Government Systems: Monarchy, Aristocracy, Democracy, Oligarchy


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Typology: classification system for claiming broad similarities or differences
Aristotle’s typology based on two questions:
who rules?
in whose interest?

Who Rules

Lawful (common good)

Lawless (private interest)










modern concept of “democracy” = polity — constitutional democracy
Dickerson and Flanagan’s modern typology
Political System:
Liberal Democracy
Transitional Democracies
Autocratic (authoritarian & totalitarian)
Institutions — relationship between legislative (make laws) & executive (enforce laws & enforce laws)
Parliamentary / Presidential / Hybrid
Unitary / Devolution / Federalism / Confederation

Liberal democracies

form of political system which emerged in Northern & Western Europe, and European North America
“a system of government in which people rule themselves, either directly or indirectly (through chosen officials) but in either case subject to constitutional restraints on the power of the majority” (D&F, 269)
Robert Dahl argues historic sources include:
Greek city-state: assemblies, officials elected by lottery
Roman Empire & Italian city-states: election of important officials
Northern Europe: Ting (local assemblies) and Althing (national assembly); elected king responsible to Ting and limits on his power; equality among citizens
commonality: limited to ‘free men’; oppressive of ‘others’, esp. women; often popular rule gave way to one-person or one-group rule; only few participated or believed in the underlying ‘logic’
four operating principles:
1. equality of political rights: right to vote and right to engage in civic duties & public offices
2. majority rule: each vote counts equally, so majority vote wins
majority = 50%+1
plurality = the most
qualified majority = certain number above 50%+1
unanimity = everyone agrees / votes for the same option
3. political partication: representative democracy
population votes for leaders who rule
leaders rule (laws & policy & expenditures) within the constraints of the law
vs. direct democracy: everyone takes part and votes on all laws & policy & expenditures
some other options: referendum, initiative & recall (D&F 274-275)
4. political freedom: rights to engage in political activities (speech, writing, organizing, election, etc.)


means ‘self-rule’, but refers to absolute rule by one person or group without limits imposed by law, political institutions, etc.
various types of autocracy:
despotism: one person rule through fear
authoritarianism: “authority that may or may not rest on wide popular support but that is not put to the test of free eletions” (D&F 309)
most are statist:
state is final controller of politics, economics, and society is engage in engineering all three directly or indirectly (right-wing and left-wing)
do what they think works for the state (regardless of ideology)

Right Wing

Left Wing

no to limited political pluralism

no to limited political pluralism

no ideology, but anti-communist

official ideology, anti-captalist & anti-liberal

limited political mobilization

massive political moblilization

no pre-existing plan for social transformation

pre-existing plan for social transformation

favourable to capitalism

favourable to socialism

Totalitarianism is different from both because:
focussed on personality of one person — ‘cult of personality’
reduces the problem or solution to one factor
one party state, loyalty to party from all social institutions & people
monopolize ideas
widespread use of terror
state overrides laws & not bound by them
planned & controlled economy
Problems of all systems:
elite rule: unnecesary evil or necessary evil?
majority v minorty rights
public interest (common good) v private interest (individual or group interest): what counts as what? eg. private property, national defence, public education
how much political autonomy? — state, individuals, groups, etc.
how much state intervention in the economy and society?
how much political participation of ‘non-state’ actors, eg. business, unions, etc.?


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