Principles Classification of State

Principles Classification of State is based on two principles: (1) The number of persons who exercise supreme power. (2) The ends they seek to serve self-interest or benefit of the community. Aristotle was of the view that when the rulers aimed at the good of the community, the states would be a pure form of state.

Attempts at Principles Classification of State:-

The apparent differences between states and the diversity of points of view from which they may be considered have led to numerous attempts to classify them. The literature dealing with the subject is extensive. Still, on the whole, it is unsatisfactory because the classifications which have been attempted too often rest upon no scientific principle by which states can be distinguished from one another in their fundamental characteristics.


In their legal character, in their essence, and their primary ends and purposes, all states are essentially alike and cannot, therefore, be differentiated from one another in the same way that natural organisms, physical objects, or chemical elements may be distinguished.

The things which differentiate one state from another are not differences of constituent elements but rather external phenomena or characteristics. The most important of these latter are the forms and character of their governmental organizations.

Classification of States and Government Confused:-

The most common and most satisfactory classification of states is, therefore, that which is based upon the similarities and differences of their governments. But in the last analysis, such a classification is nothing more than a classification of governments and not of states.

Modern political science and practice clearly distinguish between the two things, and consequently, the classification of states based on forms of government rests upon a confusion of the two. Therefore, consistency and scientific logic require that such Classification be placed in their proper category and labeled as classifications of governments and not of states. If that principle is departed from in the treatment of the subject here, it is due to the desire to conform to popular usage. It is not to be understood as an admission that such usage is scientifically correct.

Some Traditional Classifications:-

Based on the forms, character, or spirit of their government’s states have been classified as monarchies (absolute or limited), republics, aristocracies (natural, hereditary, elective), democracies (pure or direct, and indirect or representative), theocracies, despotisms, ochlocracies, timocracies, oligarchies, plutocracies, patriarchal states, feudal states, and others.

Based on their wealth, resources, military strength, and the influence they exert in international relations, they are classified as great powers or world powers, lesser powers, and petty states. Concerning the degree of their independence and autonomy, they are classified as sovereign, part sovereign, non-sovereign, vassal, protected, and neutralized states.

States have been classified based on many other characteristics. Thus those who have seacoasts and large merchant marines have been classified as maritime powers. Those who have no outlets upon the sea are classed as landlocked states. Those whose territories are in the form of islands are classified as insular states, those who are territorially a part of a great continent are frequently referred to as continental states, those who have large armies are spoken of as military states, and if their policies are aggressive, they are denominated militaristic, imperialistic states.

Professor Holcombe suggests that among the criteria that might be used as bases of classification are the increase of the population wealth and income, the amount of food and raw materials consumed, the degree of intelligence, etc. If a single criterion of well-being is chosen, the most eligible, he says, is probably the death rate. States may, therefore, be classified based on their vital statistics. He further suggests that another Objective classification, a highly practical one in this capitalistic age, arranges them according to the credit Which their governments enjoy in the money markets of the World.

The points of view from which states may be envisaged, the criteria by which. They may be compared. Consequently, the Classifications which may be made of them might be multiplied almost indefinitely, but it would serve little purpose. Classifications based on governmental forms and organization, as stated above, are in the last analysis nothing more than classifications of government. Accordingly, we leave the matter to be dealt with in connection with the discussion of types and forms of government, where it properly belongs.

Criticism of the Above Classifications:-

As to the other bases of classification referred to above, it may be said that most of them are arbitrary since they relate to accessory characteristics and concomitant phenomena of states rather than to their essential constituent elements. Most of them are unscientific and do not distinguish states based on their fundamental characteristics classification based on the extent of territory, population, wealth, resources, the nature of their industries, degree of civilization, credit rating, vital statistics, etc.

May serve the purpose of the historian, the economist, and the sociologist, but for the jurist or political scientist, they are wholly unsatisfactory and of little value. Classification of states .as agricultural, commercial, industrial, military, territorial, and the like have no more interest for the political scientist than a classification of animals or plants based on their size, height, or color has for the natural scientist.

As Jellinek justly remarked, such labeling furnishes no indication of the state-or structure as to what makes a state. Many classifications cross and overlap one another in the most diverse manner so that each state falls in several Classes, all of which together fail to afford any clue to the real nature of the state.

Such classifications’ uselessness becomes eSpecially evident when virtually all states may be assigned to a particular class. Thus nearly all states could be classified as agricultural, industrial, or commercial now that city-states have virtually disappeared, nearly all states are territorial or country states, as Professor Seeley would say, most of them claim to be civilized all of them consider that they are culture states, in the sense that one of their ends is the promotion of civilization.

All states fall within the category of so-called law states (Rechtsstaaten). German writers have made so much, in the sense that they are governed by following legal rules or in the sense that one of their ends is the creation, definition, and protection of legal rights. To-day, practically all states are constitutional states in the sense that their governments’ organization and powers are determined in varying degrees by constitutions of one kind or another.

The difficulty of Finding Proper Criteria for the Classifying States:-

In arriving at a satisfactory classification of states, the essential problem is finding a scientific principle, some juridical criterion, based on which states can be distinguished in their form, spirit, or fundamental characteristics. Jellinek remarked that certain constant relations or events are found in all states, whatever may be their dissimilarities of detail.

These elements are juridical or political in their character, and they alone afford a scientific basis of Classification. As remarked above, states are fundamentally alike in their essence and substantially so in their objects and end. While they differ in respect to the organization of the agencies through which their wills are formulated and executed and in respect to various external phenomena, these latter do not furnish satisfactory criteria according to which states themselves may be intrinsically distinguished from one another and grouped into separate and clearly differentiated classes.

Aristotle’s Criteria:-

The principle that has commended itself to many writers from ancient times to the present is the number of persons in whom the state’s sovereign power is vested. On this principle, states have been classified as monarchies, aristocracies, and democracies. A monarchy is defined as a state in which this power is vested in a single person. An aristocracy is one in which it is vested in a few persons. Democracy is one in which it is vested in the general mass of the population.

In substance, this classification has been attributed to Aristotle, who is sometimes called the father of political science. He did not, however, distinguish the state from the government. Apparently, his classification was really nothing more than a classification of governments based on the number of persons who exercised, or had the final right to exercise, the power of government.

As appears from the most authoritative English translation of his Politics, Aristotle, after mentioning the various forms of government, said

“The true forms of government, therefore, are those in which the one, the few, or the many govern with a view to the common interest.These were a monarchy, aristocracy, and what he called polity, the nearest modern English equivalent of which is perhaps constitutional democracy.”

They were the normal forms of government, the forms that aimed to achieve the common good. Each of these forms had a corresponding perverted or corrupt form. Thus, when the monarchical government was conducted with a view of the monarch’s selfish private interest, it became a tyranny; when the aristocratic government was conducted with a View to the selfish interest of the few, it became an oligarchy. When polity was conducted with a view of the many’s selfish interests, it acquired the degenerate form of democracy.

It will be seen that Aristotle’s classification was based on two principles.

  • First, on the number of persons to whom the supreme right and power of government belonged and,
  • Second, upon the aim, Spirit, or end of the government.

Aristotle’s classification in so far as it was based upon the number of persons through whom the will of the state is Expressed and enforced has found many adherents, and writers do not lack today who maintain that it can not be improved upon.

Criticism of Aristotle’s Classification:-

But it has also been criticized on various grounds. In the first place, as stated above, it is in the final analysis, not a classification of states but governments, and therefore has no rightful place in a discussion of forms of state. In the second place, it is unsound as a government classification because it does not rest upon any scientific principle. Governments may be distinguished from one another concerning their fundamental characteristics and organizational forms.

In short, the principle upon which it rests is arithmetical rather than organic, quantitative rather than qualitative in character. Thus the distinction between aristocratic and democratic forms of government is merely numerical-a distinction of degree and not an organic or juridical difference.

The attempt to distinguish between them must, therefore, lead to hairsplitting, since any line of demarcation which may be drawn between them may be largely arbitrary. Seeley criticized Aristotle’s classification on the ground that it was hardly applicable to states of today. He knew only city-states, and they were marvelous, unlike the country states of modern times, and therefore any classification which would put them in the same category would be of little value.

Assuming that Aristotle meant by monarchy and aristocracy states in which sovereignty and not merely the power of government was vested in one Or the few, his classification would be of little practical value to-day for the reason that there are few if any civilized states in which sovereignty is vested in one man or a small class.

And to describe such states as Great Britain as monarchies, since it does not indicate the state’s real character or form of government, is worthless. Moreover, it would result in placing Great Britain in the same class with states like the former empires of Russia and Turkey and other states that had very few elements of similarity with the British state. It would equally result in Great Britain and the United States’ assignment, both of which are democratic republics, to different classes.

Theocracy as a Form of State:-

Many writers, especially earlier ones, made a place in their classifications for the so-called theocracy, a form of state in which the ultimate sovereignty was assumed to rest in the hands of God or some other super-human or spiritual being. German writers usually distinguished between two types of theocracy, the pure form and the dualistic or limited form.

The pure theocracy was one in which the supernatural person to whom the sovereignty was attributed was alleged to rule directly and immediately without the aid of human intermediaries; that is, the monarch was considered God himself.

The limited or dualistic theocracy was described as one in which the immediate ruler was not God but a human king who ruled as his vicegerent and acted as the interpreter of the divine Will, which was made known to him by revelation. As such, he was divinized and sacred. The idea survived until very recently in the conception of royalty by God’s grace and in the coronation ceremony, which was regarded as a special sacrament of the church.

Bluntschli gave examples of pure theocracies Ethiopia, ancient Egypt, Persia, and the kingdom of the Jews. To this list, von Mohl added ancient Mexico and Peru. The Mohammedan states of the Middle Ages were also largely theocratic in character. Mohammed considered himself the vicegerent of God, and the Koran contained the law and jurisprudence by which his people were governed.

The caliph was both emperors and oped, and religious and temporal affairs were not clearly differentiated. Treitschke remarked that all-powerful Oriental states, except Phoenicia, were theocracies, and he mentioned Tibet as a later example.

He also considered the papal states and the Ottoman Empire as theocracies. Other states of Europe until comparatively recent times possessed theocratic elements and, as is well known, some of the early communities of North America were founded on a religious basis. It would be easy to show that many modern states had their roots in the church.

Throughout the Middle Ages, the basis of the state was theocratic. Indeed, says Figgis, the church was not only a state, but it was the state in so far as it had an existence was the church’s police department.

The church took over from the Roman Emperors the theory of absolute and universal jurisdiction. It develoPed it into the doctrine of plenitude potestatis, which was attributed to the church’s head. The church was a powerful rival of the state; in fact, the world as we live it and think it says Figgis, was forged in the clash of warring sects and opinions, in the secular feuds between clergy-laity, between Catholics and Protestants, Lutherans and Calvinists.

It was only at the end of the Middle Ages that the purely secular state emerged triumphant from the struggle. For a long time, the alliance between church and state was the main support of the state indeed down to Anne’s reign, says Seeley, the English church was the English state in a certain sense.

For many centuries the church continued to exercise a wide degree of civil jurisdiction; it monopolized and exercised many functions that today belong exclusively to the state. Churchmen enjoyed equal authority with the officials of the state in the performance of various secular functions. But as time passed, the state everywhere tended to become more and more secularized, came to lean less upon the support of the church, and finally was able to support itself without religious props.

Theocracies and despotisms, observes an eminent writer have their place in the historical development of the state. Their work is as indispensable in the production of political civilization as any other form of organization. We havé not done with them yet, either. The need for them repeats itself Wherever and whenever a population is to be dragged out of barbarism up to the lowest plane of civilization.

Juridically, however, the theocracy is not a distinct form of state but -is a form of either monarchy or aristocracy. The sovereignty may be imputed to God or some other extramundane power. Still, the fact remains that whoever, whether priest or prophet, in the final analysis, interprets the will of this supernatural authority and enforces its commands is, So far as political science and constitutional law are concerned, the actual legal sovereign.

Ultimately God may be regarded as the ruler and source of authority, but his power must be humanly interpreted, made known, and actually exercised through human agencies. The will be supposed to emanate from him must, in the last analysis, be the will of some human being or group. In reality, theocracy is not a species of state but a form of government, and strictly speaking, has no place, therefore in a discussion of kinds of state.

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