What Are the Different Types of Governments?

Different Types of Governments. Some writers on Political Science classify the forms of government as the forms of the State. But this doesn’t seem right. There can be no forms of the state. All States are alike in their nature, and all combine the same essential elements population, territory, organization, and unity or sovereignty. Differences in population and territory do not make any difference in their status of Statehood. A distinction is sometimes made between a City State, a nation-State, and a world empire.

But this distinction has no practical value in Political Science, for the classification of States based on territory and population is a mere historical description, and a fallacy Coming down from Aristotle’s time when no distinction was made between the State and government To classify States based on unity or sovereignty is also impossible. All States are sovereign, and all sovereign States are equal. It is, therefore, illogical to classify equals.

But States do differ in their organization. The State’s organization is its government, and it is through the government’s instrument that the State formulates, expresses, and realizes its purposes. The purpose of every State is the same, the well being of its people, and the form of government is the expression of how the purpose of the State is to be realized.

This involves determining in whose hands is vested the State’s legal authority, to what extent is actual use made of it, the instrumentalists of organs employed in its use, and what such organs follow the rules and procedures in performing their functions?

These differences are wide from State to State and matter a good deal in differentiating the organization of one State from another. The form of government is, therefore, the actual basis of division.

Traditional Classifications:

Aristotle’s Classification:

The traditional classifications of government follow the course Set by Aristotle. Aristotle, however, was not original. He borrowed from Plato as Plato had borrowed from Socrates Aristotle based his classification on two principles:

1. The number of persons who exercise supreme power, that is, the location of sovereignty within the State  and

2. The ends they seek to serve.

Applying the first, the numerical principle, Aristotle’s said, if sovereignty resided in person, it is Monarchy. If it resided in a small minority of the population, it is Aristocracy, and if it resides in a large proportion of the population, it is Polity.

Having said so, Aristotle then proceeded to distinguish between the normal and perverted x forms of the State, basing his conclusions on the ends which the rulers sought to serve. By a normal State, Aristotle meant one guided and ruled by law and justice. The rules or the rulers in such a State always aim at the community’s good as a whole.

By perverted State, he meant one guided and ruled by the selfish and capricious, without law and restraint. The ruler or the rulers in such a State were selfish, and he or they exercised power vested in them for his or their own benefits rather than for the benefits of the community as a whole

Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Polity were, according to Aristotle, normal forms of the State. In their perverted form, they became Tyranny, Oligarchy, and Democracy. Tyranny Was the degenerated form of Monarchy, Oligarchy the degenerated form of Aristocracy, and Democracy the degenerated form of Polity.

For Aristotle, Monarchy was the best and Tyranny the worst. Tyranny placed in the king’s hands, arbitrary control over the citizens’ lives and fortunes, and all State affairs were directed to his own good. In Oligarchy, the wealthy few ruled for selfish ends, and they used their powers and privileges for the oppression of the common people. Democracy meant the mob’s rule, and in a democratic State, the interests of none were safe as there would be confusion all around.

Although Aristotle held that Monarchy, the rule of a true and good king, would be the best, yet, at the same time, he recognized certain practical difficulties in attaining the best. Therefore, he concluded that Polity was the best, a democratic form of government with constitutional guarantees, as a student of Political Science would now define it. Aristotle pointed out that if Polity were to disintegrate into its perverted form, the result would not be so bad as the perverted forms of Monarchy and Aristocracy, namely, Tyranny and Oligarchy.

Aristotle’s classification may be stated in the following tabular form:

Different Types of Governments
Types of Government

Two points about this classification deserve attention.

First, Aristotle draws a clear distinction between aristocracy and Oligarchy, whereas modern usage does not differentiate between the two, and we often use them synonymously. Secondly, democracy for Aristotle had not the same meaning as it has for us.

He regarded it as a perverted form, a mob rule, whereas we regard democracy as the best form of government. The perverted form of democracy, according to modern use, is mobocracy or ochlocracy. Moreover, modem Sociologists have clearly shown that there is no government of the many All governments are really governments of the few, or, in fact, oligarchies.

Nowhere in the world do the people or even a substantial number of the rule. In all States, the exercise of government is left to a few hands. Simultaneously, the policy’s determination is actually in the hands of a yet smaller minority, the political leaders.

The Cabinet in Britain is the supreme directing authority, the magnet of policy as Barker calls it, and it now consists of sixteen or eighteen members. The actual determination, control, and direction of cabinet policy rest the inner cabinet in a few hands.

The Executive power in the United States of America is vested in the President. He has his cabinet, but the role of the cabinet there is advisory. The policy flows from the President, though the advice tendered by the cabinet may influence it tendered.

The cycle of Aristotle’s Political Change:

Like his teacher Plato, Aristotle, too, subjected his State forms to cyclic political changes. Aristotle did not merely classify the various forms of the State. He even marked out how, in the course of history, one form of the State had given place to another. Just as the wheels of a cycle revolve, so do the forms of the State.

His cycle of political change starts from the monarchy. The first State, he says, was monarchic, and the king governed his people with love and justice, dedicating himself to their service.

Over time, kings forgot their duty to the people. With the monarchs’ character and aims degeneration, it became Tyranny when the government was no longer directed towards the public good. But a tyrannical government could not continue for long.

The people ultimately revolted and succeeded in overthrowing the tyrant’s rule and replaced it with a government of the few talented persons guided by the common good’s ideas. Aristocracy, a government of the few for the people’s welfare, took the place of monarchy. With the lapse of time, the best few also degenerated.

The ideals of public spirit which inspired them in the beginning disappeared. Aristocracy lapsed into Oligarchy, But the people could not for long tolerate a government, the aim of which was the benefit of the ruling class alone.

When the opportunity came, citizens as. a whole made a successful revolt against such authority and established a Polity. The supreme power is vested in the hands of a large proportion of the population. They used it for the common good. When Polity became perverted, it was substituted by Democracy.

Democracy, according to Aristotle’s terminology, as a rule by the mob which had always been an intolerable confusion. There was neither certainty nor stability. At this stage, some powerful warrior politician, imbued with the spirit of service for the commonweal, came to the forefront and took the reign of government into his own hands.

Monarchy was, again, established and, thus, revolved around Aristotle’s cycle of political change. The first governments, says Aristotle, were kingship, probably for this reason, because of old, when cities were small, men of eminent virtue were few.

They were made kings because they were benefactors, and good men can only bestow benefits. But When many persons equal in merit arose, no longer enduring the preeminence of one, they desired to have a commonwealth and set up a constitution. The ruling class soon deteriorated and enriched themselves out of the public treasury; riches became the path to honor, so oligarchies naturally grew up.

These passed into tyrannies, and tyrannies Into democracies for love of gain in the ruling classes was always tending to diminish their number and so to strengthen the masses, who in the end set upon their number, and so to strengthen the masses, who in the end set upon their masters and established democracies.

Criticism of Aristotle’s Classification:

Such is Aristotle’s classification. The Greek City history fully corroborates the cycle of political change given by him, a States in the centuries preceding the Peloponnese war. Recent history, too, provides examples of a similar political progression. The last phase of political anarchy to be suppressed by a military autocracy is a common feature of our own times, and it reminds s us of various coups detat, the most recent being one led by General Naguib in Egypt, Brigadier Kassem in Iraq, General Ayub in Pakistan, Lt.

General Ibrahim Abboud in Sudan, General Daud in Afghanistan. General Zia-ul-Haq in Pakistan, General Ershad in Bangladesh, and many others. In fact, coup detainee has become a normal feature in African politics and no less in Asia.

Despite this pragmatic progression, Aristotle’s classification has been subjected to severe criticism. It is argued that his classification is not heated on any scientific principle, as it emphasizes the quantitative rather than qualitative aspect his division is mechanical and not spiritual in character.

But this criticism does not hold good. Aristotle ignores the various stages in the development of the people’s political consciousness, but his testis, indeed, ethical and spiritual whether the form of government is Monarchy or Aristocracy or Polity.

Aristotle might have differed in his political philosophy from his teacher, yet his, as it was with Plato, the true test of a good government was knowledge, spiritual and ethical. The determining factor of his classification lies in the character of the one, or the few, or the many. Burgess has rightly said that Aristotle’s classification is organic or spiritual rather than numerical.

But Aristotle’s classification does not include and explain modern forms of government like constitutional Monarchy, Unitary, and Federal governments of Parliamentary and Presidential types. The City-States of Aristotle, as Seeley says, do not fit in with modern country States. Perhaps Aristotle could not conceive, at the time When he flourished, the various forms into which a government might develop.

Nor do we use Democracy in the same sense in which Aristotle used it. Aristotle’s classification into Monarchies, Aristocracies, and Politics is also not satisfactory according to our division forms. If we accept his classification, are we to class Great Britain as a Monarchy or a Democracy, and how is it differentiated from the United States government?

Finally, Aristotle definitely distinguished between Aristocracy and democracy (polity). But the attempt to distinguish between the two is futile in our times, for it is not easy to find out where one ends and the Other begins.

Other Classifications:

Despite these defects, Aristotle’s classification was accepted as fundamental until quite modern times. The modern writers dropped the ethical or qualitative basis and classified governments on a quantitative basis alone. Threefold classification of governments Monarchies, Aristocracies, and Democracies became the generally accepted norm until World War I, when Democracy merged others, except for subject countries, colonies, dependencies or trust territories others where dictatorships had been established.

Among the modern writers, Montesquieu proposed a three-fold division. Republican, Monarchical and Despotic governments. The Republican government is that the people as a body or even a part of the people possess sovereign power.

Under a Monarchical form of government, there is rule by one person, but he governs only by fixed and established laws. On the other hand, there is a single person who rules in a Despotic government, but he conducts everything according to his will and caprice without any law. How long can a particular form of government last? Montesquieu replies that It depends upon the Persistence in a given society of that particular spirit which is characteristic of the form.

Rousseau divided governments into Monarchies, Aristocracies, and Democracies. He subdivided Aristocracies into three forms manual, elective, and hereditary. He considered elective Aristocracy as the best and hereditary the worst. Rousseau was a great champion of direct Democracy.

He also admitted the existence of mixed forms of government. Bluntschli gives us another classification. He accepted Aristotle’s classification as fundamental but added to it one form of his own. His division was Monarchies, Aristocracies, Democracies, and The Theocracy.

Theocracy is that form of government where the supreme power is attributed to God, a god, or some other superhuman being, I, or an Idea. The men who exercise authority are deputies or vicegerents of God or a god. According to Bluntschli, a theocracy is a normal form of government, but when it becomes perverted, it is known as democracy. Such a classification, however, seems quite fallacious.

The modem political scientist separates religion from politics, and he does not bring God into his division of forms of government. His task is to locate sovereign power, and it rests, for all intents and purposes, either in one person or a body of persons. But exceptions still there areas in the case of the Islamic Republic of Iran, the Muslim Arab countries, Pakistan, and Afghanistan Revival of Muslim fundamentalism aim to establish a government governed by the laws of Islam strictly in conformity to the prescriptions of the Quran. Some traces of democratic institutions may seem to exist, but the structure is entirely theocratic.

Other writers classify States on a historical basis. Von Mohl, a German publicist of the nineteenth century, is prominent out of this school. He distinguishes Patriarchal, Theocratic, Despotic, Classic, Feudal, and the Constitutional States.

He gives other types of government and subdivides the Classic States into Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy. Von Mohl’s classification, even on a superficial examination, is forthwith rejected. It is based on no single principle, and he does not distinguish between the State and government.

Marriot’s  Classification:

J.A.R. Marriot, a political scientist of recent times, classifies Governments on a threefold basis. He accepts Aristotle’s classification as fundamental but regards it as inadequate for modern governments. Marriot’s first basis of classification is the distribution of the powers of government. Governments are, accordingly, divided into unitary and federal.

In a Unitary Government, there is a concentration of powers at the center, and the provincial governments enjoy only delegated powers as they are the creation of the central government. There are two government sets in a Federal Government, and authority is divided between these two central and state or provincial governments. Both the parts of government enjoy original powers granted to them by the constitution, aid each is autonomous in its own sphere of jurisdiction.

Marriot’s next basis is that of a rigid and flexible constitution. In the third place, his basis of classification is the relation between the executive and the legislature. When the executive is superior to the legislature, the form of government is Despotic. If the executive is coordinate in power with the legislature, the type of government is Presidential if the executive is subordinate to the legislature, as, in the United Kingdom, the form of government is Parliamentary or Cabinet.

Leacock’s Classification:

Stephen Leacock’s classification is almost similar to the one given by Marriot. However, he does not attempt to include all the historical forms in the State’s evolution in his classification. Leacock confines himself to actually existing types of government.

His fundamental division is between despotic and democratic types. In a despotic government, the sovereign power is concentrated in the hands of one single person who rules according to his will. In a democracy, the sovereign power resides in the people or a majority of them. Democratic governments are divided into a Limited Monarchy and a Republic. In a Limited Monarchy, the head of government is the king, but his authority is limited, as in the United Kingdom, where the King reigns but does not rule.

In a Republican government, the executive is elected by the people for a fixed term of office. Each of these types may assume one of the two forms, Unitary or Federal. A Unitary era Federal government may either be. Parliamentary or Presidential. Ina Parliamentary government, the real executive, is responsible to the legislature. In a Non-Parliamentary or Presidential type, the executive is not responsible to the legislature, as in the United States of America.

Leacock’s classification can best be explained by the following table borrowed from him.


Modern Government
Different Types of Governments

It is, indeed, challenging to have a proper classification of modern governments. The form of government is the product of numerous historical, geographical, social, economic, and psychological factors. Some of these factors are comparatively permanent and give a particular impression of the institutions’ evolution and functioning. Both Britain and France, for example, have in common a Parliamentary system of government.

But Britain’s government is an ultimate theory, an absolute Monarchy, in the form of a limited constitutional Monarchy, and actual practice, the Democratic Republic. Practice outruns theory in Britain. On the other hand, France is a country in the form of a Republic, the institutions of a Monarchy, and an Empire’s spirit.

In general, there is a tendency for the French citizen to think of politics as intellectual rather than in practical terms to attach more importance to symbols than to concrete achievements. The result is, as Siegfried says, French politics are often both unrealistic and passionately ideological.

The United States of America and Canada, two neighboring countries, are Federations. The United States is the classic example of a Federal polity, which brought into existence the union of hitherto sovereign States for national unity purposes.

The component units of the federation called States, enjoy juridical status and corporate personality and are autonomous, except in a few enumerated subjects which are of common national interest. Subjects that concern the nation as a whole fall within the national or federal government’s jun diction.

Residuary powers, those who neither belong to the federal government nor the state governments, rest with the constituent states. The fathers of the Canadian Constitution were not wedded to the narrow ideas of a Federation. They adopted the Federation as a device for bringing together diverse elements and to solve administrative and economic problems which confronted the country then The Provinces were, accordingly, given certain enumerated powers, leaving the rest, together with some overriding powers, for the Central Government.

Lord Haldane would not describe Canada as a Federation, and Professor Where called it a quasi-federal constitution. But in actual practice, the unitary elements in Canada have now become obsolete or are being worked in a manner as to nullify the unitary effects. The United States, on the other hand, has a federal constitution as well as a federal government; through the process of centralization, there is now assuming alarming proportions.

The Indian Constitution is federal in form, but it sets up a highly centralized structure of government. The unitary tendencies found therein nullify to a great extent the broad features of federalism. And the founding Fathers deliberately did it. B.R. Ambedkar, the Law Minister and the principal architect of the Constitution claimed in the Constituent Assembly that India was a Federation during times of peace, with a unitary government system during times of war.

It follows that no two forms can be absolutely identical any more than two human beings, whatever likeness there may be. And, like a human being, no government remains the same. Change is at work all the time and more so in this atomic age of ours.  The needs of man and his environments have become so numerous and complex that no government mechanism can claim perfection and consequently finality.

The atomic age needs revolutionary changes and a dynamic government mechanism to suit the purposes to be realized. Could anyone visualize a decade or so before that, planning would become a democratic plea for realizing men’s well-being within the framework of society’s capitalistic structure?

Recent Classification:

With the emergence of the Welfare State, the distinction based on socialism and private enterprise are wearing pretty thin This necessitates revision of the traditional methods of classification. Our approach should not be confined merely to outward forms as they give no clue to the State’s real purpose.

Paine wrote 150 years ago When it should be said my poor are happy, neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them, my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars, the aged are not in want, the taxes are not oppressive, when those things are said, then may that country boast of its government.

Every State’s primary purpose is the same, and the community charges every government the double task of maintaining what. MacIver calls for an established code of living and adjusts this order to new conditions and emergency needs. It does not matter what the head of the State is called. We shall assign to a particular government proper place and label by knowing what it actually does in realizing the purpose entrusted to its charge the well being of the people.

Well, being and well feeding are not synonymous. Well, meaning an expansion in the human spirit, and, as such, it is a question of liberty in all its aspects. On the political front, it implies responsiveness and responsibility of the government.

How far the government is responsive and responsible for its actions depends on the electorate’s size and the freedom they enjoy in influencing its laws. The Greek statesman Alcibiades remarked to his uncle Pericles that a law adopted by the popular assembly was nothing but an arbitrary act when the majority imposed it on the minority without persuading the latter.

Recently, politics have been classified into—democracies, Authoritarian, and Totalitarian political systems. Democratic political systems are divided into three subclasses. The first of these has high subsystem autonomy such as British or the American.

The second subclass is characterized by limited subsystem autonomy, and it includes France of the Third and Fourth Republics, Italy after World War II, and Weimar Germany. The third class of democratic political systems is made up of those With low subsystem autonomy. Mexico provides an example of this type of democratic system. In Authoritarian systems, liberty is restricted and parliamentary institutions are absent or meaningless, but they are not tyrannical regimes.

Society is traditionally oriented, and power is exercised by small groups such as military leaders, bureaucrats, or religious figures. Examples are Argentina under Peron, Spain under Franco, and Portugal under Salazar. Finally, there are Totalitarian political systems as the pre-1990 Soviet Union, the Fascist regime in Italy, and the Nazi system in Germany.

The regime in a Totalitarian system is based on a dominant leader supported by a mass party acting on an aggressive ideology that explains and conditions political actions. A Totalitarian regime is differentiated from an Authoritarian system by its total control over and attempt to regulate in detail behavior and by the subordination of all organizations to the State.


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.

Articles: 14402

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *