Succession of government forms. Historically prevalent forms of government include monarchy, aristocracy, timocracy, oligarchy, democracy, theocracy, tyranny and more. The main aspect of any philosophy of government is how political power is obtained, with the two main forms being electoral contest and hereditary succession.
Theories of Early Writers :
No state has retained the same form of government throughout its whole history. Governments are constantly changing their forms so as to adapt themselves to the altered conditions of a new environment. Thus, Athens was first ruled by kings, then by an aristocracy, later by tyrants, then by a democracy, and finally again by kings.
So Rome went through a cycle of political transformations. It began as a city kingdom, then it became a republic, and finally an empire ruled by Caesar. The government of France within less than a century passed through the forms of an absolute monarchy, a republic, an empire, a kingdom, again a republic, again an empire, and for the third time a republic.
There existed in early times a popular belief that there Was a natural order of political development through which all states must or would normally pass in the course of their history. Plato, for example, taught that the natural course of evolution was from aristocracy, the rule of the best, to timocracy, the rule of the military, then to oligarchy, then to the rule of the mob, and finally to tyranny.
Aristotle, while differing from Plato as to the order of development, nevertheless believed that forms of government followed one another according to a regular order of succession. According to his rule the state ordinarily began as a hereditary monarchy, which in time passed into an aristocracy. The latter in the course of time became an oligarchy, the oligarchy became a tyranny, and the latter ultimately evolved into a democracy.
Ordinarily after an unsatisfactory experience with democracy a monarchy would be reestablished, and the cycle thus begun again, would be passed through as before. Polybius taught that in the beginning the strongest person physically in the state ruled, that is, the state began originally as a monarchy.
Then followed a period when justice rather than physical power became the basis of the right to rule, during which time a form of government called by Polybius “royalty” (Basileia) prevailed. This form in time degenerated into tyranny, only to be overthrown eventually, and an aristocracy set up in its place.
This in the course of time was succeeded by oligarchy, which in turn was overthrown by the people and a democracy was established. Machiavelli laid down almost the same rule regarding the order of natural succession in respect to the political form of ancient states.
The noted German scholar Schleiermacher maintained that political transformations are determined largely by the spread of political self-consciousness. At first, he said, political consciousness was not highly developed in any minds, though diffused equally among the masses. The democratic form of government naturally corresponded to this condition and was therefore the first state form. In the course of time a higher political consciousness developed and concentrated itself in a few minds. This led to the establishment of aristocracy.
Finally the state consciousness concentrated itself in a single individual, and monarchy, the highest form of state, succeeded. There is a residuum of truth in the principle of Schleiermacher’s law, but the weight of Opinion is against the order in which he conceived political consciousness to have spread his more reasonable to believe that it existed at first in but one or at best only a few minds, and that it grew and spread slowly and became diffused throughout the mass of the population rather late in the life of the state.
It seems more probable, therefore, that the order of succession was the reverse of that which Schleiermacher laid down that is, the state began with a monarchical form of organization, which in time became aristocratic, and finally, when political consciousness became general, the organization of the state became democratic. History, indeed, shows that this has generally been the order of development.
Bluntschli, a critic of Schleiermacher, maintained that the normal forms of government-succeeded each other in the following order, first, theocracy, second, monarchy third, aristocracy, and fourth, democracy. Each of these forms not infrequently passed through several transformations. For example, monarchy began in its pure form, then it became aristocratic (standisch) in character, and finally, democratic. Republics likewise passed through monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic stages.
Regarding the merits of the rule laid down by the early writers in respect to the succession of state forms, there can be but one conclusion, namely, that such changes do not follow each other in accordance with any law such as reigns in the physical world.
History furnishes abundant evidence of this truth. For example, the early monarchies did not always pass into tyrannies, but often the latter resulted from strife among the leaders of an aristocracy. Not infrequently monarchies have been transformed into democracies, aristocracies into monarchies, and democracies into aristocracies.
Bodin, in his treatise on the republic, gives numerous historical examples of such transformations. In modern times monarchies have more often been succeeded by democracies than by aristocracies. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in many states of Europe monarchical governments of an absolute type were erected upon the ruins of feudal aristocracies. A study of the subject, indeed, will show that the exceptions are more numerous than the rule. There are, of course, certain laws of political evolution,but no such sequence of succession as was described by the early writers.
Not all states have passed through the same stages or undergone the same transformations. The changes that have occurred in some have been the result of internal revolution, in others the result of conscious adaption or imitation. Woolsey justly remarks that if there were such a law of succession as described by Polybius, it would afford a most hopeless prospect to the world. It would, in short, mean the reign of fatalism and of death in the domain of politics.