Modern Classifications of State

The classification of states or government by ancient Greek Aristotle and Modern Classifications of State by modern writers and views.

The Classification of Waitz and Others:

As has been said, attempts to classify states have been innumerable, but it would serve little purpose to describe them all. Therefore, it must suffice to call attention to the classifications proposed by a few of the more eminent writers on political science.

The German scholar Waitz classified states as republics, theocracies, kingdoms, unitary States, composite or compound states (Gesammtstaaten), federal States, and confederations. This classification, however, will not stand the test of political science.

As has been said above, theocracy is not a species of state but a form of government. Even if the contrary is admitted, it would be more logical to treat it as a particular form of monarchy than a state falling within a class by itself.

Some of the other groups of his classification overlap. Thus a kingdom may be at the same time unitary, federal, or otherwise composite. Since the state is a unit, all states are, in a sense, unitary in another sense, it may be said that the term unitary applies only to forms of government and not to states. The same may be said of the term federal. Strictly speaking, there can be no such entity as a federal state since the term federal implies the idea of division, which contradicts the principle of the unity of the state.

Governments, on the contrary, maybe federal in their organization. As to confederations, they are clearly not states but leagues or associations of states. Gareis’s classification of states as unitary (Einheitsstaaten) and composite (Staatenstaaten), including real unions, federal unions, and confederations, is open essentially to the same objection.

Pradier-Fodere, an eminent French writer on international law, classified states into two general groups:

  • First, single states, and
  • Second, the united states.

Within the first category, he placed personal unions, real unions, and incorporated unions, and in the second group, confederated states and federal states. It is very doubtful whether a personal union can be regarded as a state at all. Certainly, a confederation cannot be, and, as has been said, a state can hardly be described as federal.

Von Mohl’s Classification:

One of the best known of the older German writers on political science, Robert von Mohl, in his Encyclopedia of the Political Sciences, written about the middle of the nineteenth century, attempted a most elaborate Classification of states without reference to any single con Slstent principle or criterion. His classification was as follows.

  • First, patriarchal states.
  • Second, theocracies, or those who have a religious purpose under the guidance and direction of supernatural power.
  • Third, patrimonial states.
  • Fourth classic or antique states, such as those of early Greece and Rome.
  • Fifth, legal states (Rechlsstaaten), or those whose sphere of action is determined by the law and whose activities are regulated by legal norms, and
  • Sixth, despotic states, or those who are ruled with but regard to law prescriptions.

Von Mohl also recognized a form he called the military vassal state, and he Subdivided classic states into monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies. An examination of Von Mohl’s classification will show, as has been said, that it is based upon no single logical or scientific principle.

Some of the forms that he enumerates overlap one another, while some of the terms he uses are wholly inapplicable to the present day’s states. At the same time, the patriarchal state is a monarchy, and so is the theocracy, the despotism, and the patrimonial state.

Moreover, all states are despotic in the purely legal sense, and all states, as has been said above, are legal states in the sense that they are the source of law and govern according to the prescriptions of law. To classify states as classic or antique is about as logical and scientific as to classify them as territorial states,  human states, medieval states,  modern states, etc.

Such terms do not belong properly to the nomenclature of political science, but literature and history. Hence, such classifications have little or no scientific or practical value. Von Mohl would have been more consistent had he classified states as ancient, classic, medieval, and modern, although it would have been chronological and not scientific.

Bluntsehli’s Classification:

The noted GermanSwiss publicist, Bluntschli, who in his Theory of the State discussed the different forms of state at great length, adopted Aristotle’s claSSification. However, he added a fourth type of theocracy, which in its perverted form he styled idiocracy.

In addition to these fundamental forms, he recognized a group of secondary forms that he considered necessary to complete the Aristotelian classification: ree, half free, and unfree states. He said theocracies tend to become unfree states. Aristocracies gravitate toward the half-free class while democracy naturally belongs to the free type, although they may become despotisms.

Furthermore, he added confusion by categorizing states as civilized monarchies, patriarchal kingships, feudal monarchies, military and judicial principalities, absolute, limited, and constitutional monarchies, compound states, and various others.

Bluntschli’s classification is Open to most of the objections made to those of the writers who preceded him. It is unscientific, it is based on a confusion of state and government, and some of the entities to which he attributed the character of states does not state. Thus, one of his categories included what he called the Zusammengesetztestaatsforma compound gate in which the sovereignty is divided between a union and the component states which form it.

Examples are states with colonial dependencies or vassal tributaries, personal unions, confederations, and federal unions. But a colony is not a state, nor is a state possessing colonial dependencies a compound state. Neither is a personal union nor a confederation. Personal unions and confederations, as stated above, are not even states but associations of states. On the other hand, a federal union is a state but not a compound state.

The employment of the term federal to describe the union’s nature and its form of government is entirely legitimate. As already stated above, it is not a suitable term to apply to the state since the state itself cannot be federal. To speak of a federal state is manifestly a contradiction in an adjective.

Jellinek’s Classification:

One of the greatest of modern political scientists, the late Professor Georg Jellinek of the University of Heidelberg, after a searching examination of the multifarious classifications of forms of state that had been proposed by a long line of writers beginning with Aristotle, rejected all of them as n being arbitrary unscientific, confusing, or valueless. He said most of them were open to the objection that they were not based upon any consistent juridical principle or criterion that could serve as a basis for distinguishing one state horn others.

His own conclusion was that only one such principle could be found, and that was the particular manner by which the will of the state was formed and expressed. This will be recalled as the criterion that Aristotle adopted for the classification of forms of government.

Jellinek did not, however, accept the Stagirite’s trinity of monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. Aristocracy and democracy he did not think were Properly separate forms of state but rather particular forms of a single type republic.

Therefore, he proposed the simplest of all classification that has been suggested, namely, monarchy and republic. Monarchy, he defined as a form of a state guided by one physical will, a will that, juridically, must be Supreme over, and independent of, every other.

In brief, a monarchy is a state in which sovereignty rests in a single person. It is not necessary, according to Jellinek, that the power of the monarch should be original, underpin, and belong to him in his own right, as many political writers hold.

That notion rests upon a conception of private law, a Conception which regards sovereignty as a property right-and, not a right to rule. In short, it confuses the idea of dominium with the idea of imperium. It is admissible, therefore, only if one adopts the theocratic or patrimonial conception of the state.

Jellinek admitted that there might be various types of monarchy, either ideally or actually, where the monarch is regarded as God or his earthly representative as the owner of the state or as an organ, member, or representative of the state. Again, monarchies may be hereditary or elective; they may be absolute or limited, but whatever the differences in these or other respects, the one characteristic common to all is the sovereignty of a single person.

On the other hand, a republic is distinguished from a monarchy by the fact that the sovereign will rests not with a single person but with a group of college of persons more or less numerous. This body of collectivity has a simple juridical existence clearly distinguishable from the individual persons who form it. Its will, therefore, is distinct from—the wills of the component individuals.

Juridically, the difference between the several types of the republic is merely quantitative, nor qualitative. From the political or social point of view, there may be a vast difference between a state guided by the will of a small group of persons and one directed by a numerous group since it is the difference between aristocracy and democracy juridically speaking, no difference exists.

Therefore, all states in which the will of the state rests with more than one person, whether they be aristocracies, oligarchies, timocracies, Eleonora, pies, democracies, or whatnot, may be grouped in the same class. Labeled republics, a juridically different and distinguishable class from that to which monarchies belong, Republics like monarchies may be of various types democratic, aristocratic, oligarchic, democratic republics may be of various types be direct or representative, they may be of the ancient or modern type and so on. But whatever the differences, they all possess one common feature: their will are formulated and expressed by a group of persons rather than by a single person.

Burgess’s Classification:

One of the most recent attempts at a strictly scientific classification of states was made by Burgess in his notable work Political Science and Constitutional Law, published in 1896. He concluded that the Aristotelian classification of governments into monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies was correct and exhaustive if applied to states. No additional forms could be made out of a combination of these three or by a union of several states.

Monarchy he defined as a form of state in which the sovereignty rests with one person aristocracy, as the sovereignty of a minority and democracy, as the sovereignty of the majority. The additional forms suggested by various writers were either form of government (not of state) or associations of states and not states themselves.

Evaluation of Jellinek’s and Burgess’s Classifications:

The proposed classifications of both Jellinek and Burgess possess the great merit of simplicity. They are meticulously logical, and they represent an effort to differentiate forms of the state based on a single, consistent juridical principle or criterion. But even the classifications they propose are not entirely satisfactory, nor are they wholly free from the objections they urged against various previous classifications. Their differentiation and classification criterion is largely Quantitative, arithmetical, Or numerical and not one of principle.

The line of demarcation between a state in which the sovereignty rests with a bare majority and one in which it rests with the minority, especially if it is a large one, maybe shadowy, in which case the distinction between a democracy and an aristocracy becomes very slight so that the can hardly be assigned to separate categories. Jellinek was more logical than Burgess when he placed democracies and aristocracies in the same class and treated them as different varieties of a common republic.


The truth is, there seems to be no single principle, or criterion, juridical or otherwise, upon which a satisfactory classification of states can be made. The principle adopted by Jellinek and Burgess is perhaps as logical and scientific as any that can be found. Still, the classifications which they made upon the basis of it are far from satisfactory.

It is believed that because of states’ peculiar nature, any attempt to differentiate between them and classify them scientifically is largely futile and leads to results that have little or no practical or scientific value.

On the other hand, governments readily lend themselves to the processes of differentiation and classification. With these rather than states, the jurist and the political scientist may more advantageously occupy themselves with efforts at classification.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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