Governments have the power to affect our lives in many ways. They determine what we are legally allowed to do, they decide how to enforce the law, and they choose how much money to spend on schools, hospitals, and other public services. But where do they get this power from? There are many forms of government, but every government should get its power from the people it governs.
Forms of Government
There are many forms of government, and some are more common than others. One form of government is monarchy, where a king or queen has power until they die or choose to give it up. A modern example of a pure monarchy is Eswatini, a small country near South Africa formerly known as Swaziland. Another form of government is theocracy, where rulers are believed to get their power from God.
The most common form of government in the world today is democracy, where people vote for others to represent them. But why do we need a system of government in the first place?
The ‘Social Contract’
In the seventeenth century, some European philosophers came up with the idea of the ‘social contract’ to explain why we need government. The ‘social contract’ is not an actual written contract, it is only a theory. It suggests that if we had no government, people would have no protection, so would always live in fear. In exchange for protection, people enter a ‘social contract’ in which they give governments the power to make laws that they have to follow themselves.
Consent of the Governed
It is important to remember that none of us have ever signed this contract ourselves. Therefore, the power of the government always depends on us being happy with them having power. This is known as the ‘consent of the governed’. It means that people are willing for their particular government to have power over them. Without this, a government is not legitimate. Being legitimate means having a right to govern that is justified. If a government is not legitimate, then it should be replaced.
For example, in 2014 the people of Burkina Faso protested against their President, Blaise Compaoré. He attempted to stay in power longer than the government’s own rules. Their protests forced the President to step down from power. His government was then replaced by a new one.
Power to the People
It is easy to think that governments have complete power over us. But in the end, governments can only get power from the people. Without the agreement of the people, their rule is not legitimate. When people are not happy with their government, they can show this through peaceful protest. When governments are not legitimate, people can remove them with their vote or their voice.