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Defined as the regulation of public affairs, government is found in all or nearly all societies. “Public” sometimes includes a people or society as a whole but also the corporate groups and categories that compose it. Corporateness in this sense is defined by procedures for persistence through time, very often including birth into the group or category. Publics are macro statuses (see Status and Role), with determinate rights (such as possession of a territory) and obligations. In all or nearly all societies there are specialized statuses with regulatory functions. If membership in the status consists of a single person it is an office or quasi-office (i.e., a commission, which lacks the presumption of and procedures for effecting perpetuity of the status); if membership is plural it is college or council. Governments vary greatly in their scope, complexity, and determinate affairs. However complex a government may be, it consists of combinations of the specialized statuses just enumerated. In all even remotely complex societies there are governments within government.
Governmental activities are a product of politics (the ability to exert interests) and authority (the recognized right to effect decisions). The addition of authority to politics appears to distinguish humans from other species.
The boundary between the dominance of, say, an alpha male chimpanzee and of the leader of a hunting and gathering band is by no means sharp in the political sense. But even the most elementary of human governing agents enables and reflects a complexity of social organization not achieved in any other species.
The antiquity of the most elementary forms of human government is unknown.
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