britannica's Publishing Partner Program and our community of experts to gain a global audience for your work!