In the case of its broad associative 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. A form of government, or form of state governance, refers to the set of political systems and institutions that make up the organisation of a specific government.
On the surface, identifying a form of government appears to be simple, as all governments have an official form. The United States is a Constitutional republic, while the former Soviet Union was a socialist republic. However self-identification is not objective, and as Kopstein and Lichbach argue, defining regimes can be tricky. For example, elections are a defining characteristic of an electoral democracy, but in practice elections in the former Soviet Union were not "free and fair" and took place in a one-party state. Thus in many practical classifications it would not be considered democratic.
Identifying a form of government is also difficult because a large number of political systems originate as socio-economic movements and are then carried into governments by specific parties naming themselves after those movements; all with competing political-ideologies. Experience with those movements in power, and the strong ties they may have to particular forms of government, can cause them to be considered as forms of government in themselves.
Other complications include general non-consensus or deliberate "distortion or bias" of reasonable technical definitions to political ideologies and associated forms of governing, due to the nature of politics in the modern era. For example: The meaning of "conservatism" in the United States has little in common with the way the word's definition is used elsewhere. As Ribuffo (2011) notes, "what Americans now call conservatism much of the world calls liberalism or neoliberalism". Since the 1950s conservatism in the United States has been chiefly associated with the Republican Party. However, during the era of segregation many Southern Democrats were conservatives, and they played a key role in the Conservative Coalition that controlled Congress from 1937 to 1963.
Every country in the world is ruled by a system of governance that combines at least 2 (or more) of the following attributes (for example, the United States is not a true capitalist society, since the government actually provides social services for its citizens). Additionally, one person's opinion of the type of government may differ from another's (for example, some may argue that the United States is a plutocracy rather than a democracy since they may believe it is ruled by the wealthy). There are always shades of gray in any government. Even the most liberal democracies limit rival political activity to one extent or another, and even the most tyrannical dictatorships must organise a broad base of support, so it is very difficult "pigeonholing" every government into narrow categories.
MaxRange, a dataset defining level of democracy and institutional structure(regime-type) on a 100-graded scale where every value represents a unique regimetype. Values are sorted from 1–100 based on level of democracy and political accountability. MaxRange defines the value corresponding to all states and every month from 1789 to 2015 and updating. MaxRange is created and developed by Max Range, and is now associated with the university of Halmstad, Sweden.
The Classical GreekphilosopherPlato discusses five types of regimes. They are aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy and tyranny. Plato also assigns a man to each of these regimes to illustrate what they stand for. The tyrannical man would represent tyranny for example. These five regimes progressively degenerate starting with aristocracy at the top and tyranny at the bottom.
In Republic, while Plato spends much time having Socrates narrate a conversation about the city he founds with Glaucon and Adeimantus "in speech", the discussion eventually turns to considering four regimes that exist in reality and tend to degrade successively into each other: timocracy, oligarchy (also called plutocracy), democracy and tyranny (also called despotism).
arch-, prefix derived from the Greek archon, 'rulership', which means "higher in hierarchy". The Greek word κράτοςkrátos, 'power', which means "right to lead" is the suffix root in words like aristocrat and democracy.
Forms of government by associated attributes
Descriptions of governments can be based on the following attributes:
By elements of where decision-making power is held
Societies with aristocracy attributes are traditionally controlled and organised by a small class of privileged people, with no intervention from the most part of society; this small elite is defined as sharing some common trait.
Rule by the rich; a system of governance where those who are the most economically powerful, holding more wealth, goods and lands, have a central role in decision-making and authority over the rest of the people.
Rule by the educated and/or technical experts; 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. In a technocracy, decision makers would be selected based upon how knowledgeable and skillful they are in their field.
Rule by honour; a system of governance ruled by honorable citizens and property owners. Socrates defines a timocracy as a government ruled by people who love honour and are selected according to the degree of honour they hold in society. This form of timocracy is very similar to meritocracy, in the sense that individuals of outstanding character or faculty are placed in the seat of power. European feudalism and post-Revolutionary America are historical examples of this type; the city-state of Sparta provided another real-world model for this form of government.
Societies with despotism attributes are ruled by a single entity with absolute power, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regular mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for implicit threat). That entity may be an individual, as in an autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy. The word despotism means to "rule in the fashion of despots".
Power resides in the hands of one single person. That person may be, for example, an absolute monarch or a dictator. The Roman Republic made dictators to lead during times of war; the Roman dictators only held power for a small time. In modern times, an autocrat's rule is that 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. Examples of autocrats include Idi Amin, Muammar Gaddafi, Adolf Hitler and Gamal Abdul Nasser.
Rule by a small number of people. Differently from aristocracy, these people do not rule because they share a common attribute (strength, intelligence, specialization, honour, etc.) for they are not a class. It is a specific group that usually constitute the top sectors of the government, although they still may be religious, military or noble leaders for example.
Countries with monarchy attributes are those where a family or group of families (rarely another type of group), called the royalty, represents national identity, with power traditionally assigned to one of its individuals, called the monarch. The actual role of the monarch and other members of royalty varies from purely symbolical (crowned republic) to partial and restricted (constitutional monarchy) to completely despotic (absolute monarchy). Traditionally and in most cases, the post of the monarch is inherited, but there are also elective monarchies where the monarch is elected.
A form of government where the monarch (and family) is an official ceremonial entity with no political power. The royal family and the monarch are intended to represent the country and may perform speeches or attend in important ceremonial events as a symbolical guide to the people, but hold no actual power in decision-making, appointments, etc.
Regardless of the form of government, the actual governance may be influenced by sectors with political power which are not part of the formal government. Certain actions of the governors, such as corruption, demagoguery, or fear mongering, may disrupt the intended way of working of the government if they are widespread enough.
Rule by banks; a system of governance with excessive power or influence of banks and other financial authorities on public policy-making. It can also refer to a form of government where financial institutions rule society.
Rule by corporations; a system of governance where an economic and political system is controlled by corporations or corporate interests. Its use is generally pejorative. Examples include company rule in India and business voters for the City of London Corporation.
Rule by nephews; favouritism granted to relatives regardless of merit; a system of governance in which importance is given to the relatives of those already in power, like a nephew (where the word comes from). In such governments even if the relatives aren't qualified they are given positions of authority just because they know someone who already has authority. Pope Alexander VI (Borgia) was accused of this.
Rule by the stupid; a system of governance where the worst or least-qualified citizens govern or dictate policies. Due to human nature being inherently flawed, it has been suggested that every government which has ever existed has been a prime example of kakistocracy. See Idiocracy.
Rule by thieves; a system of governance where its officials and the ruling class in general pursue personal wealth and political power at the expense of the wider population. In strict terms kleptocracy is not a form of government but a characteristic of a government engaged in such behavior. Examples include Mexico as being considered a narcokleptocracy, since its democratic government is perceived to be corrupted by those who profit from trade in illegal drugs smuggled into the United States.
Rule by the general populace; a system of governance where mob rule is government by mob or a mass of people, or the intimidation of legitimate authorities. As a pejorative for majoritarianism, it is akin to the Latin phrase mobile vulgus meaning "the fickle crowd", from which the English term "mob" was originally derived in the 1680s. Ochlocratic governments are often a democracy spoiled by demagoguery, "tyranny of the majority" and the rule of passion over reason; such governments can be as oppressive as autocratic tyrants. Ochlocracy is synonymous in meaning and usage to the modern, informal term "mobocracy."
Rule by authoritarian governments is identified in societies where a specific set of people possess the authority of the state in a republic or union. It is a political system controlled by unelected rulers who usually permit some degree of individual freedom.
Governments with democracy attributes are most common in the Western world and in some countries of the east. In democracies, large proportions of the population may vote, either to make decisions or to choose representatives to make decisions. Commonly significant in democracies are political parties, which are groups 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.
Rule by a government chosen by election where most of the populace are enfranchised. Also, in a general sense, all the people of a state or polity are involved in making decisions about its affairs. The key distinction between a democracy and other forms of constitutional government is usually taken to be that the right to vote is not limited by a person's wealth or race (the main qualification for enfranchisement is usually having reached a certain age). A democratic government is, therefore, one supported (at least at the time of the election) by a majority of the populace (provided the election was held fairly). A "majority" may be defined in different ways. There are many "power-sharing" (usually in countries where people mainly identify themselves by race or religion) or "electoral-college" or "constituency" systems where the government is not chosen by a simple one-vote-per-person headcount.
Variant of democracy; government in which the state is governed by randomly selected decision makers who have been selected by sortition (lot) from a broadly inclusive pool of eligible citizens. These groups, sometimes termed "policy juries", "citizens' juries", or "consensus conferences", deliberately make decisions about public policies in much the same way that juries decide criminal cases. Demarchy, in theory, could overcome some of the functional problems of conventional representative democracy, which is widely subject to manipulation by special interests and a division between professional policymakers (politicians and lobbyists) vs. a largely passive, uninvolved and often uninformed electorate. According to Australian philosopher John Burnheim, random selection of policymakers would make it easier for everyday citizens to meaningfully participate, and harder for special interests to corrupt the process.
More generally, random selection of decision makers from a larger group is known as sortition (from the Latin base for lottery). The Athenian democracy made much use of sortition, with nearly all government offices filled by lottery (of full citizens) rather than by election. Candidates were almost always male, Greek, educated citizens holding a minimum of wealth and status.
An electocracy is a political system where citizens are able to vote for their government but cannot participate directly in governmental decision making and where the government does not share any power.
Variant of democracy; social democracy rejects the "either/or" phobiocratic/polarisation interpretation of capitalism versus socialism. It claims that fostering a progressive evolution of capitalism will gradually result in the evolution of capitalist economy into socialist economy. Social democracy argues that all citizens should be legally entitled to certain social rights. These are made up of universal access to public services such as: education, health care, workers' compensation, public transportation, and other services including child care and care for the elderly. Social democracy is connected with the trade union labour movement and supports collective bargaining rights for workers. Contemporary social democracy advocates freedom from discrimination based on differences of: ability/disability, age, ethnicity, sex, gender, language, race, religion, sexual orientation, and social class.
Variant of democracy; refers to a system of government in which lawfully elected representatives maintain the integrity of a nation state whose citizens, while granted the right to vote, have little or no participation in the decision-making process of the government.
Governments with oligarchic attributes are ruled by a small group of segregated, powerful and/or influential people, who usually share similar interests and/or family relations. These people may spread power and elect candidates 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 rulers.
Rule by various judges, the kritarchs; a system of governance composed of law enforcement institutions in which the state and the legal systems are traditionally and/or constitutionally the same entity. The kritarchs, magistrates and other adjudicators have the legal power to legislate and administrate the enforcement of government laws, in addition to the interposition of laws and the resolution of disputes. (Not to be confused with "judiciary" or "judicial system".) Somalia, ruled by judges with the tradition of xeer, as well as the Islamic Courts Union, is a historical example.
Rule by social connections; a term invented by the editorial board of the American technology magazine Wired in the early 1990s. A portmanteau of Internet and aristocracy, netocracy refers to a perceived global upper-class that bases its power on a technological advantage and networking skills, in comparison to what is portrayed as a bourgeoisie of a gradually diminishing importance. The netocracy concept has been compared with Richard Florida's concept of the creative class. Bard and Söderqvist have also defined an under-class in opposition to the netocracy, which they refer to as the consumtariat.
Rule by military service; a system of governance composed of military government in which the state and the military are traditionally and/or constitutionally the same entity. Citizens with mandatory or voluntary active military service, or who have been honorably discharged, have the right to govern. (Not to be confused with "military junta" or "military dictatorship".) The Spartancity-state is a historical example; its social system and constitution, were completely focused on military training and excellence. Stratocratic ideology often attaches to the honor-oriented timocracy.
A society without a publicly enforced government or political authority. Sometimes said to be non-governance; it is a structure which strives for non-hierarchical voluntary associations among agents. Anarchy is a situation where there is no government. When used in this sense, anarchy may or may not be intended to imply political disorder or lawlessness within a society.
This can be a natural, temporary result of civil war in a country, when an established government has been destroyed and the region is in a transitional period without definitive leadership. Alternatively, it has been presented as a viable long term choice by individuals who oppose any government. These individuals typically think people would be better off if they ruled their own lives and worked together to create a society without centralized authority. There are a variety of forms of anarchy that attempt to avoid the use of coercion, violence, force and authority, while still producing a productive and desirable society.
An regime type where power is not vested in public institutions (as in a normal democracy) but spread amongst elite groups who are constantly competing with each other for power. Examples of anocracies in Africa include the warlords of Somalia and the shared governments in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Anocracies are situated midway between an autocracy and a democracy.
The Polity IV dataset[clarification needed] recognised anocracy as a category. In that dataset, anocracies are exactly in the middle between autocracies and democracies.
Often the word is defined more broadly. For example, a 2010 International Alert publication defined anocracies as "countries that are neither autocratic nor democratic, most of which are making the risky transition between autocracy and democracy". Alert noted that the number of anocracies had increased substantially since the end of the Cold War. Anocracy is not surprisingly the least resilient political system to short-term shocks: it creates the promise but not yet the actuality of an inclusive and effective political economy, and threatens members of the established elite; and is therefore very vulnerable to disruption and armed violence.
A politically unstable kleptocratic government that economically depends upon the exports of a limited resource (fruits, minerals), and usually features a society composed of stratifiedsocial classes, such as a great, impoverished ergatocracy and a ruling plutocracy, composed of the aristocracy of business, politics, and the military. In political science, the term banana republic denotes a country dependent upon limited primary-sector productions, which is ruled by a plutocracy who exploit the national economy by means of a politico-economic oligarchy. In American literature, the term banana republic originally denoted the fictional Republic of Anchuria, a servile dictatorship that abetted, or supported for kickbacks, the exploitation of large-scale plantation agriculture, especially banana cultivation. In U.S. politics, the term banana republic is a pejorative political descriptor coined by the American writer O. Henry in Cabbages and Kings (1904), a book of thematically related short stories derived from his 1896–97 residence in Honduras, where he was hiding from U.S. law for bank embezzlement.
The theory and practice of Marxism-Leninism developed in China by Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung), which states that a continuous revolution is necessary if the leaders of a communist state are to keep in touch with the people.
By elements of how power distribution is structured
A republic is a form of government in which the country is considered a "public matter" (Latin: res publica), not the private concern or property of the rulers, and where offices of states are subsequently directly or indirectly elected or appointed rather than inherited.
Rule by a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people. A common simplified definition of a republic is a government where the head of state is not a monarch.Montesquieu included both democracies, where all the people have a share in rule, and aristocracies or oligarchies, where only some of the people rule, as republican forms of government.
Rule by a government whose powers are limited by law or a formal constitution, and chosen by a vote amongst at least some sections of the populace (Ancient Sparta was in its own terms a republic, though most inhabitants were disenfranchised). Republics that exclude sections of the populace from participation will typically claim to represent all citizens (by defining people without the vote as "non-citizens"). Examples include the United States, South Africa, India, etc.
A republic form of government where the country is considered a "public matter" (Latin: res publica), not a private concern or property of rulers/3rd world, and where offices of states are subsequently, directly or indirectly, elected or appointed – rather than inherited – where all eligible citizens have an equal say in the local and national decisions that affect their lives.
A republic, like India, Singapore and Poland, with an elected head of state, but where the head of state and head of government are kept separate with the head of government retaining most executive powers, or a head of state akin to a head of government, elected by a parliament.
Countries like China and Vietnam are meant to be governed for and by the people, but with no direct elections. The term People's Republic is used to differentiate themselves from the earlier republic of their countries before the people's revolution, like the Republic of China.
Federalism is a political concept in which a group of members are bound together by covenant (Latin: foedus, covenant) with a governing representative head. The term "federalism" is also used to describe a system of government in which sovereignty is constitutionally divided between a central governing authority and constituent political units (such as states or provinces). Federalism is a system based upon democratic rules and institutions in which the power to govern is shared between national and provincial/state governments, creating what is often called a federation. Proponents are often called federalists.
Rule by a form of government in which the people, or some significant portion of them, have supreme control over the government and where offices of state are elected or chosen by elected people.Montesquieu included both democracies, where all the people have a share in rule, and aristocracies or oligarchies, where only some of the people rule, as republican forms of government.
A federal monarchy is a federation of states with a single monarch as overall head of the federation, but retaining different monarchs, or a non-monarchical system of government, in the various states joined to the federation.
Rule by a government based on small (usually family) unit with a semi-informal hierarchy, with strongest (either physical strength or strength of character) as leader. Very much like a pack seen in other animals, such as wolves.
Ruled by a data fed group of secluded individuals that regulates aspects of public and private life using data feeds and technology having no interactivity with the citizens but using "facts only" to decide direction.
A system of democratic government in which the ministers of the executive branch derive their legitimacy from and are accountable to a legislature or parliament; the executive and legislative branches are interconnected. It is a political system in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who can elect people to represent them.
A system of government where an executive branch is led by a president who serves as both head of state and head of government. In such a system, this branch exists separately from the legislature, to which it is not responsible and which it cannot, in normal circumstances, dismiss.
Rule by a government under the sovereignty of rational laws and civic right as opposed to one under theocratic systems of government. In a nomocracy, ultimate and final authority (sovereignty) exists in the law.
Forms of government by other characteristic attributes
Historically, most political systems originated as socioeconomicideologies; experience with those movements in power, and the strong ties they may have to particular forms of government, can cause them to be considered as forms of government in themselves.
In a capitalist economy, owners of capital (machines, tools, factories, etc.) arrange for workers to use that capital, in exchange for payment. The capital owners are entitled to the products of the workers' labor, and may sell them, use them, or otherwise do with them as they see fit.
A form of socialism, in which all capital is commonly owned (either by the people directly or through the commune), and production is undertaken for use, rather than for exchange. Communist society is thus stateless, classless, moneyless, and democratic.
A form of widespread property ownership as fundamental right; the means of production are spread as widely as possible rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism), a few individuals (plutocracy), or corporations (corporatocracy). Distributism fundamentally opposes socialism and capitalism, which distributists view as equally flawed and exploitative. In contrast, distributism seeks to subordinate economic activity to human life as a whole, to our spiritual life, our intellectual life, our family life".
A system of land ownership and duties. Under feudalism, all the land in a kingdom was the king's. However, the king would give some of the land to the lords or nobles who fought for him. These presents of land were called manors. Then the nobles gave some of their land to vassals. The vassals then had to do duties for the nobles. The lands of vassals were called fiefs.
Concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for a good life.
Some political scientists have also considered state socialist nations to be forms of corporate republics, with the state assuming full control of all economic and political life and establishing a monopoly on everything within national boundaries – effectively making the state itself amount to a giant corporation.
Rule by a government with the highest and main authority being either a magician, sage, sorcerer, wizard or witch. This is often similar to a theocratic structured regime and is largely portrayed in fiction and fantasy genre categories.
Ruled by a singularity of all human minds connected via some form of technical or non-technical telepathy acting as a form of super computer to make decisions based on shared patterned experiences to deliver fair and accurate decisions to problems as they arrive. Also known as the "Hive Mind" principle, it differs from voting in that each person would make a decision while in the "hive" the synapses of all minds work together following a longer path of memories to make "one" decision.
Countries highlighted in blue are designated "electoral democracies" in Freedom House's 2015 survey "Freedom in the World", covering the year 2014. Freedom House considers democracy in practice, not merely official claims.
A world map distinguishing countries of the world as monarchies (red) from other forms of government (blue). Many monarchies are considered electoral democracies because the monarch is largely ritual; in other cases the monarch is the only powerful political authority.
^Lewellen, Ted C. Political Anthropology: An Introduction Third Edition. Praeger Publishers; 3rd edition (30 November 2003)
^Comparative politics : interests, identities, and institutions in a changing global order, Jeffrey Kopstein, Mark Lichbach (eds.), 2nd ed, Cambridge University Press, 2005, ISBN 0521708400, p. 4.
^Leo P. Ribuffo, "20 Suggestions for Studying the Right now that Studying the Right is Trendy," Historically Speaking Jan 2011 v.12#1 pp 2–6, quote on p. 6
^Kari Frederickson, The Dixiecrat Revolt and the End of the Solid South, 1932–1968, p. 12, "...conservative southern Democrats viewed warily the potential of New Deal programs to threaten the region's economic dependence on cheap labor while stirring the democratic ambitions of the disfranchised and undermining white supremacy.", The University of North Carolina Press, 2000, ISBN 978-0-8078-4910-1