The Basic Concepts In Government [Definition]

For better understanding of government generally, there are some basic terms which you need to be conversant with. Government, as a field of study has its own concepts just like other fields such as medicine, law, sociology, philosophy, etc.

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Basic Concepts of government

In this article, we’ll briefly examine each of the basic concepts of government.


Basic Concepts of government
Political Power

Power refers to the ability of a person or a group of persons to force others to obey their orders. It is a concept of government which deals with the ability of a person or group of persons to force their decisions on others or to punish those who disobey their orders.

In a democratic State, political power is obtainable through election. In monarchy, power is obtained through succession to the throne. While in a military State, power is gotten through coup d’etat.


Authority comes out of the people's approval
It comes out of the people’s approval

Authority is the right which a leader has to rule. It is the recognition by the people that the leader has the legitimate right to make laws, enforce it and also punish law breakers. Due to this recognition, the people obey the rules of the leader.

Power and authority most times go together. Power is greater if backed up by the law.

One major difference between power and authority is that power can be gotten through force but authority is gotten through legitimacy; the people’s support.

Power is mostly seen in a military or autocratic State. While authority is seen in a democratic State.


Legitimate government comes through legitimate means.

Legitimacy is one of the basic concepts of government. It refers to the popular acceptance of a government, political regime, or system of governance by the people. It deals with the acceptance of government by the people.

A government is legitimate if it comes to power through the manner stated in the Constitution. This simply means that any government which comes to power by force is an illegitimate government.

Political culture and socialization

Political culture

Political culture refers to the attitude of the people towards politics. In other words, it refers to the behavior of the people towards political activities.

In a situation where the people has a bad political attitude, it is called Political apathy. On the other hand, where the people act very well towards politics, it is called Political participation. So, political participation is the opposite of political apathy.

Political socialization is the process through which the people acquire political culture. The kind of political culture which the people imbibe depends on the type of political socialization they have. If the socialization is favourable, then it will cause good political culture. But if it is unfavorable, then the political culture will be bad.


Concepts of government
Communal life

Communalism is a socio-economic system which allows property to be owned on communal basis. Some of these property include land, grazing land, fishing streams and fishing ridges. Under this system, farming and building are done communally. Other things like goats, sheep, cattle and so on are also included. In the same way, things are shared communally.


Sovereignty - a concept of government

Sovereignty is the absolute power or right to govern. In other words, it refers to theĀ  absolute freedom which a state has to take their own decisions without the interference of other countries. Independence and self-governance makes sovereignty complete.

One of the main qualities that make a state is sovereignty. Once a state or is sovereign, no other country can force it to do what it doesn’t want. A sovereign country has the right to do anything it wants and no other more powerful country will interfere.

In an international relation, each country respects the sovereignty of another.


Oligarchy is one of the terms in government which describes a government by few people. Oligarchy is a form of government where few people control the government. Powers of the government are in the hands of few persons.

A few people may come to power by seizing government from the King or Queen or whoever that is in power at the time.


This is a concept of government which focuses on land tenure rights. It talks about land ownership and holding by the landlord and subjects respectively.

Feudalism is a system of government based on the holding of land. Under this system, the feudal lord or the landlord is the traditional owner of land. He allows servants to hold and use the land but they must render certain services in return for the land given to them. This system of government existed in Europe during the middle ages.


This is a form of government which developed in Italy under Benito Mussolini. In 1919, Benito Mussolini organized Italian nationalists to oppose communism. After then, he established a doctorial government. The government had no respect for the fundamental human rights.

Fascism is a form of government based on obnoxious commands. The leader is regarded as the supreme. He is the law the and law is he.

In a fascist government, the leader has absolute power. No one can challenge him for any reason. The interest of the leader surpasses that of the subjects.

Drawing from the above features and description, fascism is defined as a form of government where all powers are in the hands of one man including all aspects of citizens’ lives.


Totalitarianism is a type of government which does not allow opposition. Rival parties or loyalties do not exist. Furthermore, totalitarianism allows one party system. Everyone belongs to that particular party.

Political powers belong to the leader such that no one challenges him even the party members. So, totalitarianism is a bad form of government.

SEE ALSO: The Constitution: Forms | Types of Constitution (Explained)


Democracy and it’s features

Democracy is a system of government where the people establish the government. Democracy is popularly defined as government of the people, by the people and for the people.

In democracy, the people choose their representatives through elections. The people can also remove those leaders through election. If they don’t like a particular government, they will vote in another representative.

Democracy started in Ancient Athens. It was a small city and the people came together take decisions generally. As the city began to increase in number of persons, they could not make decisions together. As a result of this, the need for representative government (democracy) came up. Since everybody cannot make decisions due to the large number, there is need to choose people who will always make those decisions on behalf of the people.

Moreso, democracy is a direct opposite of other doctorial form of government. It allows accountability. It also allows criticism and opposition of political parties.

Sovereignty belongs to the people in a democratic state.


Capitalism is a politico-economic system of government which allows the means of production and distribution to be in the hands of private individuals. In other words, it allows individuals to set up businesses, own them and also run them.

However, capitalism comes with minimal government interference. The government regulates the economic activities generally. They don’t allow the individuals to monopolize the market. Without the interference of the government, individuals can produce and sell it as high as they want it. But with the interference of the government, they can sell it relatively cheap.


This is another term of government. It is a politico-economic system which allows all the means of production and distribution to be owned and controlled by the State. No individual owns a business. All the business enterprises are owned and controlled by the State.

SEE ALSO: The Rule of Law: Meaning and Principles


Communism refers to a politico-economic system in which the State owns all property. The popular principle of this system of government is “from each according to his ability and to each according to his need“. Every citizen contributes according to his strength and receives according to what he needs.

A major disadvantage of communism is that it encourages laziness. Every citizen gets what he needs and not according to his labour. No new invention.


This is a form of government where a person or group of persons rule with absolute power. They rule without considering the wishes of the people.

This form of government existed in France during the time if Louis XIV. Nazi Germany and communist Russia are modern examples of autocratic rule.


This is one of the basic concepts of government. Autocracy is a form of government in which the best citizens rule. This concept originated from Greek where some of the Greek philosophers believed that the best citizens should rule.

Mostly, in aristocratic State, people of Noble birth or the wealthy usually rule. Therefore, aristocracy can also be defined as a government by the rich.


This is one of the concepts of government which describes lawlessness or absence of government. Anarchy exists in a State where the ruler is unable to rule effectively. In another development, it can also exist where there is no head of government in a country.


This is a system of government in which the subjects are expected to submit blindly to authorities. There is no respect of human rights in this form of government.


Tyranny is a condition in which the ruler exercises his absolute powers in a wicked manner. It is a bad form of government.


A dictator is a ruler with absolute powers and who uses such powers to dictate his will to the rest of the people. In other words, he makes laws with respect to his own personal interest. He doesn’t care about what the people need.

SEE ALSO: Meaning, Scope and Advantages of Government (Definitive Guide)

Last Words – Government Concepts

These are the few terms which a good government student needs to know. Other terms still exist. As you proceed in your government studies, you will meet more.

Finally, each of these basic concepts is very important. As a government student, you need them because it will help you communicate effectively.

The End.

SEE ALSO: Major Roles and Responsibilities of the Government

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