One of the most truthy essays about what a government is can be found in Murray Rothbard, The Anatomy of the State. The essay changed my view of what government is, permanently. But perhaps we can be more succinct. A Reddit string tried just that:
The state is like a magician, they deal in very powerful magic. It is the magic of words. The state’s magic words create the illusion that things which everyone knows are bad are actually good when they are carried out by the state. Anarcho-Capitalists have seen through this illusion, but it is very powerful magic and most people are still under its spell.
Here are a few examples of some magic words.
Stealing is wrong, but when the state calls it “tax” then most people think it is right.
Killing is wrong, but when the state calls it “war” then most people, even if they don’t agree with it, find it acceptable.
Counterfeiting money is wrong, but when the state calls it “central banking” then most people think it is okay.
However the biggest illusion that the state performs is to make you think it even exists. That is just an illusion of words as well.
In reality there are only individuals, people who think that because they have a certain title and have been given a certain uniform, that this justifies them in doing what would they would consider wrong if they were acting as an individual.