Forms of government

Forms of government and  the State: Various attempts have been made to classify states, but these attempts have been unsatisfactory be cause they rest upon mo scientific principle by which the fundamental characteristics of various states may be distinguished. In their nature, in their legal character, and in their primary purposes, states are essentially similar. All stales contain the essential elements of state , population, territory, government, and sovereignty, so that in a strict sense a classification of states is impossible.

States differ in their external characteristics, and descriptions of these differences have some value  but they do not give a scientific basis for classification from the point of view of political science. The essential characteristic of the state is its political and legal nature. This is manifested in its governmental organization hence the most satisfactory classification is based on the similarities and differences of governmental forms. This results, however, in a classification of governments, not ob states.

It may be urged that since states manifest their exist once only through their governments, and since on no other basis ran they be properly distinguished, a classification of governments is in essence a classification of states. Modern political science, however, draws a clear distinction between state and government hence a classification of states on the basis of government rests upon a confusion of the two terms.

On the basis of descriptive differences, which are from political point of view, of secondary importance, various classifications have been made. From the standpoint of population and territory, states may be arranged according to their total numbers or total area. The terms tribal state, City State, feudal state, national state,and world empire, while in the main mere historical descriptions contain certain ideas to the relation of geographic and ethnic unity to state existence and give a classification of the forms assumed by the state in its evolution.
Mere size in area and population affects the form of political life and if differences in wealth resources, military strength, and the influence exerted in international relations are aided states may be classified as world powers, lesser powers, and petty states. From the point of view of the relative degree of external independence possessed by states, they may be classified as fully sovereign and partly sovereign states.  The latter class includes protected states, neutralized states, vassal states, and similar forms. It should be noted that the term sovereign is used here in its external sense of independence.
Other distinctions may be made between insular states and continental states between states whose territory is compact and those whose territory is scattered between military states and naval states between civilized states and uncivilized states between states whose population is growing rapidly and those whose population is increasing slowly or not at all between states whose financial credit is strong and those whose financial position is weak between debtor states and creditor states. Such classifications could be multiplied indefinitely, but they are of more value to the economist and the sociologist than to the political scientist. They overlap and shade off into one another to such an extent that they offer no satisfactory  basis  for a political study of state forms.
Several eminent writers have held that the best classification of states Tests upon the single principle of how the will of the state is formed and expressed, that is, of the location of sovereignty within the state. On this basis the ancient clarification made by Aristotle into monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies is justified.
Monarchy is defined as a form of state in which sovereignty resides in one person aristocracy, as the form in which sovereignty resides in a small minority and democracy as the form in which sovereignty resides in a large proportion
of the population. Sometimes this is simplified further into monarchies and democracies, the former being the type in which there exists one supreme will and the latter being the type which the sovereign will resides in a group of persons more or less numerous. To this classification several objections may be urged. The basis is quantitative and numerical rather than one of principle.
Aristocracy and democracy shade off into one another in such a way that a clear distinction between them is hard to make. Many states combine elements of the various forms, and any attempt to apply this classification to existing
states would lead to wide differences or opinions. Finally, this classification also is in reality based on the nature of the state’s organization and except as a vague description of the general spirit of the state is actually a classification of governmental forms.

Forms of Government:

Governments vary widely in the nature of their organization, in the extent of the authority that they exercise, in the relations among their various organs, and in many other ways. For purposes of classification the essential problem is to find the fundamental bases of distinction that will be, from the political point of view, scientific in nature and of practical value.
If attention is directed to the method of selecting the officials of government, it is found that many methods are combined in modern states. Heredity, though declining in importance, still survives in some states. Most states combine election, either direct or indirect, appointment, and competitive examination for the majority of their offices. Selection by lot is sometimes used, as in jury service and other devices may be found. No satisfactory classification of government can be based on this principle.
From the point of view of the extent of authority exercised, governments may be considered paternalistic if they exercise wide powers of control and regulation, or individualistic if they confine their authority within narrow limits. On this point governments differ in degree rather than in kind and a government that exercises large control over one set of interests economic, for example may keep its hand off other interests, such as religious beliefs or freedom of opinion.
Another government may reverse this process. No satisfactory classification of governments results from this criterion Probably the most scientific and useful classifications of governments rest upon the following three principles
1. The number of persons who share in exercising the sovereign power of the state. On this basis governments may be considered as monarchic, aristocratic and democratic

2. The separation of powers:

That is, the distinction between the organs of government on the basis of the functions performed by them. While the usual classification of governmental organs from this point of view is into legislative, executive, and judicial bodies, the more fundamental distinction is that between the organs that create law and those that administer it. The nature of the relation between the legislature and the administration will divide governments into the cabinet type and the presidential type.

3. The division of powers:

That is, the distinction between the organs of government on the basis of the area over which they exercise jurisdiction. From this point of view the nature of the relation between the national government and its subdivisions will determine whether the government is unitary or federal.


Absolute monarchy of this type was common in the earlier history of the state, in the Roman Empire, in the Middle Ages, in France before the Revolution, and in countries like Russia and Turkey, and, to a less degree, Prussia, Austria, and Hungary until well into the nineteenth century. It survives today only in a few backward states of Asia and Africa. What is usually called limited monarchy exists when the powers of the monarch are restricted by fundamental constitutional rules, written or unwritten, which limit the royal prerogative. Sometimes these have been promulgated by the monarch himself in response to public pressure sometimes they have been imposed upon him by successful revolution. If these restrictions are extensive enough to destroy the supremacy of the head of the state, the government ceases to be a monarchy. Most of the so called monarchies of today belong to this type. Monarchy Details.


Aristocratic government places political power in a comparatively small part of the population of the state This class may be based on birth, wealth, age, military power, priestly power, education, or a combination of these and similar distinctions. However the ruling class may be selected, in an aristocracy the mass of the people are excluded from any effective share in government.

Many writers, from Plato and Aristotle down, believed that aristocracy was the best form of government, provided that the ruling class was composed of those most competent to govern and that they exercised their power for the good of all and not for their own selfish interests. Some who have opposed class distinctions based on birth and wealth have believed in a natural aristocracy of ability and character which should exercise a dominant influence in politics, and have believed that government should be so organized as to give opportunity for this natural aristocracy to rise to political power.

In a sense all government is more or less aristocratic in that a considerable proportion of the population takes no part in government, that the greater shale of governing power is concentrated in the hands of a comparatively small number and that public opinion is influenced and determined by the leadership of a few.

The masses have neither the knowledge nor the time nor the unflagging interest necessary to enable them to rule. The line between aristocracy and democracy is difficult to draw, but the theory of aristocracy has no confidence in the political ability of the masses and believes in government by the select few.

Strength and Weakness of Aristocracy:

The defenders of aristocracy argue that it is the most competent and efficient kind of government, and that it is based on the sound principle of equality rather than on the unsound principle of quantity in determining the location of political power. They deny that men are equal in political capacity, and emphasize the value of training and experience in political life and of attracting to public service men of especial ability.

They assert that aristocracy is the safest and most moderate form of government, since it stands between the dangers of tyranny in the hands of a monarch and of the unrestrained power of ignorant and passionate mob rule. It is more likely than a democracy to respect authority and tradition and to avoid rash experiments or sudden changes.

A governing class is likely to develop a sense of public service and responsibility and to transmit this tradition, as well as training and experience, to its successors who are brought up under the system. An aristocratic system encourages special ability, is not afraid of men of individuality and genius, and is able to maintain a consistent and vigorous policy in both domestic and foreign affairs.

The weakness of aristocracy lies mainly in the difficulty of fixing a sound and just principle for the selection of the group or class that is to exercise political power and of securing adequate guaranties that the group in power will not use their authority for the furtherance of their own interests rather than for the general good. All aristocracies tend to be narrow and exclusive, to develop arrogance and class pride, and to be conservative to the extent of retarding progress.

The chief value of the aristocratic theory in the modern world is to emphasize the necessity for trained expats and efficiency government to counterbalance the democracy doctrine of the equality of men, which often results in the selection of unfit person fut responsible positions.


Democracy is that form of government in which the mass of the population possesses the right to shale in the exercise of sovereign power. It assumes political equality and Opposes the idea that any class shall possess special political privileges or monopolize political power. It emphasizes the idea of rule by the majority and of law as conforming to general public opinion. It has confidence in the capacity of the people to govern themselves, and bases authority on the consent of the governed.

In a direct democracy laws are made and issues elected by immediate reference to the voting population in indirect democracy the voters choose representatives for this purpose. The team republic is sometimes used to indicate a representative democracy, with an elected head.

In no democracy does every individual in the state take active part in government. Attainment of a certain age is considered necessary to give sufficient intelligence, experience, and judgment. Some may be excluded because of mental or moral unfitness or because of illiteracy. Until recently women were generally deprived of political rights. Even among those who take part in government, political power is divided unequally. Offices, especially those of importance, can be held by a few only, and special fitness may properly be demanded for certain types of officials.

The actual power of a cabinet minister or of a member of the legislature is much greater than that of the average voter. Even in the formation of public opinion the influence of some is much greater than that of others.

If, however, the form of government is supported by general consent, if laws are made by representatives chosen by a wide suffrage or by popular referendum, if the governing head of the state is elected, directly or indirectly, by popular vote or is responsible to the legislature, if the right to vote is conferred equally upon a large proportion of the population, and if opportunity to serve in governmental capacity is open to all classes of the population, the cram it m y high be considered democratic.

Governments. I has type winch includes most modern states, vary in the dc gt of democracy, from the point of view both of the numbers that share in political authority and of the actual extent of control exercised by those that possess some share.

Strength and Weakness of Democracy:

The Value of any form of government may be judged either by the success and efficiency with which it accomplishes its proper purposes or by the effect which it produces on its citizens and the degree of satisfaction and confidence that they feel toward it. Some supporter of democracy have praised it on both the grounds mentioned above others, while somewhat dubious of its efficiency, have held it because they believe that its valuable effects upon the population concerned outweigh all its disadvantages.

Those who believe that democracy is the best and most successful form of government argue that it alone provides for the responsibility of those who govern to those who are governed and results in a policy aimed at the welfare of all classes of the population. They hold that officials selected by popular election and subject to popular control are more likely to be competent and trustworthy than those that rule under a monarchic or aristocratic system, and that the rights and interests of all are best safeguarded if all have a voice in protecting their rights and fathering their interests.

From this point of view they argue that democratic government is likely to insure a greater degree of efficiency and to promote a higher degree of general welfare than any other form. Since it is based on the general principle of equality, it is likely to promote justice, one of the main purposes for which the state exists. It transfers the basis of sovereignty from force to consent, and views the state as existing for the individual, rather than the individual as existing for the state. Personal liberty is therefore more likely to be legally safeguarded.

The strongest arguments in favor of democracy rest upon its value in developing and elevating the masses of the people, in stimulating their interest in public affairs and strengthening their loyalty and trust in a government in which they take active part.

Democracy thus serves as a training school for citizenship. It strengthens love of country it minimize a the dang a of discontent and revolution. Popular intelligence and virtue are its most valuable results. Many of those who uphold democracy acknowledge that certain conditions are essential to its success.

A high average degree of intelligence, a constant interest in public affairs, and a sense of public responsibility are necessary to the satisfactory working of democratic government. The people must be willing to accept the principle of majority rule but they must also respect the rights at strong monitors. Ignorance and indifference on the part of the mass of the population make impossible the successful working of democracy hence democratic states stress the value of public education and of continued public interest.

The adoption of the forms of democratic government by a State whose population is not competent to operate them is not a fair test of democracy, nor is the result a satisfactory government for the state concerned. Democratic institutions should be introduced gradually, as the people are prepared by education in political affairs and by training in the habits and discipline of self government.

Many writers have pointed out the necessity of restricting democratic government by a written constitution, and by a system of checks and balances for the purposes of safeguarding property and contracts, restricting the power of majorities, making difficult sudden changes in the organic structure of the state, and preventing hasty action as the result of temporary discontent or thoughtless emotion.

The ideals of democracy have been widely and enthusiastically accepted in the modern world. They have unquestionably aided in improving in many ways the position of the masses, and whatever their defects, they will be difficult to replace, since people who have once tasted power are not willing to give it up without a struggle.

Critics of democracy have been numerous, not only in the earlier period, when they strove to uphold the monarchies and aristocracies which democracy, as a revolutionary movement, Was attempting to destroy, but also in recent year’s as a result of actual experience with the results of democratic government.

Early writers usually viewed democracy as a dangerous form of government. and thought of it in terms of the rule of a turbulent and anarchic mob. Later critics devoted attention to the in competence of the masses. They denied that men are equal and attacked the doctrine that one man’s vote is as good as another in the choice of officials or in the determination of public policy. They pointed out the great inequalities in intelligence and capacity argued that quality rather than quantity should be given consideration, and emphasized the value of special training and expert knowledge in political affairs.

Democracy, they believe, means government by the ignorant and unlit. It tends to be suspicions of men of unusual ability, and standardizes life on a low level. Demagogues, agitators, and bosses, they argue, become the natural leaders in a democracy, rather than men of ability and genius. Popular election, short terms, and rotation in office prevent experience and deter men of outstanding quality from taking active part in public life.

While the interest of democracy in popular education is admitted, its critics point out that education in a democracy tends towards low standards, toward the technical and practical aspects, and neglects culture, literature, and art. The rudeness and bad manners of democracies have been noted, resulting probably from the association of manners with the older aristocracies and from the feeling that in a democracy one man is as good as another and must exhibit his equality by vigorous self assertion.

The extravagance and wastefulness of democracies have also been pointed out. The masses who control the vote do not pay the greater part of the taxes, and are willing to spend freely what they think is paid by the wealthy few. On the other hand, democracies are averse to large salaries for public service, and this aversion results in the placing of mediocre men in important positions.

Critics of democracy argue that it is not conducive to individual liberty, and that there is greater danger from the tyranny of the majority or of those in control of a democratic system than in any other form of government. The tremendous power behind a democratic government makes it all the mom dangerous if it is intolerant. Individuality and freedom of thought are thereby ruthlessly crushed.

Many writers have pointed out the difficulty of carrying out a consistent policy over a period of years under a democratic system. The frequent changes in administration and in policy resulting from the overthrow of the party in power make it difficult to secure continuity of political purpose or to plan for the future. This weakness is considered especially dangerous in foreign affairs.

The ease with which the Opinions of the masses can be influenced by propaganda has received much attention in recent years. The growing complexity of life and the expanding powers of government make it difficult for the average citizen to secure accurate information or to form sound judgments on public questions. His opinions will be formed largely by what he reads in the press and by what he hears in picture theaters and on the radio.

Whatever ideas are given currency by the groups that control these sources of information exercise large control in modern democracies. Fickleness and emotionalism are defects frequently mentioned by the Critics of democracy. The cost, both in time and in money, of working the processes of democratic government may also be mentioned.

The elaborate mechanics of nomination and election for numerous offices and the lavish expenditure of money in connection With elections not only are wasteful but also tend to destroy the spirit of democratic government and, instead, to give control either to a plutocracy or to a boss and machine that control the votes. Corruption in a democratic government is considered by some to be more extensive than in a monarchic or aristocratic system, and to be worse in its effects because it reaches down to all classes of the people.

Many critics of democracy believe that its weaknesses have been intensified by the tendency of democracy to attempt too much. The beginnings of democracy in the modern world were accompanied by the theory of individualism. Men who were struggling against the autocratic power of monarchs feared government and wished to limit its powers.

They believed that the best government is that which governs least. They were com Concern mainly with individual rights and freedom. When, how ever, the democratic revolutions were successful and. the people secured control of the government, they lost their fear of authority. They felt that it was safe to entrust power to an authority which they controlled, and they began to appeal to the state for regulations of all kinds and for positive action to promote general welfare.

As a result, the past century has seen a rapid expansion of governmental action. Over-legislation has become a danger, and a strain has been put upon the working of democracy which many believe it cannot hear. It was much easier to work democracy successfully under the conditions of the simple rural life of a century ago, when the government did not attempt to do much, than it is under the complex conditions of urban, industrial civilization today, when the government, partly of necessity and partly through overconfidence in what it. can accomplish, attempts to do too much.

After the First World War efforts were made to extend the functions of democracy to control over foreign affairs. This was due to the dislike and fear of secret treaties and to the belief that democracies are less likely to make war than autocratic governments. Whether democracies are naturally peace loving is a disputed question. As to the competence of a democracy to direct foreign policy, it is argued that the people are more likely to be competent to choose their own officials and to decide questions of domestic concern than they are to judge the issues of international relations.

Lack of knowledge and lack of interest on the part of the masses might make popular contra of foreign relations of doubtful wisdom. The injection of foreign policy as an issue into the politics of a state not only weakens the state in its external relations but also makes more difficult the settlement of domestic problems on their merits.

Democracy and Efficiency:

The main problem in modern democratic government is to secure a proper balance between the recognized value of democracy and the equally desirable principle of efficiency. Between these two ideals there is a certain discrepancy. Democracy carried to the extreme of an equal share in government for all would result in inefficient government. If efficiency alone were aimed at, a wise and benevolent dictator would probably result  at least the important powers of government would be delegated to a small number of able and expert persons.

In recent years the ideas of democracy and efficiency have both been popular, and two apparently contradictory tendencies have been evident, one toward more democracy, the other toward great efficiency in government. Examples of the growth of democratic ideas and methods are found in the establishment of constitutional republics in many European states, in the abolition of plural voting and the reduced power of the House of Lords in England, and, in the United States, in such devices as the widening of the suffrage, the use of popular initiative and referendum in Lawmaking, the recall of elected officials, and the direct primary in nominations. All these tend to increase the number of persons who take part in government and to extend the actual control of the voters over the government. More democracy is desired.

On the other hand, efforts are being made to increase the efficiency of government, and the result of this tendency is to restrict democratic control. Examples are found in the establishment of dictatorships in various European countries and in the movements which aim at control by a strong, and vigorous administration of experts. In the United States such devices as the city manager, the civil service method of selecting officials by competitive examination, the use of boards or commissions of experts for many purposes of governmental regulation, the short ballot, by which many officials formerly elected are chosen by appointment or by civil service tests all emphasize efficient rather than democratic government.

The contradictions between these two apparently opposite movements may be reconciled somewhat if they aim to place the ultimate decision of questions of policy in the hands of the people, but leave the actual administration of this policy in the hands of specially trained experts. Along this line, perhaps, the compromise of democracy and efficiency may be best worked out.

An intelligent public opinion on important questions of general policy, and a willingness to select and to trust competent officials and to recognize that the administration of government is a profession, demanding experience and trained knowledge, may retain the values of democracy and avoid some of its worst dangers. It is important, however, that public opinion should be really public that is, it should represent the ideas of a large majority and should be peaceably acquiesced in by the minority and that it should be really opinion that is, it should represent sound judgments based on accurate information.

A wise democracy will not place too great burdens of decision and responsibility in details upon its voters, nor expect them to be able to decide wisely upon the complicated and technical problems of modern political life. Greater confidence in wisely selected representatives, increased use of experts in administration, and avoidance of over-legislation would remove the grounds for much recent criticism of democracy.


The growth of executive power and the establishment of dictatorship in many countries in the period following the First World War was a startling surprise to most political thinkers. While dictatorship had survived during the nineteenth century in some states, especially in the Latin American states and in Russia, it was believed that the backwardness of these countries in political development and the internal conditions peculiar to these areas were responsible.

It was generally expected that the future would see a steady growth and extension of democratic ideas and organization, and the years immediately following the war were marked by this process. However, after the war to make the world safe for democracy, the democratic theory was bitterly attacked and strong dictatorships were set up in many of the smaller states of central Europe as well as in Italy, Germany, and the Soviet Union.

The democratic doctrines of the equality of man, the supremacy of the legislature, the existence of rival parties, the freedom of discussion and criticism, and the rule of the majority were rejected, and were replaced by a one party system, composed of a disciplined minority, a powerful individual as the head of the government, and a strict control over political ideas and expression through indoctrination, propaganda, and police.

The state was glorified over the individual, and obedience and duty were stressed rather than rights and freedom. Bitter attacks were made on the incompetence of legislative bodies and on the lack of unity caused by the rivalry of competing parties. Even in the democratic states the tendency toward the increased power of the executive and administrative branches of the government was noted.

While the Second World War has overthrown the powerful dictatorships set up in Italy and Germany, and has displaced the semi feudal, divine right system of Japan the future of democracy is not yet assured. The world today is seriously divided between those who believe in individual freedom and popular control and those who believe in an all powerful state, a one party government, and a dominant leader.