Forms of Government

Forms of Government

Forms of government are categorized by the power source and power structure of any given state.

Learning Objectives

Compare and contrast the various forms of government

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state. States are served by a continuous succession of different governments.
  • Governments with Aristarchy attributes are traditionally ruled by the “best” people. Examples include aristocracy, technocracy and meritocracy.
  • Governments with autocratic attributes are ruled by one person who has all the power over the people in a country. Examples include authoritarian, totalitarian and fascist governments.
  • Governments with democratic attributes are most common in the Western world and in some countries of the east. In democracies, all of the people in a country can vote during elections for representatives or political parties that they prefer.
  • Governments with monarchic attributes are ruled by a king or a queen who inherits their position from their family, which is often called the royal family.
  • Governments with oligarchic attributes are ruled by a small group of powerful and/or influential people. These people may spread power equally or not equally.
  • Plutocracy defines a society or a system ruled and dominated by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy and has no formal advocates.

Key Terms

  • government: The body with the power to make and/or enforce laws to control a country, land area, people or organization.
  • state: A political division of a federation retaining a degree of autonomy, for example one of the fifty United States. See also Province.

Government

Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state. A form of government, or form of state governance, refers to the set of political institutions by which a government of a state is organized (synonyms include “regime type” and “system of government”). Governments consist of two broad interplaying elements that generally determine how a government is coded: the power source and the power structure. Power source refers to the individuals and institutions that exercise governing authority over a state and the means by which they obtain their power, while power structure refers to the system by which they are organized.

In the case of its broad definition, government normally consists of legislators, administrators, and arbitrators. Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state. States are served by a continuous succession of different governments. Each successive government is composed of a body of individuals who control and exercise control over political decision-making. Their function is to make and enforce laws and arbitrate conflicts. In some societies, this group is often a self-perpetuating or hereditary class. In other societies, such as democracies, the political roles remain, but there is frequent turnover of the people actually filling the positions.

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Countries of the World, by Type of Government in 2011: This map shows all the countries of the word, colored according to their type of government. Blue represents full presidential republics, while green and yellow are presidential republics with less powerful presidents. Orange represents parliamentary republics. Red and pink are parliamentary constitutional monarchies, and purple represents absolute monarchies. Brown represents single-party republics, green shows countries where government has been suspended (e.g., military dictatorships), and grey countries do not fit any of the above categories.

Forms of Government

Governments with Aristarchy attributes are traditionally ruled by the “best” people. Aristocracy refers to the rule by elite citizens; a system of governance in which a person who rules in an aristocracy is an aristocrat. It has come to mean rule by “the aristocracy” who are people of noble birth. A meritocracy refers to rule by the meritorious; a system of governance where groups are selected on the basis of people’s ability, knowledge in a given area, and contributions to society. Finally, a technocracy refers to rule by the educated; a system of governance where people who are skilled or proficient govern in their respective areas of expertise in technology would be in control of all decision making. Doctors, engineers, scientists, professionals and technologists who have knowledge, expertise, or skills, would compose the governing body, instead of politicians, businessmen, and economists.

Governments with autocratic attributes are ruled by one person who has all the power over the people in a country. The Roman Republic made Dictators to lead during times of war. In modern times, an Autocrat’s rule is not stopped by any rules of law, constitutions, or other social and political institutions. After World War II, many governments in Latin America, Asia, and Africa were ruled by autocratic governments.

Governments with democratic attributes are most common in the Western world and in some countries of the east. In democracies, all of the people in a country can vote during elections for representatives or political parties that they prefer. The people in democracies can elect representatives who will sit on legislatures such as the Parliament or Congress. Political parties are organizations of people with similar ideas about how a country or region should be governed. Different political parties have different ideas about how the government should handle different problems. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Governments with monarchic attributes are ruled by a king or a queen who inherits their position from their family, which is often called the “royal family. ” There are at two opposing types of monarchies: absolute monarchies and constitutional monarchies. In an absolute monarchy, the ruler has no limits on their wishes or powers. In a constitutional monarchy a ruler’s powers are limited by a document called a constitution.

Governments with oligarchic attributes are ruled by a small group of powerful and/or influential people. These people may spread power equally or not equally. An oligarchy is different from a true democracy because very few people are given the chance to change things. An oligarchy does not have to be hereditary or monarchic. An oligarchy does not have one clear ruler, but several powerful people. Some historical examples of oligarchy are the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Apartheid in South Africa. Fictional oligarchic examples include the dystopian society of Oceania displayed in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, the stratocracy government of Starship Troopers, and the kritarchic “Street Judges” of Judge Dredd.

Democratic Governments

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the central elements of direct and representative democracies

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Democracy allows people to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination.
  • A democratic government contrasts to forms of government where power is either held by one, as in a monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy or aristocracy.
  • Direct democracy is a form of democracy in which people vote on policy initiatives directly. This is different from a representative democracy, in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives.
  • Representative democracy is a variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected people representing a group of people. For example, three countries which use representative democracy are the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and Poland.
  • The concept of representative democracy arose largely from ideas and institutions that developed during the European Middle Ages, the Age of Enlightenment, and the American and French Revolutions.

Key Terms

  • direct democracy: Direct democracy is a form of democracy in which people vote on policy initiatives directly, as opposed to a representative democracy in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives. Depending on the particular system in use, it might entail passing executive decisions, making laws, directly electing or dismissing officials and conducting trials. Two leading forms of direct democracy are participatory democracy and deliberative democracy.
  • representative democracy: Representative democracy is a variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected people representing a group of people.
  • democracy: A government under the direct or representative rule of the people of its jurisdiction.

Introduction

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows people to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic, and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. The term originates from the Greek word: δημοκρατία (dēmokratía), which translates to  “rule of the people”. This term was used around 400 BCE to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens.

A democratic government contrasts two forms of government where power is either held by one, as in a monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy or aristocracy. Nevertheless, these oppositions, inherited from Greek philosophy, are now ambiguous because contemporary governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic, and monarchic elements. Several variants of democracy exist, but there are two basic forms, both of which concern how the whole body of citizens executes its will: direct democracy and representative democracy.

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French Presidential Election: A woman casts her vote in the second round of the French presidential election of 2007.

Direct Democracy

Direct democracy is a form of democracy in which people vote on policy initiatives directly. This is different from a representative democracy, in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives. Depending on the particular system in use, it might entail passing executive decisions, making laws, directly electing or dismissing officials, and conducting trials. Two leading forms of direct democracy are participatory democracy and deliberative democracy.

The earliest known direct democracy is said to be the Athenian Democracy in the 5th century BCE, although it was not an inclusive democracy; women, foreigners, and slaves were excluded from it. In the direct democracy of Athens, the electorate did not nominate representatives to vote on legislation and executive bills on their behalf (as in the United States Congress), but instead voted on these items in their own right. Participation was by no means open, but the in-group of participants was constituted with no reference to economic class and they participated on a large scale. The public opinion of voters was remarkably influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theaters.

Also relevant is the history of Roman republic, beginning circa 449 BCE. The ancient Roman Republic’s “citizen lawmaking”—citizen formulation and passage of law, as well as citizen veto of legislature-made law—began about 449 BCE and lasted the approximately 400 years to the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. Modern-era citizen lawmaking began in the towns of Switzerland in the 13th century CE. In 1847, the Swiss added the “statute referendum” to their national constitution. Currently in Switzerland, single majorities are sufficient at the town, city, and canton level, but at the national level, double majorities are required on constitutional matters. The intent of the double majorities is simply to ensure any citizen-made law’s legitimacy.

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Swiss Assemblies: Landsgemeinde, or assembly, of the canton of Glarus, May 7, 2006, Switzerland.

Representative Democracy

Direct democracy was very much opposed by the framers of the United States Constitution and some signatories of the Declaration of Independence. They saw a danger in majorities forcing their will on minorities. As a result, they advocated a representative democracy in the form of a constitutional republic over a direct democracy. For example, James Madison, in Federalist No. 10, advocates a constitutional republic over direct democracy precisely to protect the individual from the will of the majority. Representative democracy is a variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected people representing a group of people. For example, three countries which use representative democracy are the United States of America (a representative democracy), the United Kingdom (a constitutional monarchy) and Poland (a republic). It is an element of both the parliamentary system and presidential system of government and is typically used in a lower chamber such as the House of Commons (UK) or Bundestag (Germany).

Democracy in the Contemporary World

According to Freedom House, in 2007 there were 123 electoral democracies – up from 40 in 1972. According to World Forum on Democracy, electoral democracies now represent 120 of the 192 existing countries and constitute 58.2 percent of the world’s population. At the same time, liberal democracies—countries Freedom House regards as free and respectful of basic human rights and the rule of law—are 85 in number and represent 38 percent of the global population. In 2010 the United Nations declared September 15 the International Day of Democracy.

Non-Democratic Governments: Authoritarianism, Totalitarianism, and Dictatorship

Unlike democracy, authoritarianism and totalitarianism are forms of government where an individual or a single-party concentrates all power.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the central features and types of undemocratic governments

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An authoritarian government is characterized by highly concentrated and centralized power maintained by political repression and the exclusion of potential challengers. It uses political parties and mass organizations to mobilize people around the goals of the regime.
  • An autocracy is a system of government in which a supreme political power is concentrated in the hands of one person; by contrast, a single-party state is a type of party system government in which no other parties are permitted to run candidates for election.
  • Totalitarianism is an extreme version of authoritarianism – it is a political system where the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever necessary.
  • A dictatorship (government without people’s consent ) is a contrast to democracy (government whose power comes from people) and totalitarianism (government controls every aspect of people’s life) opposes pluralism (government allows multiple lifestyles and opinions).
  • A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual: a dictator. In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other political factors in the state.

Key Terms

  • Autocratic: Of or pertaining to autocracy or to an autocrat; absolute; holding independent and arbitrary powers of government.

Introduction

Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority as well as the administration of said authority. In politics, an authoritarian government is characterized by highly concentrated and centralized power maintained by political repression and the exclusion of potential challengers. It uses political parties and mass organizations to mobilize people around the goals of the regime. Authoritarianism emphasizes arbitrary law rather than the rule of law, including election rigging and political decisions being made by a select group of officials behind closed doors. Authoritarianism is marked by “indefinite political tenure” of an autocratic state or a ruling-party state.

An autocracy is a system of government in which a supreme political power is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control. By contrast, a single-party state is a type of party system government in which a single political party forms the government and no other parties are permitted to run candidates for election. Typically, single-party states hold the suppression of political factions, except as transitory issue oriented currents within the single party or permanent coalition as a self-evident good. The Communist Party of China’s single-party rule of the People’s Republic of China is a prominent contemporary example.

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Communist Party of China: XVII Congress of the Communist Party of China held in 2007.

Totalitarianism

Totalitarianismis an extreme version of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism primarily differs from totalitarianism in that social and economic institutions exist free from governmental control. By contrast, totalitarianism is a political system where the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever necessary. The term ‘an authoritarian regime’ denotes a state in which the single power holder – an individual ‘dictator,’ a committee or a junta or an otherwise small group of political elite – monopolizes political power. However, a totalitarian regime attempts to control virtually all aspects of the social life, including economy, education, art, science, private life, and morals of citizens. The concept became prominent in Western anti-communist political discourse during the Cold War era in order to highlight perceived similarities between Nazi Germany and other fascist regimes on the one hand, and Soviet communism on the other.

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Zbigniew Brzezinski (1977): A number of thinkers, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, have argued that Nazi and Soviet regimes were equally totalitarian.

Political scientists Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski were primarily responsible for expanding the usage of the term in university social science and professional research, reformulating it as a paradigm for the Soviet Union as well as fascist regimes. For Friedrich and Brzezinski, the defining elements were intended to be taken as a mutually supportive organic entity composed of the following: an elaborating guiding ideology; a single mass party, typically led by a dictator; a system of terror; a monopoly of the means of communication and physical force; and central direction, and control of the economy through state planning. Such regimes had initial origins in the chaos that followed in the wake of World War I, at which point the sophistication of modern weapons and communications enabled totalitarian movements to consolidate power.

Dictatorship

A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual: a dictator. In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state.

For some scholars, a dictatorship is a form of government that has the power to govern without consent of those being governed (similar to authoritarianism), while totalitarianism describes a state that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior of the people. In other words, dictatorship concerns the source of the governing power and totalitarianism concerns the scope of the governing power. In this sense, dictatorship (government without people’s consent) is a contrast to democracy (government whose power comes from people) and totalitarianism (government controls every aspect of people’s life) opposes pluralism (government allows multiple lifestyles and opinions).

The wave of military dictatorships in Latin America in the second half of the twentieth century left a particular mark on Latin American culture. In Latin American literature, the dictator novel challenging dictatorship is a significant genre. There are also many films depicting Latin American military dictatorships.

Non-Democratic Governments: Monarchy, Oligarchy, Technocracy, and Theocracy

Some nondemocratic governments can be classified into categories such as monarchies, oligarchies, theocracies and technocracies.

Learning Objectives

Recognize democratic and non-democratic forms of governance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • A monarchy is a form of government in a state is ruled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and rules for life or until abdication.
  • Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control.
  • Aristocracy is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule; this is usually contrasted with democracy, in which all citizens are able to rule.
  • Theocracy is a form of government in which religious leaders acting in the place of God rule the state.
  • Technocracy is a form of government in which experts in technology would be in control of all decision making. Scientists, engineers, and technologists who have knowledge, expertise, or skills, would compose the governing body, instead of politicians, businessmen, and economists.
  • Theocracy is a form of government in which official policy is governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or is pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religion or religious group.

Key Terms

  • meritocracy: Meritocracy, in an administrative sense, is a system of government or other administration wherein appointments and responsibilities are objectively assigned to individuals based upon their “merits” and achievements.
  • oligarchy: a government run by only a few, often the wealthy
  • technocracy: A system of governance where people who are skilled or proficient govern in their respective areas of expertise. A type of meritocracy based on people’s ability and knowledge in a given area.
  • junta: The ruling council of a military dictatorship.

Introduction

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The decline of monarchy: Postcard of ruling monarchs, taken in 1908 between February (accession of King Manuel II of Portugal) and November (death of Guangxu Emperor).

Governments tend to fall between traditionally democratic and non-democratic forms. These forms of government are usually distinguished based on who controls the state, how that authority is justified, and in what ways leaders and governments are structurally organized based on these justifications.

Monarchy

A monarchy is a form of government in which sovereignty is actually or nominally embodied in a single individual, the monarch. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and rules for life or until abdication. Monarchs may be autocrats (absolute monarchy) or ceremonial heads of state who exercise little or no power or only reserve power, with actual authority vested in a parliament or other body such as a constitutional assembly.

Monarchs have various titles — king or queen, prince or princess, Malik or Malikah, emperor or empress, duke or grand duke, and Shah. Monarchy is associated with political or sociocultural hereditary rule; most monarchs, both historically and in the modern day, have been born and brought up within a royal family and trained for future duties. However, some monarchies are non-hereditary. In an elective monarchy, the monarch is elected but otherwise serves as any other monarch. Historical examples of elective monarchy include the Holy Roman Emperors and the free election of kings of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

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Monarchs: This photograph depicts the King of Norway, Bulgaria, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, and Denmark. In a monarchy, the state is controlled by an individual who usually inherits the throne by birth.

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Crown Prince & Princess & Emperor Showa & Empress Kojun wedding 1959-4: Japanese Emperor Hirohito, Crown Prince Akihito, Crown Princess Michiko and Empress Nagako, 1959

Monarchies have existed throughout the world, although in recent centuries many states have abolished the monarchy and become republics. Advocacy of republics is called republicanism, while advocacy of monarchies is called monarchism. As of 2010 in Europe, there are twelve monarchies: seven kingdoms, one grand duchy, one papacy, and two principalities, as well as the diarchy of Andorra.

Oligarchy

Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next. Forms of government and other political structures associated with oligarchy usually include aristocracy, meritocracy, plutocracy, military junta, technocracy, and theocracy.

Aristocracy is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. In the origins in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy. In later times, aristocracy was usually seen as rule by a privileged group, the aristocratic class, and contrasted with democracy. Similarly, plutocracy is rule by the wealthy. Unlike systems such as democracy, plutocracy is not rooted in a political philosophy and has no advocates; the term is only used in a pejorative sense. Examples of plutocracies include the Roman Republic, some city-states in Ancient Greece, the civilization of Carthage, the Italian city-states/merchant republics of Venice, Florence, Genoa, and pre-World War II Empire of Japan zaibatsu.

Other Forms of Governance

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Iran’s Theocracy: Iran is an example of a theocracy. Ali Khamenei, depicted here, current holds the position of Supreme Leader in Iran. The Supreme Leader is a religious figure who has arguably the most political power in Iran.

Technocracy is a form of government in which experts in technology would be in control of all decision making. Scientists, engineers, and technologists who have knowledge, expertise, or skills, would compose the governing body instead of politicians, businessmen, and economists. In a technocracy, decision makers would be selected based upon how knowledgeable and skillful they are in their field.

Theocracy is a form of government in which official policy is governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or is pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religion or religious group. Theocracy essentially means rule by a church or analogous religious leadership; a state in which the goal is to direct the population towards God and in which God himself is the theoretical “head of the state”.

An Islamic state is a state that has adopted Islam, specifically Sharia (Islamic Law), as its foundations for political institutions, or laws, exclusively, and has implemented the Islamic ruling system and is therefore a theocracy. Although there is much debate as to which states or groups operate strictly according to Islamic Law, Sharia is the official basis for state laws in the following countries: Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Oman and Iran.