Democracy, or democratic government, is “a system of government in which all the people of a state or polity … are involved in making decisions about its affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly,” as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary. Democracy is further defined as (a:) “government by the people; especially : rule of the majority (b:) ” a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
According to political scientist Larry Diamond, it consists of four key elements: (a) A political system for choosing and replacing the government through free and fair elections; (b) The active participation of the people, as citizens, in politics and civic life; (c) Protection of the human rights of all citizens, and (d) A rule of law, in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
The term originates from the Greek δημοκρατία (dēmokratía) “rule of the people”, which was found from δῆμος (dêmos) “people” and κράτος (krátos) “power” or “rule”, in the 5th century BC to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens; the term is an antonym to ἀριστοκρατία (aristokratía) “rule of an elite”. While theoretically these definitions are in opposition, in practice the distinction has been blurred historically. The political system of Classical Athens, for example, granted democratic citizenship to an elite class of free men and excluded slaves and women from political participation. In virtually all democratic governments throughout ancient and modern history, democratic citizenship consisted of an elite class until full enfranchisement was won for all adult citizens in most modern democracies through the suffrage movements of the 19th and 20th centuries. The English word dates to the 16th century, from the older Middle French and Middle Latin equivalents.
Democracy contrasts with forms of government where power is either held by an individual, as in an absolute monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy. Nevertheless, these oppositions, inherited from Greek philosophy, are now ambiguous because contemporary governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic, and monarchic elements. Karl Popper defined democracy in contrast to dictatorship or tyranny, thus focusing on opportunities for the people to control their leaders and to oust them without the need for a revolution.
- 1 Characteristics
- 2 History
- 2.1 Ancient origins
- 2.2 Middle Ages
- 2.3 Modern era
- 2.3.1 Early modern period
- 2.3.2 18th and 19th centuries
- 2.3.3 20th and 21st centuries
- 3 Measurement of democracy
- 4 Types of democracies
- 4.1 Basic forms
- 4.1.1 Direct
- 4.1.2 Representative
- 18.104.22.168 Parliamentary
- 22.214.171.124 Presidential
- 4.1.3 Hybrid or semi-direct
- 4.2 Variants
- 4.2.1 Constitutional monarchy
- 4.2.2 Republic
- 4.2.3 Liberal democracy
- 4.2.4 Socialist
- 4.2.5 Anarchist
- 4.2.6 Sortition
- 4.2.7 Consociational
- 4.2.8 Consensus democracy
- 4.2.9 Supranational
- 4.2.10 Inclusive
- 4.2.11 Participatory politics
- 4.2.12 Cosmopolitan
- 4.2.13 Creative Democracy
- 4.3 Non-governmental
- 4.1 Basic forms
- 5 Theory
- 5.1 Aristotle
- 5.2 Rationale
- 5.2.1 Aggregative
- 5.2.2 Deliberative
- 5.2.3 Radical
- 5.3 Criticism
- 5.3.1 Inefficiencies
- 5.3.2 Popular rule as a façade
- 5.3.3 Mob rule
- 5.3.4 Political instability
- 5.3.5 Fraudulent elections
- 5.3.6 Opposition
- 6 Development
No consensus exists on how to define democracy, but legal equality, political freedom and rule of law have been identified as important characteristics. These principles are reflected in all eligible citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes. For example, in a representative democracy, every vote has equal weight, no unreasonable restrictions can apply to anyone seeking to become a representative,[according to whom?] and the freedom of its eligible citizens is secured by legitimised rights and liberties which are typically protected by a constitution.
One theory holds that democracy requires three fundamental principles: (1) upward control, i.e. sovereignty residing at the lowest levels of authority, (2) political equality, and (3) social norms by which individuals and institutions only consider acceptable acts that reflect the first two principles of upward control and political equality.
The term “democracy” is sometimes used as shorthand for liberal democracy, which is a variant of representative democracy that may include elements such as political pluralism; equality before the law; the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances; due process; civil liberties; human rights; and elements of civil society outside the government. Roger Scruton argues that democracy alone cannot provide personal and political freedom unless the institutions of civil society are also present.
In some countries, notably in the United Kingdom which originated the Westminster system, the dominant principle is that of parliamentary sovereignty, while maintaining judicial independence. In the United States, separation of powers is often cited as a central attribute. In India parliamentary sovereignty is subject to a Constitution which includes judicial review Other uses of “democracy” include that of direct democracy. Though the term “democracy” is typically used in the context of a political state, the principles also are applicable to private organisations.
Majority rule is often listed as a characteristic of democracy. Hence, democracy allows for political minorities to be oppressed by the “tyranny of the majority” in the absence of legal protections of individual or group rights. An essential part of an “ideal” representative democracy is competitive elections that are fair both substantively and procedurally. Furthermore, freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are considered to be essential rights that allow eligible citizens to be adequately informed and able to vote according to their own interests.
It has also been suggested that a basic feature of democracy is the capacity of all voters to participate freely and fully in the life of their society. With its emphasis on notions of social contract and the collective will of all the voters, democracy can also be characterised as a form of political collectivism because it is defined as a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in lawmaking.
While representative democracy is sometimes equated with the republican form of government, the term “republic” classically has encompassed both democracies and aristocracies. Many democracies are constitutional monarchies, such as the United Kingdom.
Cleisthenes, “father of Athenian democracy”, modern bust
The term “democracy” first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens during classical antiquity. Led by Cleisthenes, Athenians established what is generally held as the first democracy in 508–507 BC. Cleisthenes is referred to as “the father of Athenian democracy.”
Athenian democracy took the form of a direct democracy, and it had two distinguishing features: the random selection of ordinary citizens to fill the few existing government administrative and judicial offices, and a legislative assembly consisting of all Athenian citizens. All eligible citizens were allowed to speak and vote in the assembly, which set the laws of the city state. However, Athenian citizenship excluded women, slaves, foreigners, non-landowners, and males under 20 years old.
Of the estimated 200,000 to 400,000 inhabitants of Athens, there were between 30,000 and 60,000 citizens. The exclusion of large parts of the population from the citizen body is closely related to the ancient understanding of citizenship. In most of antiquity the benefit of citizenship was tied to the obligation to fight war campaigns.
Athenian democracy was not only direct in the sense that decisions were made by the assembled people, but also the most direct in the sense that the people through the assembly, boule and courts of law controlled the entire political process and a large proportion of citizens were involved constantly in the public business. Even though the rights of the individual were not secured by the Athenian constitution in the modern sense (the ancient Greeks had no word for “rights”), the Athenians enjoyed their liberties not in opposition to the government but by living in a city that was not subject to another power and by not being subjects themselves to the rule of another person.
Range voting appeared in Sparta as early as 700 BC. The Apella was an assembly of the people, held once a month, in which every male citizen of age 30 and above could participate. In the Apella, Spartans elected leaders and cast votes by range voting and shouting. Aristotle called this “childish,” as compared with the stone voting ballots used by the Athenians. Sparta adopted it because of its simplicity, and to prevent any bias voting, buying, or cheating that was predominant in the early democratic elections.
Even though the Roman Republic contributed significantly to many aspects of democracy, only a minority of Romans were citizens with votes in elections for representatives. The votes of the powerful were given more weight through a system of gerrymandering, so most high officials, including members of the Senate, came from a few wealthy and noble families. In addition, the Roman Republic was the first government in the western world to have a Republic as a nation-state, although it didn’t have much of a democracy. The Romans invented the concept of classics and many works from Ancient Greece were preserved. Additionally, the Roman model of governance inspired many political thinkers over the centuries, and today’s modern representative democracies imitate more the Roman than the Greek models because it was a state in which supreme power was held by the people and their elected representatives, and which had an elected or nominated leader. Other cultures, such as the Iroquoi Nation in the Americas between around 1450 and 1600 AD also developed a form of democratic society before they came in contact with the Europeans. This indicates that forms of democracy may have been invented in other societies around the world.
During the Middle Ages, there were various systems involving elections or assemblies, although often only involving a small part of the population. These included:
- the Frostating in Norway
- the Althing in Iceland,
- the Løgting in the Faeroe Islands,
- Scandinavian Things,
- the election of Uthman in the Rashidun Caliphate,
- the South Indian Kingdom of the Chola in the state of Tamil Nadu in the Indian Subcontinent had an electoral system at 920 A.D., about 1100 years ago,
- Carantania, old Slavic/Slovenian principality, the Ducal Inauguration from 7th to 15th century,
- the upper-caste election of the Gopala in the Bengal region of the Indian Subcontinent,
- the Holy Roman Empire’s Hoftag and Imperial Diets (mostly Nobles and Clergy),
- Frisia in the 10th-15th Century (Weight of vote based on landownership)
- the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (10% of population),
- certain medieval Italian city-states such as Venice, Genoa, Florence, Pisa, Lucca, Amalfi, Siena and San Marino
- the tuatha system in early medieval Ireland,
- the Veche in Novgorod and Pskov Republics of medieval Russia,
- The States in Tirol and Switzerland,
- the autonomous merchant city of Sakai in the 16th century in Japan,
- Volta-Nigeric societies such as Igbo.
- the Mekhk-Khel system of the Nakh peoples of the North Caucasus, by which representatives to the Council of Elders for each teip (clan) were popularly elected by that teip’s members.
- The 10th Sikh Guru Gobind Singh ji (Nanak X) established the world’s first Sikh democratic republic state ending the aristocracy on day of 1st Vasakh 1699 and Gurbani as sole constitution of this Sikh republic on the Indian subcontinent.
Most regions in medieval Europe were ruled by clergy or feudal lords.
The Kouroukan Fouga divided the Mali Empire into ruling clans (lineages) that were represented at a great assembly called the Gbara. However, the charter made Mali more similar to a constitutional monarchy than a democratic republic. A little closer to modern democracy were the Cossack republics of Ukraine in the 16th and 17th centuries: Cossack Hetmanate and Zaporizhian Sich. The highest post – the Hetman – was elected by the representatives from the country’s districts.
Magna Carta, 1215, England
The Parliament of England had its roots in the restrictions on the power of kings written into Magna Carta (1215), which explicitly protected certain rights of the King’s subjects and implicitly supported what became the English writ of habeas corpus, safeguarding individual freedom against unlawful imprisonment with right to appeal. The first representative national assembly was Simon de Montfort’s Parliament in England in 1265. The emergence of petitioning is some of the earliest evidence of parliament being used as a forum to address the general grievances of ordinary people. However, the power to call parliament remained at the pleasure of the monarch.
Early modern period
During the early modern period, the power of the Parliament of England continually increased. Passage of the Petition of Right in 1628 and Habeas Corpus Act in 1679 established certain liberties and remain in effect. The idea of a political party took form with groups freely debating rights to political representation during the Putney Debates of 1647. After the English Civil Wars (1642–1651) and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the Bill of Rights was enacted in 1689, which codified certain rights and liberties, and is still in effect. The Bill set out the requirement for regular elections, rules for freedom of speech in Parliament and limited the power of the monarch, ensuring that, unlike much of Europe at the time, royal absolutism would not prevail.
In North America, representative government began in Jamestown, Virginia, with the election of the House of Burgesses (forerunner of the Virginia General Assembly) in 1619. English Puritans who migrated from 1620 established colonies in New England whose local governance was democratic and which contributed to the democratic development of the United States; although these local assemblies had some small amounts of devolved power, the ultimate authority was held by the Crown and the English Parliament. The Puritans (Pilgrim Fathers), Baptists, and Quakers who founded these colonies applied the democratic organisation of their congregations also to the administration of their communities in worldly matters.
18th and 19th centuries
The establishment of universal male suffrage in France in 1848 was an important milestone in the history of democracy
The first Parliament of Great Britain was established in 1707, after the merger of the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland under the Acts of Union. Although the monarch increasingly became a figurehead, only a small minority actually had a voice; Parliament was elected by only a few percent of the population (less than 3% as late as 1780). During the Age of Liberty in Sweden (1718-1772), civil rights were expanded and power shifted from the monarch to parliament. The taxed peasantry was represented in parliament, although with little influence, but commoners without taxed property had no suffrage.
The creation of the short-lived Corsican Republic in 1755 marked the first nation in modern history to adopt a democratic constitution (all men and women above age of 25 could vote). This Corsican Constitution was the first based on Enlightenment principles and included female suffrage, something that was not granted in most other democracies until the 20th century.
In the American colonial period before 1776, and for some time after, often only adult white male property owners could vote; enslaved Africans, most free black people and most women were not extended the franchise. On the American frontier, democracy became a way of life, with more widespread social, economic and political equality. Although not described as a democracy by the founding fathers, they shared a determination to root the American experiment in the principles of natural freedom and equality.
The American Revolution led to the adoption of the United States Constitution in 1787, the oldest surviving, still active, governmental codified constitution. The Constitution provided for an elected government and protected civil rights and liberties for some, but did not end slavery nor extend voting rights in the United States beyond white male property owners (about 6% of the population). The Bill of Rights in 1791 set limits on government power to protect personal freedoms but had little impact on judgements by the courts for the first 130 years after ratification.
In 1789, Revolutionary France adopted the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen and, although short-lived, the National Convention was elected by all males in 1792. However, in the early 19th century, little of democracy – as theory, practice, or even as word – remained in the North Atlantic world.
During this period, slavery remained a social and economic institution in places around the world. This was particularly the case in the eleven states of the American South. A variety of organisations were established advocating the movement of black people from the United States to locations where they would enjoy greater freedom and equality.
The United Kingdom’s Slave Trade Act 1807 banned the trade across the British Empire, which was enforced internationally by the Royal Navy under treaties Britain negotiated with other nations. As the voting franchise in the U.K. was increased, it also was made more uniform in a series of reforms beginning with the Reform Act of 1832. In 1833, the United Kingdom passed the Slavery Abolition Act which took effect across the British Empire.
Universal male suffrage was established in France in March 1848 in the wake of the French Revolution of 1848. In 1848, several revolutions broke out in Europe as rulers were confronted with popular demands for liberal constitutions and more democratic government.
In the 1860 United States Census, the slave population in the United States had grown to four million. and in Reconstruction after the Civil War (late 1860s), the newly freed slaves became citizens with a nominal right to vote for men. Full enfranchisement of citizens was not secured until after the African-American Civil Rights Movement (1955–1968) gained passage by the United States Congress of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
20th and 21st centuries
The number of nations 1800–2003 scoring 8 or higher on Polity IV scale, another widely used measure of democracy
20th-century transitions to liberal democracy have come in successive “waves of democracy,” variously resulting from wars, revolutions, decolonisation, and religious and economic circumstances. World War I and the dissolution of the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian empires resulted in the creation of new nation-states from Europe, most of them at least nominally democratic.
In the 1920s democracy flourished and women’s suffrage advanced, but the Great Depression brought disenchantment and most of the countries of Europe, Latin America, and Asia turned to strong-man rule or dictatorships. Fascism and dictatorships flourished in Nazi Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal, as well as nondemocratic regimes in the Baltics, the Balkans, Brazil, Cuba, China, and Japan, among others.
World War II brought a definitive reversal of this trend in western Europe. The democratisation of the American, British, and French sectors of occupied Germany (disputed), Austria, Italy, and the occupied Japan served as a model for the later theory of regime change. However, most of Eastern Europe, including the Soviet sector of Germany fell into the non-democratic Soviet bloc.
The war was followed by decolonisation, and again most of the new independent states had nominally democratic constitutions. India emerged as the world’s largest democracy and continues to be so. Countries that were once part of the British Empire often adopted the British Westminster system.
By 1960, the vast majority of country-states were nominally democracies, although most of the world’s populations lived in nations that experienced sham elections, and other forms of subterfuge (particularly in Communist nations and the former colonies.)
A subsequent wave of democratisation brought substantial gains toward true liberal democracy for many nations. Spain, Portugal (1974), and several of the military dictatorships in South America returned to civilian rule in the late 1970s and early 1980s (Argentina in 1983, Bolivia, Uruguay in 1984, Brazil in 1985, and Chile in the early 1990s). This was followed by nations in East and South Asia by the mid-to-late 1980s.
Economic malaise in the 1980s, along with resentment of Soviet oppression, contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union, the associated end of the Cold War, and the democratisation and liberalisation of the former Eastern bloc countries. The most successful of the new democracies were those geographically and culturally closest to western Europe, and they are now members or candidate members of the European Union.
The liberal trend spread to some nations in Africa in the 1990s, most prominently in South Africa. Some recent examples of attempts of liberalisation include the Indonesian Revolution of 1998, the Bulldozer Revolution in Yugoslavia, the Rose Revolution in Georgia, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, the Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan, and the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia.
According to Freedom House, in 2007 there were 123 electoral democracies (up from 40 in 1972). According to World Forum on Democracy, electoral democracies now represent 120 of the 192 existing countries and constitute 58.2 percent of the world’s population. At the same time liberal democracies i.e. countries Freedom House regards as free and respectful of basic human rights and the rule of law are 85 in number and represent 38 percent of the global population.
In 2007 the United Nations declared September 15 the International Day of Democracy.
Measurement of democracy
Country ratings from Freedom House’s Freedom in the World 2016 survey, concerning the state of world freedom in 2015.
Countries designated “electoral democracies” in Freedom House’s 2015 survey “Freedom in the World”, covering the year 2014.
Several freedom indices are used to measure democracy:
- Freedom in the World published each year since 1972 by the U.S.-based Freedom House ranks countries by political rights and civil liberties that are derived in large measure from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Countries are assessed as free, partly free, or unfree.
- Worldwide Press Freedom Index is published each year since 2002 (except that 2011 was combined with 2012) by France-based Reporters Without Borders. Countries are assessed as having a good situation, a satisfactory situation, noticeable problems, a difficult situation, or a very serious situation.
- Freedom of the Press published each year since 1980 by Freedom House.
- The Index of Freedom in the World is an index measuring classical civil liberties published by Canada’s Fraser Institute, Germany’s Liberales Institute, and the U.S. Cato Institute. It is not currently included in the table below.
- The CIRI Human Rights Data Project measures a range of human, civil, women’s and workers rights. It is now hosted by the University of Connecticut. It was created in 1994. In its 2011 report, the U.S. was ranked 38th in overall human rights.
- The Democracy Index, published by the U.K.-based Economist Intelligence Unit, is an assessment of countries’ democracy. Countries are rated to be either Full Democracies, Flawed Democracies, Hybrid Regimes, or Authoritarian regimes. Full democracies, flawed democracies, and hybrid regimes are considered to be democracies, and the authoritarian nations are considered to be dictatorial. The index is based on 60 indicators grouped in five different categories.
- The U.S.-based Polity data series is a widely used data series in political science research. It contains coded annual information on regime authority characteristics and transitions for all independent states with greater than 500,000 total population and covers the years 1800–2006. Polity’s conclusions about a state’s level of democracy are based on an evaluation of that state’s elections for competitiveness, openness and level of participation. Data from this series is not currently included in the table below. The Polity work is sponsored by the Political Instability Task Force (PITF) which is funded by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. However, the views expressed in the reports are the authors’ alone and do not represent the views of the US Government.
- MaxRange, a dataset defining level of democracy and institutional structure(regime-type) on a 100-graded scale where every value represents a unique regimetype. Values are sorted from 1-100 based on level of democracy and political accountability. MaxRange defines the value corresponding to all states and every month from 1789 to 2015 and updating. MaxRange is created and developed by Max Range, and is now associated with the university of Halmstad, Sweden.
Types of democracies
Main article: Types of democracy
Democracy has taken a number of forms, both in theory and practice. Some varieties of democracy provide better representation and more freedom for their citizens than others. However, if any democracy is not structured so as to prohibit the government from excluding the people from the legislative process, or any branch of government from altering the separation of powers in its own favour, then a branch of the system can accumulate too much power and
See there for sources. 2Several states constitutionally deemed to be multiparty republics are broadly described by outsiders as authoritarian states. This map presents only the de jure form of government, and not the de facto degree of democracy.
The following kinds of democracy are not exclusive of one another: many specify details of aspects that are independent of one another and can co-exist in a single system.
Several variants of democracy exist, but there are two basic forms, both of which concern how the whole body of all eligible citizens executes its will. One form of democracy is direct democracy, in which all eligible citizens have active participation in the political decision making, for example voting on policy initiatives directly. In most modern democracies, the whole body of eligible citizens remain the sovereign power but political power is exercised indirectly through elected representatives; this is called a representative democracy.
A Landsgemeinde (in 2009) of the Canton of Glarus, an example of direct democracy in Switzerland
In Switzerland, without needing to register, every citizen receives ballot papers and information brochures for each vote (and can send it back by post). Switzerland has a direct democracy system and votes are organised about four times a year.
Main article: Direct democracy
Direct democracy is a political system where the citizens participate in the decision-making personally, contrary to relying on intermediaries or representatives. The use of a lot system, a characteristic of Athenian democracy, is unique to direct democracies. In this system, important governmental and administrative tasks are performed by citizens picked from a lottery. A direct democracy gives the voting population the power to:
- Change constitutional laws,
- Put forth initiatives, referendums and suggestions for laws,
- Give binding orders to elective officials, such as revoking them before the end of their elected term, or initiating a lawsuit for breaking a campaign promise.
Within modern-day representative governments, certain electoral tools like referendums, citizens’ initiatives and recall elections are referred to as forms of direct democracy. Direct democracy as a government system currently only exists in the Swiss cantons of Appenzell Innerrhoden and Glarus.
Main article: Representative democracy
Representative democracy involves the election of government officials by the people being represented. If the head of state is also democratically elected then it is called a democratic republic. The most common mechanisms involve election of the candidate with a majority or a plurality of the votes. Most western countries have representative systems.
Representatives may be elected or become diplomatic representatives by a particular district (or constituency), or represent the entire electorate through proportional systems, with some using a combination of the two. Some representative democracies also incorporate elements of direct democracy, such as referendums. A characteristic of representative democracy is that while the representatives are elected by the people to act in the people’s interest, they retain the freedom to exercise their own judgement as how best to do so. Such reasons have driven criticism upon representative democracy, pointing out the contradictions of representation mechanisms’ with democracy
Main article: Parliamentary system
Parliamentary democracy is a representative democracy where government is appointed by, or can be dismissed by, representatives as opposed to a “presidential rule” wherein the president is both head of state and the head of government and is elected by the voters. Under a parliamentary democracy, government is exercised by delegation to an executive ministry and subject to ongoing review, checks and balances by the legislative parliament elected by the people.
Parliamentary systems have the right to dismiss a Prime Minister at any point in time that they feel he or she is not doing their job to the expectations of the legislature. This is done through a Vote of No Confidence where the legislature decides whether or not to remove the Prime Minister from office by a majority support for his or her dismissal. In some countries, the Prime Minister can also call an election whenever he or she so chooses, and typically the Prime Minister will hold an election when he or she knows that they are in good favour with the public as to get re-elected. In other parliamentary democracies extra elections are virtually never held, a minority government being preferred until the next ordinary elections. An important feature of the parliamentary democracy is the concept of the “loyal opposition”. The essence of the concept is that the second largest political party (or coalition) opposes the governing party (or coalition), while still remaining loyal to the state and its democratic principles.
Main article: Presidential system
Presidential Democracy is a system where the public elects the president through free and fair elections. The president serves as both the head of state and head of government controlling most of the executive powers. The president serves for a specific term and cannot exceed that amount of time. Elections typically have a fixed date and aren’t easily changed. The president has direct control over the cabinet, specifically appointing the cabinet members.
The president cannot be easily removed from office by the legislature, but he or she cannot remove members of the legislative branch any more easily. This provides some measure of separation of powers. In consequence however, the president and the legislature may end up in the control of separate parties, allowing one to block the other and thereby interfere with the orderly operation of the state. This may be the reason why presidential democracy is not very common outside the Americas, Africa, and Central and Southeast Asia.
A semi-presidential system is a system of democracy in which the government includes both a prime minister and a president. The particular powers held by the prime minister and president vary by country.
Hybrid or semi-direct
See also: Politics of Switzerland and Voting in Switzerland
Some modern democracies that are predominantly representative in nature also heavily rely upon forms of political action that are directly democratic. These democracies, which combine elements of representative democracy and direct democracy, are termed hybrid democracies, semi-direct democracies or participatory democracies. Examples include Switzerland and some U.S. states, where frequent use is made of referendums and initiatives.
The Swiss confederation is a semi-direct democracy. At the federal level, citizens can propose changes to the constitution (federal popular initiative) or ask for a referendum to be held on any law voted by the parliament. Between January 1995 and June 2005, Swiss citizens voted 31 times, to answer 103 questions (during the same period, French citizens participated in only two referendums). Although in the past 120 years less than 250 initiatives have been put to referendum. The populace has been conservative, approving only about 10% of the initiatives put before them; in addition, they have often opted for a version of the initiative rewritten by government.
In the United States, no mechanisms of direct democracy exists at the federal level, but over half of the states and many localities provide for citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives (also called “ballot measures”, “ballot questions” or “propositions”), and the vast majority of states allow for referendums. Examples include the extensive use of referendums in the US state of California, which is a state that has more than 20 million voters.
In New England Town meetings are often used, especially in rural areas, to manage local government. This creates a hybrid form of government, with a local direct democracy and a state government which is representative. For example, most Vermont towns hold annual town meetings in March in which town officers are elected, budgets for the town and schools are voted on, and citizens have the opportunity to speak and be heard on political matters.
Main article: Constitutional monarchy
Queen Elizabeth II, a constitutional monarch
Many countries such as the United Kingdom, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Scandinavian countries, Thailand, Japan and Bhutan turned powerful monarchs into constitutional monarchs with limited or, often gradually, merely symbolic roles. For example, in the predecessor states to the United Kingdom, constitutional monarchy began to emerge and has continued uninterrupted since the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and passage of the Bill of Rights 1689.
In other countries, the monarchy was abolished along with the aristocratic system (as in France, China, Russia, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, Greece and Egypt). An elected president, with or without significant powers, became the head of state in these countries.
Élite upper houses of legislatures, which often had lifetime or hereditary tenure, were common in many nations. Over time, these either had their powers limited (as with the British House of Lords) or else became elective and remained powerful (as with the Australian Senate).
Main article: Republicanism
The term republic has many different meanings, but today often refers to a representative democracy with an elected head of state, such as a president, serving for a limited term, in contrast to states with a hereditary monarch as a head of state, even if these states also are representative democracies with an elected or appointed head of government such as a prime minister.
The Founding Fathers of the United States rarely praised and often criticised democracy, which in their time tended to specifically mean direct democracy, often without the protection of a Constitution enshrining basic rights; James Madison argued, especially in The Federalist No. 10, that what distinguished a democracy from a republic was that the former became weaker as it got larger and suffered more violently from the effects of faction, whereas a republic could get stronger as it got larger and combats faction by its very structure.
What was critical to American values, John Adams insisted, was that the government be “bound by fixed laws, which the people have a voice in making, and a right to defend.” As Benjamin Franklin was exiting after writing the U.S. constitution, a woman asked him “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a republic or a monarchy?”. He replied “A republic—if you can keep it.”
Main article: Liberal democracy
A liberal democracy is a representative democracy in which the ability of the elected representatives to exercise decision-making power is subject to the rule of law, and moderated by a constitution or laws that emphasise the protection of the rights and freedoms of individuals, and which places constraints on the leaders and on the extent to which the will of the majority can be exercised against the rights of minorities (see civil liberties).
In a liberal democracy, it is possible for some large-scale decisions to emerge from the many individual decisions that citizens are free to make. In other words, citizens can “vote with their feet” or “vote with their dollars”, resulting in significant informal government-by-the-masses that exercises many “powers” associated with formal government elsewhere.
Socialist thought has several different views on democracy. Social democracy, democratic socialism, and the dictatorship of the proletariat (usually exercised through Soviet democracy) are some examples. Many democratic socialists and social democrats believe in a form of participatory, industrial, economic and/or workplace democracy combined with a representative democracy.
Within Marxist orthodoxy there is a hostility to what is commonly called “liberal democracy”, which they simply refer to as parliamentary democracy because of its often centralised nature. Because of their desire to eliminate the political elitism they see in capitalism, Marxists, Leninists and Trotskyists believe in direct democracy implemented through a system of communes (which are sometimes called soviets). This system ultimately manifests itself as council democracy and begins with workplace democracy. (See Democracy in Marxism.)
Democracy cannot consist solely of elections that are nearly always fictitious and managed by rich landowners and professional politicians.
— Che Guevara, Speech, Uruguay, 1961
Anarchists are split in this domain, depending on whether they believe that a majority-rule is tyrannic or not. The only form of democracy considered acceptable to many anarchists is direct democracy. Pierre-Joseph Proudhon argued that the only acceptable form of direct democracy is one in which it is recognised that majority decisions are not binding on the minority, even when unanimous. However, anarcho-communist Murray Bookchin criticised individualist anarchists for opposing democracy, and says “majority rule” is consistent with anarchism.
Some anarcho-communists oppose the majoritarian nature of direct democracy, feeling that it can impede individual liberty and opt in favour of a non-majoritarian form of consensus democracy, similar to Proudhon’s position on direct democracy. Henry David Thoreau, who did not self-identify as an anarchist but argued for “a better government” and is cited as an inspiration by some anarchists, argued that people should not be in the position of ruling others or being ruled when there is no consent.
Anarcho-capitalists, voluntaryists and other right-anarchists oppose institutional democracy as they consider it in conflict with widely held moral values and ethical principles and their conception of individual rights. The a priori Rothbardian argument is that the state is a coercive institution which necessarily violates the non-aggression principle (NAP). Some right-anarchists also criticise democracy on a posteriori consequentialist grounds, in terms of inefficiency or disability in bringing about maximisation of individual liberty. They maintain the people who participate in democratic institutions are foremost driven by economic self-interest.
Main article: Sortition
Sometimes called “democracy without elections”, sortition chooses decision makers via a random process. The intention is that those chosen will be representative of the opinions and interests of the people at large, and be more fair and impartial than an elected official. The technique was in widespread use in Athenian Democracy and Renaissance Florence and is still used in modern jury selection.
Main article: Consociational democracy
A consociational democracy allows for simultaneous majority votes in two or more ethno-religious constituencies, and policies are enacted only if they gain majority support from both or all of them.
Main article: Consensus democracy
A consensus democracy, in contrast, would not be dichotomous. Instead, decisions would be based on a multi-option approach, and policies would be enacted if they gained sufficient support, either in a purely verbal agreement, or via a consensus vote – a multi-option preference vote. If the threshold of support were at a sufficiently high level, minorities would be as it were protected automatically. Furthermore, any voting would be ethno-colour blind.
Qualified majority voting is designed by the Treaty of Rome to be the principal method of reaching decisions in the European Council of Ministers. This system allocates votes to member states in part according to their population, but heavily weighted in favour of the smaller states. This might be seen as a form of representative democracy, but representatives to the Council might be appointed rather than directly elected.
Main article: Inclusive Democracy
Inclusive democracy is a political theory and political project that aims for direct democracy in all fields of social life: political democracy in the form of face-to-face assemblies which are confederated, economic democracy in a stateless, moneyless and marketless economy, democracy in the social realm, i.e. self-management in places of work and education, and ecological democracy which aims to reintegrate society and nature. The theoretical project of inclusive democracy emerged from the work of political philosopher Takis Fotopoulos in “Towards An Inclusive Democracy” and was further developed in the journal Democracy & Nature and its successor The International Journal of Inclusive Democracy.
The basic unit of decision making in an inclusive democracy is the demotic assembly, i.e. the assembly of demos, the citizen body in a given geographical area which may encompass a town and the surrounding villages, or even neighbourhoods of large cities. An inclusive democracy today can only take the form of a confederal democracy that is based on a network of administrative councils whose members or delegates are elected from popular face-to-face democratic assemblies in the various demoi. Thus, their role is purely administrative and practical, not one of policy-making like that of representatives in representative democracy.
The citizen body is advised by experts but it is the citizen body which functions as the ultimate decision-taker . Authority can be delegated to a segment of the citizen body to carry out specific duties, for example to serve as members of popular courts, or of regional and confederal councils. Such delegation is made, in principle, by lot, on a rotation basis, and is always recallable by the citizen body. Delegates to regional and confederal bodies should have specific mandates.
Main article: Participatory politics
A Parpolity or Participatory Polity is a theoretical form of democracy that is ruled by a Nested Council structure. The guiding philosophy is that people should have decision making power in proportion to how much they are affected by the decision. Local councils of 25–50 people are completely autonomous on issues that affect only them, and these councils send delegates to higher level councils who are again autonomous regarding issues that affect only the population affected by that council.
A council court of randomly chosen citizens serves as a check on the tyranny of the majority, and rules on which body gets to vote on which issue. Delegates may vote differently from how their sending council might wish, but are mandated to communicate the wishes of their sending council. Delegates are recallable at any time. Referendums are possible at any time via votes of most lower-level councils, however, not everything is a referendum as this is most likely a waste of time. A parpolity is meant to work in tandem with a participatory economy.
Main article: Cosmopolitan democracy
Cosmopolitan democracy, also known as Global democracy or World Federalism, is a political system in which democracy is implemented on a global scale, either directly or through representatives. An important justification for this kind of system is that the decisions made in national or regional democracies often affect people outside the constituency who, by definition, cannot vote. By contrast, in a cosmopolitan democracy, the people who are affected by decisions also have a say in them.
According to its supporters, any attempt to solve global problems is undemocratic without some form of cosmopolitan democracy. The general principle of cosmopolitan democracy is to expand some or all of the values and norms of democracy, including the rule of law; the non-violent resolution of conflicts; and equality among citizens, beyond the limits of the state. To be fully implemented, this would require reforming existing international organisations, e.g. the United Nations, as well as the creation of new institutions such as a World Parliament, which ideally would enhance public control over, and accountability in, international politics.
Cosmopolitan Democracy has been promoted, among others, by physicist Albert Einstein, writer Kurt Vonnegut, columnist George Monbiot, and professors David Held and Daniele Archibugi. The creation of the International Criminal Court in 2003 was seen as a major step forward by many supporters of this type of cosmopolitan democracy.
Main article: Creative Democracy
Creative Democracy is advocated by American philosopher John Dewey. The main idea about Creative Democracy is that democracy encourages individual capacity building and the interaction among the society. Dewey argues that democracy is a way of life in his work of “”Creative Democracy: The Task Before Us” and an experience built on faith in human nature, faith in human beings, and faith in working with others. Democracy, in Dewey’s view, is a moral ideal requiring actual effort and work by people; it is not an institutional concept that exists outside of ourselves. “The task of democracy”, Dewey concludes, “is forever that of creation of a freer and more humane experience in which all share and to which all contribute”.
Aside from the public sphere, similar democratic principles and mechanisms of voting and representation have been used to govern other kinds of groups. Many non-governmental organisations decide policy and leadership by voting. Most trade unions and cooperatives are governed by democratic elections. Corporations are controlled by shareholders on the principle of one share, one vote. An analogous system, that fuses elements of democracy with sharia law, has been termed islamocracy.
A marble statue of Aristotle
Aristotle contrasted rule by the many (democracy/polity), with rule by the few (oligarchy/aristocracy), and with rule by a single person (tyranny or today autocracy/absolute monarchy). He also thought that there was a good and a bad variant of each system (he considered democracy to be the degenerate counterpart to polity).
For Aristotle the underlying principle of democracy is freedom, since only in a democracy the citizens can have a share in freedom. In essence, he argues that this is what every democracy should make its aim. There are two main aspects of freedom: being ruled and ruling in turn, since everyone is equal according to number, not merit, and to be able to live as one pleases.
But one factor of liberty is to govern and be governed in turn; for the popular principle of justice is to have equality according to number, not worth, … And one is for a man to live as he likes; for they say that this is the function of liberty, inasmuch as to live not as one likes is the life of a man that is a slave.
Among modern political theorists, there are three contending conceptions of the fundamental rationale for democracy: aggregative democracy, deliberative democracy, and radical democracy.
The theory of aggregative democracy claims that the aim of the democratic processes is to solicit citizens’ preferences and aggregate them together to determine what social policies society should adopt. Therefore, proponents of this view hold that democratic participation should primarily focus on voting, where the policy with the most votes gets implemented.
Different variants of aggregative democracy exist. Under minimalism, democracy is a system of government in which citizens have given teams of political leaders the right to rule in periodic elections. According to this minimalist conception, citizens cannot and should not “rule” because, for example, on most issues, most of the time, they have no clear views or their views are not well-founded. Joseph Schumpeter articulated this view most famously in his book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy. Contemporary proponents of minimalism include William H. Riker, Adam Przeworski, Richard Posner.
According to the theory of direct democracy, on the other hand, citizens should vote directly, not through their representatives, on legislative proposals. Proponents of direct democracy offer varied reasons to support this view. Political activity can be valuable in itself, it socialises and educates citizens, and popular participation can check powerful elites. Most importantly, citizens do not really rule themselves unless they directly decide laws and policies.
Governments will tend to produce laws and policies that are close to the views of the median voter – with half to their left and the other half to their right. This is not actually a desirable outcome as it represents the action of self-interested and somewhat unaccountable political elites competing for votes. Anthony Downs suggests that ideological political parties are necessary to act as a mediating broker between individual and governments. Downs laid out this view in his 1957 book An Economic Theory of Democracy.
Robert A. Dahl argues that the fundamental democratic principle is that, when it comes to binding collective decisions, each person in a political community is entitled to have his/her interests be given equal consideration (not necessarily that all people are equally satisfied by the collective decision). He uses the term polyarchy to refer to societies in which there exists a certain set of institutions and procedures which are perceived as leading to such democracy. First and foremost among these institutions is the regular occurrence of free and open elections which are used to select representatives who then manage all or most of the public policy of the society. However, these polyarchic procedures may not create a full democracy if, for example, poverty prevents political participation.
Deliberative democracy is based on the notion that democracy is government by deliberation. Unlike aggregative democracy, deliberative democracy holds that, for a democratic decision to be legitimate, it must be preceded by authentic deliberation, not merely the aggregation of preferences that occurs in voting. Authentic deliberation is deliberation among decision-makers that is free from distortions of unequal political power, such as power a decision-maker obtained through economic wealth or the support of interest groups. If the decision-makers cannot reach consensus after authentically deliberating on a proposal, then they vote on the proposal using a form of majority rule.
Radical democracy is based on the idea that there are hierarchical and oppressive power relations that exist in society. Democracy’s role is to make visible and challenge those relations by allowing for difference, dissent and antagonisms in decision making processes.
Main article: Criticism of democracy
Some economists have criticized the efficiency of democracy. They base this on their premise of the irrational voter. Their argument is that voters are highly uninformed about many political issues, especially relating to economics, and have a strong bias about the few issues on which they are fairly knowledgeable. A common example often quoted to substantiate this point is the high economic development achieved by China (a non-democratic country) as compared to India (a democratic country).
Popular rule as a façade
The 20th-century Italian thinkers Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca (independently) argued that democracy was illusory, and served only to mask the reality of elite rule. Indeed, they argued that elite oligarchy is the unbendable law of human nature, due largely to the apathy and division of the masses (as opposed to the drive, initiative and unity of the elites), and that democratic institutions would do no more than shift the exercise of power from oppression to manipulation. As Louis Brandeis once professed, “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”
Plato’s The Republic presents a critical view of democracy through the narration of Socrates: “Democracy, which is a charming form of government, full of variety and disorder, and dispensing a sort of equality to equals and unequaled alike.” In his work, Plato lists 5 forms of government from best to worst. Assuming that the Republic was intended to be a serious critique of the political thought in Athens, Plato argues that only Kallipolis, an aristocracy led by the unwilling philosopher-kings (the wisest men), is a just form of government.
James Madison critiqued direct democracy (which he referred to simply as “democracy”) in Federalist No. 10, arguing that representative democracy—which he described using the term “republic”—is a preferable form of government, saying: “… democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Madison offered that republics were superior to democracies because republics safeguarded against tyranny of the majority, stating in Federalist No. 10: “the same advantage which a republic has over a democracy, in controlling the effects of faction, is enjoyed by a large over a small republic”.
More recently, democracy is criticised for not offering enough political stability. As governments are frequently elected on and off there tends to be frequent changes in the policies of democratic countries both domestically and internationally. Even if a political party maintains power, vociferous, headline grabbing protests and harsh criticism from the mass media are often enough to force sudden, unexpected political change. Frequent policy changes with regard to business and immigration are likely to deter investment and so hinder economic growth. For this reason, many people have put forward the idea that democracy is undesirable for a developing country in which economic growth and the reduction of poverty are top priorities.
This opportunist alliance not only has the handicap of having to cater to too many ideologically opposing factions, but it is usually short lived since any perceived or actual imbalance in the treatment of coalition partners, or changes to leadership in the coalition partners themselves, can very easily result in the coalition partner withdrawing its support from the government.
In representative democracies, it may not benefit incumbents to conduct fair elections. A study showed that incumbents who rig elections stay in office 2.5 times as long as those who permit fair elections. Democracies in countries with high per capita income have been found to be less prone to violence, but in countries with low incomes the tendency is the reverse. Election misconduct is more likely in countries with low per capita incomes, small populations, rich in natural resources, and a lack of institutional checks and balances. Sub-Saharan countries, as well as Afghanistan, all tend to fall into that category.
Governments that have frequent elections tend to have significantly more stable economic policies than those governments who have infrequent elections. However, this trend does not apply to governments where fraudulent elections are common.
Main article: Anti-democratic thought
Democracy in modern times has almost always faced opposition from the previously existing government, and many times it has faced opposition from social elites. The implementation of a democratic government within a non-democratic state is typically brought about by democratic revolution.
Post-Enlightenment ideologies such as fascism, nazism, and neo-fundamentalism oppose democracy on different grounds, generally citing that the concept of democracy as a constant process is flawed and detrimental to a preferable course of development.
Main article: Democratisation
Several philosophers and researchers have outlined historical and social factors seen as supporting the evolution of democracy. Cultural factors like Protestantism influenced the development of democracy, rule of law, human rights and political liberty (the faithful elected priests, religious freedom and tolerance has been practiced).
Other commentators have mentioned the influence of wealth (e.g. S. M. Lipset, 1959). In a related theory, Ronald Inglehart suggests that improved living-standards can convince people that they can take their basic survival for granted, leading to increased emphasis on self-expression values, which is highly correlated to democracy.
Carroll Quigley concludes that the characteristics of weapons are the main predictor of democracy: Democracy tends to emerge only when the best weapons available are easy for individuals to buy and use. By the 1800s, guns were the best personal weapons available, and in America, almost everyone could afford to buy a gun, and could learn how to use it fairly easily. Governments couldn’t do any better: it became the age of mass armies of citizen soldiers with guns Similarly, Periclean Greece was an age of the citizen soldier and democracy.
Recent theories stress the relevance of education and of human capital – and within them of cognitive ability to increasing tolerance, rationality, political literacy and participation. Two effects of education and cognitive ability are distinguished: a cognitive effect (competence to make rational choices, better information-processing) and an ethical effect (support of democratic values, freedom, human rights etc.), which itself depends on intelligence.
Evidence that is consistent with conventional theories of why democracy emerges and is sustained has been hard to come by. Recent statistical analyses have challenged modernisation theory by demonstrating that there is no reliable evidence for the claim that democracy is more likely to emerge when countries become wealthier, more educated, or less unequal. Neither is there convincing evidence that increased reliance on oil revenues prevents democratisation, despite a vast theoretical literature on “the Resource Curse” that asserts that oil revenues sever the link between citizen taxation and government accountability, seen as the key to representative democracy. The lack of evidence for these conventional theories of democratisation have led researchers to search for the “deep” determinants of contemporary political institutions, be they geographical or demographic.
In the 21st century, democracy has become such a popular method of reaching decisions that its application beyond politics to other areas such as entertainment, food and fashion, consumerism, urban planning, education, art, literature, science and theology has been criticised as “the reigning dogma of our time”. The argument suggests that applying a populist or market-driven approach to art and literature (for example), means that innovative creative work goes unpublished or unproduced. In education, the argument is that essential but more difficult studies are not undertaken. Science, as a truth-based discipline, is particularly corrupted by the idea that the correct conclusion can be arrived at by popular vote.
Robert Michels asserts that although democracy can never be fully realised, democracy may be developed automatically in the act of striving for democracy: “The peasant in the fable, when on his death-bed, tells his sons that a treasure is buried in the field. After the old man’s death the sons dig everywhere in order to discover the treasure. They do not find it. But their indefatigable labor improves the soil and secures for them a comparative well-being. The treasure in the fable may well symbolise democracy.”
Dr. Harald Wydra, in his book Communism and The Emergence of Democracy (2007), maintains that the development of democracy should not be viewed as a purely procedural or as a static concept but rather as an ongoing “process of meaning formation”. Drawing on Claude Lefort’s idea of the empty place of power, that “power emanates from the people […] but is the power of nobody”, he remarks that democracy is reverence to a symbolic mythical authority as in reality, there is no such thing as the people or demos. Democratic political figures are not supreme rulers but rather temporary guardians of an empty place. Any claim to substance such as the collective good, the public interest or the will of the nation is subject to the competitive struggle and times of for gaining the authority of office and government. The essence of the democratic system is an empty place, void of real people which can only be temporarily filled and never be appropriated. The seat of power is there, but remains open to constant change. As such, what “democracy” is or what is “democratic” progresses throughout history as a continual and potentially never ending process of social construction.
In 2010 a study by a German military think-tank analyzed how peak oil might change the global economy. The study raises fears for the survival of democracy itself. It suggests that parts of the population could perceive the upheaval triggered by peak oil as a general systemic crisis. This would create “room for ideological and extremist alternatives to existing forms of government”.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
A monarchy is a form of government in which sovereignty is actually or nominally embodied in one individual reigning until death or abdication. They are called monarchs. Forms of monarchy differ widely based on the level of legal autonomy the monarch holds in governance, the method of selection of the monarch, and any predetermined limits on the length of their tenure. When the monarch has no or few legal restraints in state and political matters, it is called an absolute monarchy, and is a form of autocracy. Cases in which the monarch’s discretion is formally limited, either by law or by convention, is called a constitutional monarchy. In hereditary monarchies, the office is passed through inheritance within a family group, whereas elective monarchies use some system of voting. Each of these has variations: in some elected monarchies only those of certain pedigrees are eligible, whereas many hereditary monarchies impose requirements regarding the religion, age, gender, mental capacity, and other factors. Occasionally this might create a situation of rival claimants whose legitimacy is subject to effective election. Finally, there have been cases where the term of a monarch’s reign is either fixed in years or continues until certain goals are achieved: an invasion being repulsed, for instance. Thus there are widely divergent structures and traditions defining monarchy.
Richard I of England being anointed during his coronation in Westminster Abbey, from a 13th-century chronicle.
Monarchy was the most common form of government until the 19th century, but it is no longer prevalent. Where it exists, it is now usually a constitutional monarchy, in which the monarch retains a unique legal and ceremonial role, but exercises limited or no official political power: under the written or unwritten constitution, others have governing authority. Currently, 44 sovereign nations in the world have monarchs acting as heads of state, 16 of which are Commonwealth realms that recognise Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state. All European monarchies are constitutional ones, with the exception of the Vatican City which is an elective monarchy, but sovereigns in the smaller states exercise greater political influence than in the larger. The monarchs of Cambodia, Japan, and Malaysia “reign, but do not rule” although there is considerable variation in the degree of authority they wield. Although they reign under constitutions, the monarchs of Brunei, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Swaziland appear to continue to exercise more political influence than any other single source of authority in their nations, either by constitutional mandate or by tradition.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 History
- 3 Characteristics and Role
- 3.1 Powers of the monarch
- 3.2 Person of monarch
- 3.3 Role of monarch
- 3.4 Titles of monarchs
- 3.5 Dependent monarchies
- 4 Succession
- 4.1 Hereditary monarchies
- 4.2 Elective monarchies
- 5 Current monarchies
- 6 List of current reigning monarchies
The word “monarch” (Latin: monarcha) comes from the Greek language word μονάρχης, monárkhēs (from μόνος monos, “one, singular”, and ἄρχω árkhō, “to rule” (compare ἄρχων arkhon, “leader, ruler, chief”)) which referred to a single, at least nominally absolute ruler. In current usage the word monarchy usually refers to a traditional system of hereditary rule, as elective monarchies are rare nowadays.
Thutmose I, the third Pharaoh of the Eighteenth dynasty of Egypt.
Tribal kingship is often connected to sacral functions, so that the king acts as a priest, or is considered of Divine ancestry. The sacral function of kingship was transformed into the notion of “Divine right of kings” in the Christian Middle Ages, while the Chinese, Japanese and Nepalese monarchs continued to be considered living Gods into the modern period. Since antiquity, monarchy has contrasted with forms of democracy, where executive power is wielded by assemblies of free citizens. In antiquity, monarchies were abolished in favour of such assemblies in Rome (Roman Republic, 509 BC), and Athens (Athenian democracy, 500 BC).
In Germanic antiquity, kingship was primarily a sacral function, and the king was elected from among eligible members of royal families by the thing.
Such ancient “parliamentarism” declined during the European Middle Ages, but it survived in forms of regional assemblies, such as the Icelandic Commonwealth, the Swiss Landsgemeinde and later Tagsatzung, and the High Medieval communal movement linked to the rise of medieval town privileges.
The modern resurgence of parliamentarism and anti-monarchism began with the temporary overthrow of the English monarchy by the Parliament of England in 1649, followed by the American Revolution of 1776 and the French Revolution of 1792. Much of 19th century politics was characterized by the division between anti-monarchist Radicalism and monarchist Conservativism.
Many countries abolished the monarchy in the 20th century and became republics, especially in the wake of either World War I or World War II. Advocacy of republics is called republicanism, while advocacy of monarchies is called monarchism.
Characteristics and Role
King George III of the United Kingdom, Portrait by Allan Ramsay, 1762
Monarchies are associated with political or sociocultural hereditary rule, in which monarchs rule for life (although some monarchs do not hold lifetime positions: for example, the Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaysia serves a five-year term) and pass the responsibilities and power of the position to their child or another member of their family when they die. Most monarchs, both historically and in the modern day, have been born and brought up within a royal family, the center of the royal household and court. Growing up in a royal family (called a dynasty when it continues for several generations), future monarchs are often trained for the responsibilities of expected future rule.
Different systems of succession have been used, such as proximity of blood, primogeniture, and agnatic seniority (Salic law). While most monarchs have been male, many female monarchs also have reigned in history; the term queen regnant refers to a ruling monarch, while a queen consort refers to the wife of a reigning king. Rule may be hereditary in practice without being considered a monarchy, such as that of family dictatorships or political families in many democracies.
The principal advantage of hereditary monarchy is the immediate continuity of leadership (as seen in the classic phrase “The King is dead. Long live the King!”).
Some monarchies are non-hereditary. In an elective monarchy, monarchs are elected, or appointed by some body (an electoral college) for life or a defined period, but otherwise serve as any other monarch. Three elective monarchies exist today: Malaysia and the United Arab Emirates are 20th-century creations, while one (the papacy) is ancient.
A self-proclaimed monarchy is established when a person claims the monarchy without any historical ties to a previous dynasty. Napoleon I of France declared himself Emperor of the French and ruled the First French Empire after previously calling himself First Consul following his seizure of power in the coup of 18 Brumaire. Jean-Bédel Bokassa of the Central African Republic declared himself “Emperor” of the Central African Empire. Yuan Shikai crowned himself Emperor of the short-lived “Empire of China” a few years after the Republic of China was founded.
Powers of the monarch
- In an absolute monarchy, the monarch rules as an autocrat, with absolute power over the state and government — for example, the right to rule by decree, promulgate laws, and impose punishments. Absolute monarchies are not necessarily authoritarian; the enlightened absolutists of the Age of Enlightenment were monarchs who allowed various freedoms.
- In a constitutional monarchy, the monarch is subject to a constitution. The monarch serves as a ceremonial figurehead symbol of national unity and state continuity. The monarch is nominally sovereign but the electorate, through their legislature, exercise (usually limited) political sovereignty. Constitutional monarchs have limited political power, except in Japan and Sweden, where the constitutions grant no power to their monarchs. Typical monarchical powers include granting pardons, granting honours, and reserve powers, e.g. to dismiss the prime minister, refuse to dissolve parliament, or veto legislation (“withhold Royal Assent”). They often also have privileges of inviolability, sovereign immunity, and an official residence. A monarch’s powers and influence may depend on tradition, precedent, popular opinion, and law.
- In other cases the monarch’s power is limited, not due to constitutional restraints, but to effective military rule. In the late Roman Empire, the Praetorian Guard several times deposed Roman Emperors and installed new emperors. The Hellenistic kings of Macedon and of Epirus were elected by the army, which was similar in composition to the ecclesia of democracies, the council of all free citizens; military service often was linked with citizenship among the male members of the royal house. Military domination of the monarch has occurred in modern Thailand and in medieval Japan (where a hereditary military chief, the shogun, was the de facto ruler, although the Japanese emperor nominally ruled). In Fascist Italy the Savoy monarchy under King Victor Emmanuel III coexisted with the Fascist single-party rule of Benito Mussolini; Romania under the Iron Guard and Greece during the first months of the Colonels’ regime were much the same way. Spain under Francisco Franco was officially a monarchy, although there was no monarch on the throne. Upon his death, Franco was succeeded as head of state by the Bourbon heir, Juan Carlos I, who proceeded to make Spain a democracy with himself as a figurehead constitutional monarch.
Person of monarch
Postcard of ruling monarchs, taken in 1908 between February (accession of King Manuel II of Portugal) and November (death of Guangxu Emperor).
Most states only have a single person acting as monarch at any given time, although two monarchs have ruled simultaneously in some countries, a situation known as diarchy. Historically this was the case in the ancient Greek city-state of Sparta or 17th-century Russia, and there are examples of joint sovereignty of spouses or relatives (such as William and Mary in the Kingdoms of England and Scotland). Other examples of joint sovereignty include Tsars Peter I and Ivan V of Russia, and Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and Joanna of Castile of the Crown of Castile.
Andorra currently is the world’s sole constitutional diarchy or co-principality. Located in the Pyrenees between Spain and France, it has two co-princes: the Bishop of Urgell (a prince-bishop) in Spain and the President of France (inherited ex officio from the French kings, who themselves inherited the title from the counts of Foix). It is the only situation in which an independent country’s (co-)monarch is democratically elected by the citizens of another country.
In a personal union, separate independent states share the same person as monarch, but each realm has its own crown or monarchy. The sixteen separate Commonwealth realms are sometimes described as being in a personal union with Queen Elizabeth II as monarch, however, they can also be described as being in a shared monarchy.
A regent may rule when the monarch is a minor, absent, or debilitated.
A pretender is a claimant to an abolished throne or to a throne already occupied by somebody else.
Abdication is when a monarch resigns.
Monarchs often take part in certain ceremonies, such as a coronation.
Role of monarch
Ghezo, King of Dahomey, was under pressure from the British to end the slave trade.
Monarchy, especially absolute monarchy, sometimes is linked to religious aspects; many monarchs once claimed the right to rule by the will of a deity (Divine Right of Kings, Mandate of Heaven), a special connection to a deity (sacred king) or even purported to be divine kings, or incarnations of deities themselves (imperial cult). Many European monarchs have been styled Fidei defensor (Defender of the Faith); some hold official positions relating to the state religion or established church.
In the Western political tradition, a morally-based, balanced monarchy is stressed as the ideal form of government, and little reverence is paid to modern-day ideals of egalitarian democracy: e.g. Saint Thomas Aquinas unapologetically declares: “Tyranny is wont to occur not less but more frequently on the basis of polyarchy [rule by many, i.e. oligarchy or democracy] than on the basis of monarchy.” (On Kingship). However, Thomas Aquinas also stated that the ideal monarchical system would also have at lower levels of government both an aristocracy and elements of democracy in order to create a balance of power. The monarch would also be subject to both natural and divine law, as well, and also be subject to the Church in matters of religion.
In Dante Alighieri’s De Monarchia, a spiritualized, imperial Catholic monarchy is strongly promoted according to a Ghibelline world-view in which the “royal religion of Melchizedek” is emphasized against the sacerdotal claims of the rival papal ideology.
In Saudi Arabia, the king is a head of state who is both the absolute monarch of the country and the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques of Islam (خادم الحرمين الشريفين). ––
Titles of monarchs
Tewodros II, Emperor of Ethiopia.
Monarchs can have various titles. Common European titles of monarchs are emperor or empress (from Latin: imperator or imperatrix), king or queen, grand duke or grand duchess, prince or princess, duke or duchess (in that hierarchical order of nobility). Some early modern European titles (especially in German states) included elector (German: Kurfürst, literally “prince-elector”), margrave (German: Markgraf, equivalent to the French title marquis), and burgrave (German: Burggraf, literally “count of the castle”). Lesser titles include count, princely count, or imam (Use in Oman). Slavic titles include knyaz and tsar (ц︢рь) or tsaritsa (царица), a word derived from the Roman imperial title Caesar.
In non-Europe, monarchs can have various titles too. Muslim worlds titles of monarchs include caliph (successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad and a leader of the entire Muslim community), padishah (emperor), sultan or sultana, shâhanshâh (emperor), shah, malik (king) or malikah (queen), emir (commander, prince) or emira (princess), sheikh or sheikha. East Asian titles of monarchs include huángdì (emperor or empress regnant), tiānzǐ (son of heaven), tennō (emperor) or josei tennō (empress regnant), wang (king) or yeowang (queen regnant), hwangje (emperor) or yeohwang (empress regnant). South Asian and South East Asian titles included mahārāja (emperor) or maharani (empress), raja (king) and rana (king) or rani (queen) and ratu (South East Asian queen). Historically, Mongolic or Turkic monarchs have used the title khan and khagan (emperor) or khatun and khanum and Ancient Egypt monarchs have used the title pharaoh for men and women. In Ethiopian Empire, monarchs used title nəgusä nägäst (king of kings) or nəgəstä nägäst (queen of kings).
Many monarchs are addressed with particular styles or manners of address, such as “Majesty”, “Royal Highness”, “By the Grace of God”, Amīr al-Mu’minīn (“Leader of the Faithful”), Hünkar-i Khanedan-i Âl-i Osman, “Sovereign of the Sublime House of Osman”), Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda (“Majesty”), Jeonha (“Majesty”), Tennō Heika (literally “His Majesty the heavenly sovereign”), Bìxià (“Bottom of the Steps”).
Sometimes titles are used to express claims to territories that are not held in fact (for example, English claims to the French throne), or titles not recognized (antipopes). Also, after a monarchy is deposed, often former monarchs and their descendants are given titles (the King of Portugal was given the hereditary title Duke of Braganza).
In some cases monarchs are dependent on other powers (see vassals, suzerainty, puppet state, hegemony). In the British colonial era indirect rule under a paramount power existed, such as the princely states under the British Raj.
In Botswana, South Africa, Ghana and Uganda, the ancient kingdoms and chiefdoms that were met by the colonialists when they first arrived on the continent are now constitutionally protected as regional and/or sectional entities. Furthermore, in Nigeria, though the dozens of sub-regional polities that exist there are not provided for in the current constitution, they are nevertheless legally recognised aspects of the structure of governance that operates in the nation. In addition to these five countries, peculiar monarchies of varied sizes and complexities exist in various other parts of Africa.
The rules for selection of monarchs varies from country to country. In constitutional monarchies the rule of succession generally is embodied in a law passed by a representative body, such as a parliament.
King Leopold I, an elected founder of the hereditary monarchy of Belgium.
In a hereditary monarchy, the position of monarch is inherited according to a statutory or customary order of succession, usually within one royal family tracing its origin through a historical dynasty or bloodline. This usually means that the heir to the throne is known well in advance of becoming monarch to ensure a smooth succession.
Primogeniture, in which the eldest child of the monarch is first in line to become monarch, is the most common system in hereditary monarchy. The order of succession is usually affected by rules on gender. Historically “agnatic primogeniture” or “patrilineal primogeniture” was favoured, that is inheritance according to seniority of birth among the sons of a monarch or head of family, with sons and their male issue inheriting before brothers and their issue, and male-line males inheriting before females of the male line. This is the same as semi-Salic primogeniture. Complete exclusion of females from dynastic succession is commonly referred to as application of the Salic law (see Terra salica).
Before primogeniture was enshrined in European law and tradition, kings would often secure the succession by having their successor (usually their eldest son) crowned during their own lifetime, so for a time there would be two kings in coregency – a senior king and a junior king. Examples include Henry the Young King of England and the early Direct Capetians in France.
Sultan Ali Yusuf Kenadid, heir to the Somali Sultanate of Hobyo.
Sometimes, however, primogeniture can operate through the female line. In some systems a female may rule as monarch only when the male line dating back to a common ancestor is exhausted.
In 1980, Sweden became the first European monarchy to declare equal (full cognatic) primogeniture, meaning that the eldest child of the monarch, whether female or male, ascends to the throne. Other kingdoms (such as the Netherlands in 1983, Norway in 1990, Belgium in 1991, and Denmark) have since followed suit. The United Kingdom adopted absolute (equal) primogeniture on April 25, 2013, following agreement by the prime ministers of the sixteen Commonwealth Realms at the 22nd Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Sometimes religion is affected; for example the British monarch, as head of the Church of England, is required to be in communion with the Church, although all other former rules forbidding marriage to non-Protestants were abolished when equal primogeniture was adopted in 2013.
In the case of the absence of children, the next most senior member of the collateral line (for example, a younger sibling of the previous monarch) becomes monarch. In complex cases, this can mean that there are closer blood relatives to the deceased monarch than the next in line according to primogeniture. This has often led, especially in Europe in the Middle Ages, to conflict between the principle of primogeniture and the principle of proximity of blood.
Other hereditary systems of succession included tanistry, which is semi-elective and gives weight to merit and Agnatic seniority. In some monarchies, such as Saudi Arabia, succession to the throne usually first passes to the monarch’s next eldest brother, and only after that to the monarch’s children (agnatic seniority).
Pope Francis, Sovereign of the Vatican City State.
In an elective monarchy, monarchs are elected, or appointed by some body (an electoral college) for life or a defined period, but otherwise serve as any other monarch. There is no popular vote involved in elective monarchies, as the elective body usually consists of a small number of eligible people. Historical examples of elective monarchy include the Holy Roman Emperors (chosen by prince-electors, but often coming from the same dynasty), and the free election of kings of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. For example, Pepin the Short (father of Charlemagne) was elected King of the Franks by an assembly of Frankish leading men; Stanisław August Poniatowski of Poland was an elected king, as was Frederick I of Denmark. Germanic peoples had elective monarchies.
Four forms of elective monarchies exist today. The pope of the Roman Catholic Church (who rules as Sovereign of the Vatican City State) is elected to a life term by the College of Cardinals. In Malaysia, the federal king, called the Yang di-Pertuan Aung (“Paramount Ruler”) is elected for a five-year term from and by the hereditary rulers (mostly sultans) of nine of the federation’s constitutive states, all on the Malay peninsula. The United Arab Emirates also has a procedure for electing its monarch. Furthermore, Andorra has a unique constitutional arrangement as one of its heads of state is the President of the French Republic in the form of a Co-Prince. This is the only instance in the world where the monarch of a state is elected by the citizens of a different country.
Appointment by the current monarch is another system, used in Jordan. It also was used in Imperial Russia; however, it was changed to semi-Salic soon, because the unreliable realization of the appointment system resulted in an age of palace revolutions. In this system, the monarch chooses the successor, who is always his relative.
See also: jure uxoris
| Absolute monarchy
Commonwealth realms (constitutional monarchies in personal union)
Subnational monarchies (traditional)
|Basic forms of government|
Currently there are 43 nations in the world with a monarch as head of state. They fall roughly into the following categories:
- Commonwealth realms. Queen Elizabeth II is the monarch of sixteen Commonwealth realms (Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth of Australia, the Commonwealth of the Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, the Independent State of Papua New Guinea, the Federation of Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland). They have evolved out of the British Empire into fully independent states within the Commonwealth of Nations that retain the Queen as head of state, unlike other Commonwealth countries that are either dependencies, republics or have a different royal house. All sixteen realms are constitutional monarchies and full democracies where the Queen has limited powers or a largely ceremonial role. The Queen is head of the established Protestant Christian Church of England in the United Kingdom, while the other 15 realms do not have an established church.
- Other European constitutional monarchies.
The Principality of Andorra, the Kingdom of Belgium, the Kingdom of Denmark, Greenland and the Faroe Islands, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the Kingdom of the Netherlands, the Kingdom of Norway, the Kingdom of Spain, and the Kingdom of Sweden are fully democratic states in which the monarch has a limited or largely ceremonial role.
There is generally a Christian religion established as the official church in each of these countries. This is the Lutheran form of Protestantism in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, while Belgium and Andorra are Roman Catholic countries. Spain and the Netherlands have no official State religion. Luxembourg, which is very predominantly Roman Catholic, has five so-called officially recognized cults of national importance (Roman Catholicism, Protestantism, Greek Orthodoxy, Judaism and Islam), a status which gives to those religions some privileges like the payment of a state salary to their priests.
Andorra is unique among all existing monarchies, as it is, by definition, a diarchy, with the Co-Princeship being shared by the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell. This situation, based on historic precedence, has created a peculiar situation among monarchies, as a) both Co-Princes are not of Andorran descent, b) one is elected by common citizens of a foreign country (France), but not by Andorrans as they cannot vote in the French Presidential Elections, c) the other, the bishop of Urgel, is appointed by a foreign head of state, the Pope.
- European constitutional/absolute monarchies. Liechtenstein and Monaco are constitutional monarchies in which the Prince retains many powers of an absolute monarch. For example, the 2003 Constitution referendum which gives the Prince of Liechtenstein the power to veto any law that the Landtag (parliament) proposes and the Landtag can veto any law that the Prince tries to pass. The Prince can hire or dismiss any elective member or government employee from his or her post. However, what makes him not an absolute monarch is that the people can call for a referendum to end the monarchy’s reign. The Prince of Monaco has simpler powers but cannot hire or dismiss any elective member or government employee from his or her post, but he can elect the minister of state, government council and judges. Both Albert II and Hans-Adam II have quite a bit of political power, but they also own huge tracts of land and are shareholders in many companies.
- Islamic monarchies. These Islamic monarchs of the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, the State of Kuwait, Malaysia, the Kingdom of Morocco, the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates generally retain far more powers than their European or Commonwealth counterparts. The Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace, the Sultanate of Oman, the State of Qatar, and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia remain absolute monarchies; the Kingdom of Bahrain, the State of Kuwait and United Arab Emirates are classified as mixed, meaning there are representative bodies of some kind, but the monarch retains most of his powers. The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Malaysia and the Kingdom of Morocco are constitutional monarchies, but their monarchs still retain more substantial powers than European equivalents.
- East Asian constitutional monarchies. The Kingdom of Bhutan, the Kingdom of Cambodia, Japan, the Kingdom of Thailand have constitutional monarchies where the monarch has a limited or ceremonial role. The Kingdom of Bhutan, Japan and the Kingdom of Thailand are countries that were never colonized by European powers, but Japan and the Kingdom of Thailand have changed from traditional absolute monarchies into constitutional ones during the twentieth century, while the Kingdom of Bhutan changed in 2008. The Kingdom of Cambodia had its own monarchy after independence from the French Colonial Empire, which was deposed after the Khmer Rouge came into power and the subsequent invasion by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The monarchy was subsequently restored in the peace agreement of 1993.
- Other monarchies. Four monarchies do not fit into one of the above groups by virtue of geography or class of monarchy: the Kingdom of Tonga in Polynesia; the Kingdom of Swaziland and the Kingdom of Lesotho in Africa; and the Vatican City State in Europe. Of these, the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Kingdom of Tonga are constitutional monarchies, while the Kingdom of Swaziland and the Vatican City State are absolute monarchies. The Kingdom of Swaziland is also unique among these monarchies, often being considered a diarchy. The King, or Ngwenyama, rules alongside his mother, the Ndlovukati, as dual heads of state originally designed to be checks on political power. The Ngwenyama, however, is considered the administrative head of state, while the Ndlovukati is considered the spiritual and national head of state, a position which more or less has become symbolic in recent years.
The Pope is the absolute monarch of the Vatican City State (different entity from the Holy See) by virtue of his position as head of the Roman Catholic Church and Bishop of Rome; he is an elected rather than hereditary ruler and has not to be a citizen of the territory prior to his election by the cardinals.
Oligarchy (from Greek ὀλιγαρχία (oligarkhía); from ὀλίγος (olígos), meaning “few”, and ἄρχω (arkho), meaning “to rule or to command”) is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people might be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, religious or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term.
Throughout history, oligarchies have often been tyrannical, relying on public obedience or oppression to exist. Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as a synonym for rule by the rich, for which another term commonly used today is plutocracy.
Especially during the fourth century BC, after the restoration of democracy from oligarchical coups, the Athenians used the drawing of lots for selecting government officers in order to counteract what the Athenians saw as a tendency toward oligarchy in government if a professional governing class were allowed to use their skills for their own benefit. They drew lots from large groups of adult volunteers that pick selection technique for civil servants performing judicial, executive, and administrative functions (archai, boulē, and hēliastai). They even used lots for posts, such as judges and jurors in the political courts (nomothetai), which had the power to overrule the Assembly.
- 1 Examples
- 1.1 Russian Federation
- 1.2 United States
- 1.3 In fiction
|This section may stray from the topic of the article into the topic of another article, Wealth inequality. Please help improve this section or discuss this issue on the talk page. (July 2015)|
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in December 1991, privately owned Russia-based multinational corporations, including producers of petroleum, natural gas, and metal have, in the view of some analysts, led to the rise of Russian oligarchs.
Further information: Income inequality in the United States § Impact on democracy and society
Some contemporary authors have characterized current conditions in the United States as oligarchic in nature. Simon Johnson wrote that “the reemergence of an American financial oligarchy is quite recent,” a structure which he delineated as being the “most advanced” in the world. Jeffrey A. Winters wrote that “oligarchy and democracy operate within a single system, and American politics is a daily display of their interplay.” Bernie Sanders, opined in a 2010 The Nation article that an “upper-crust of extremely wealthy families are hell-bent on destroying the democratic vision of a strong middle-class … In its place they are determined to create an oligarchy in which a small number of families control the economic and political life of our country.” The top 1% in 2007 had a larger share of total income than at any time since 1928. In 2011, according to PolitiFact and others, the top 400 wealthiest Americans “have more wealth than half of all Americans combined.”
French economist Thomas Piketty states in his 2013 book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, that “the risk of a drift towards oligarchy is real and gives little reason for optimism about where the United States is headed.”
A study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens of Princeton University, and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University, was released in April 2014, which stated that their “analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” It also suggested that “Americans do enjoy many features central to democratic governance, such as regular elections, freedom of speech and association, and a widespread (if still contested) franchise.” Gilens and Page do not characterize the US as an “oligarchy” per se; however, they do apply the concept of “civil oligarchy” as used by Jeffrey Winters with respect to the US. Winters has posited a comparative theory of “oligarchy” in which the wealthiest citizens – even in a “civil oligarchy” like the United States – dominate policy concerning crucial issues of wealth- and income-protection.
Gilens says that average citizens only get what they want if economic elites or interest groups also want it; that is, economic elites and interest groups are influential. Other studies have questioned the Page and Gilens study.
In a 2015 interview, former President Jimmy Carter stated that the United States is now “an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery,” due to the Citizens United ruling, which effectively removed limits on donations to political candidates.
A well-known fictional oligarchy is represented by the Inner Party in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four. The socialists in the Jack London novel The Iron Heel fight a rebellion against the oligarchy ruling in the United States. In the Ender’s Quartet, by Orson Scott Card – specifically Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of The Mind – there is an oligarchy of the Starways Congress which rules by controlling communication by the Ansible. The nation Panem, controlled by its capitol, in The Hunger Games trilogy is also a form of oligarchy, as is the nation of Tear (ruled by a group of high lords, until the appointment of High Lord Darlin as King of Tear) in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of
The concept evolved in Ancient Greece, whereby a council of leading citizens was commonly empowered and contrasted with direct democracy, in which a council of citizens was appointed as the “senate” of a city state or other political unit. The Greeks did not like the concept of monarchy, and as their democratic system fell, aristocracy was upheld.
In Ancient Rome, the Republic consisted of an aristocracy—as well as consuls, a senate, and a tribal assembly. In the Middle Ages and early modern era, aristocracies primarily consisted of an influential aristocratic class, privileged by birth, and often by wealth. Since the French Revolution, aristocracy has generally been contrasted with democracy, in which all citizens should hold some form of political power. However, this distinction is often oversimplified. The concept evolved in Ancient Greece, whereby a council of leading citizens was commonly empowered and contrasted with direct democracy, in which a council of male citizens was appointed as the “senate” of a city state or other political unit.
In his 1651 book Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes describes an aristocracy as a commonwealth in which the representative of the citizens is an assembly by part. It is a system in which only a small part of the population represents the government. Modern depictions of aristocracy tend to regard it not as the ancient Greek concept of rule by the best, but more as a plutocracy—rule by the rich.
A military dictatorship is a form of government different from civilian dictatorship for a number of reasons: their motivations for seizing power, the institutions through which they organize their rule, and the ways in which they leave power. Often viewing itself as saving the nation from the corrupt or myopic civilian politicians, a military dictatorship justifies its position as “neutral” arbiters on the basis of their membership within the armed forces. For example, many juntas adopt titles, such as “National Redemption Council”, “Committee of National Restoration”, or “National Liberation Committee”. Military leaders often rule as a junta, selecting one of them as the head. For instance, Zhelyu Zhelev has argued that Fascist regimes such as Nazi Germany had its power run by the party and its various civic instituitions, and that a military coup against Hitler was unlikely.
- 1 Types
- 2 Creation and evolution
- 3 Justification
- 4 Current cases
- 5 Past cases
- 5.1 Africa
- 5.2 The Americas
- 5.3 Asia-Pacific
- 5.4 Europe
Since 1945 Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East have been common areas for all military dictatorships. One of the reasons for this is the fact that the military often has more cohesion and institutional structure than most of the civilian institutions of society.
The typical military dictatorship in Latin America was ruled by a junta (derived from a Spanish word which can be translated as “conference” or “board”), or a committee composed of several officers, often from the military’s most senior leadership, but in other cases less senior, as evidenced by the term colonels’ regime, where the military leaders remained loyal to the previous regime. Other military dictatorships are entirely in the hands of a single officer, sometimes called a caudillo, usually the senior army commander. In either case, the chairman of the junta or the single commander may often personally assume office as head of state.
In the Middle East, Africa and Spain, military governments more often came to be led by a single powerful person, and were autocracies in addition to military dictatorships. Leaders like Idi Amin, Sani Abacha, Muammar Gaddafi, Gamal Abdul Nasser and Francisco Franco worked to develop a personality cult and became the face of the nation inside and outside their countries.
Creation and evolution
Most military dictatorships are formed after a coup d’état has overthrown the previous government.
Conversely, other military dictatorships may gradually restore significant components of civilian government while the senior military commander still maintains executive political power. In Pakistan, ruling Generals Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq (1977–1988) and Pervez Musharraf (1999–2008) have held singular referendums to elect themselves President of Pakistan for additional terms forbidden by the constitution.
In the past, military juntas have justified their rule as a way of bringing political stability for the nation or rescuing it from the threat of “dangerous ideologies”. For example, in Latin America, the threat of communism was often used. Military regimes tend to portray themselves as non-partisan, as a “neutral” party that can provide interim leadership in times of turmoil, and also tend to portray civilian politicians as corrupt and ineffective. One of the almost universal characteristics of a military government is the institution of martial law or a permanent state of emergency.
In pre-modern times, in many societies a monarch, tribal chief, or big man could gain or maintain power through interpersonal combat, by personally leading a military force against rival factions, or by personally providing for the physical security of followers. (This might be referred to as a might makes right system.) Due to the large number of historic regimes of this type that could arguably be classed as military dictatorships, the below list is limited to those administrations in power at some point since 1800. Some regimes such as Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy, while they pursued considerable aggressive and expansionist strategies, were not strictly run by the military and so are not included below.
AfricaPlutocracy (from Greek πλοῦτος, ploutos, meaning “wealth”, and κράτος, kratos, meaning “power, dominion, rule”) or plutarchy, is a form of oligarchy and defines a society ruled or controlled by the small minority of the wealthiest citizens. The first known use of the term was in 1652. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy. The concept of plutocracy may be advocated by the wealthy classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion, though the term itself is almost always used in a pejorative sense.
The term plutocracy is generally used as a pejorative to describe or warn against an undesirable condition. Throughout history, political thinkers such as Winston Churchill, 19th-century French sociologist and historian Alexis de Tocqueville, 19th-century Spanish monarchist Juan Donoso Cortés and today Noam Chomsky have condemned plutocrats for ignoring their social responsibilities, using their power to serve their own purposes and thereby increasing poverty and nurturing class conflict, corrupting societies with greed and hedonism.
Examples of plutocracies include the Roman Empire, some city-states in Ancient Greece, the civilization of Carthage, the Italian city-states/merchant republics of Venice, Florence, Genoa, and pre-World War II Empire of Japan (the zaibatsu). According to Noam Chomsky and Jimmy Carter, modern day United States resembles a plutocracy, though with democratic forms.
One modern, formal example of what some critics have described as a plutocracy is the City of London. The City (not the whole of modern London but the area of the ancient city, about 1 sq mile or 2.5 km2, which now mainly comprises the financial district) has a unique electoral system for its local administration. More than two-thirds of voters are not residents, but rather representatives of businesses and other bodies that occupy premises in the City, with votes distributed according to their numbers of employees. The principal justification for this arrangement is that most of the services provided by the City of London Corporation are used by the businesses in the City. In fact about 450,000 non-residents constitute the city’s day-time population, far outnumbering the City’s 7,000 residents.
Historically, wealthy individuals and organizations have exerted influence over the political arena. In the modern era, many democratic republics permit fundraising for politicians who frequently rely on such income for advertising their candidacy to the voting public.
Whether through individuals, corporations or advocacy groups, such donations are often believed to engender a cronyist or patronage system by which major contributors are rewarded on a quid pro quo basis. While campaign donations need not directly affect the legislative decisions of elected representatives, the natural expectation of donors is that their needs will be served by the person to whom they donated. If not, it is in their self-interest to fund a different candidate or political organization.
While quid pro quo agreements are generally illegal in most democracies, they are difficult to prove, short of a well-documented paper trail. A core basis of democracy, being a politician’s ability to freely advocate policies which benefit his or her constituents, also makes it difficult to prove that doing so might be a crime. Even the granting of appointed positions to a well-documented contributor may not transgress the law, particularly if the appointee appears to be suitably qualified for the post. Some systems even specifically provide for such patronage.
Further information: Income inequality in the United States § Effects on democracy and society
See also: American upper class and Wealth inequality in the United States
Some modern historians, politicians, and economists argue that the United States was effectively plutocratic for at least part of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era periods between the end of the Civil War until the beginning of the Great Depression. President Theodore Roosevelt became known as the “trust-buster” for his aggressive use of United States antitrust law, through which he managed to break up such major combinations as the largest railroad and Standard Oil, the largest oil company. According to historian David Burton, “When it came to domestic political concerns, TR’s Bete Noire was the plutocracy. In his autobiographical account of taking on monopolistic corporations as president, TR recounted
…we had come to the stage where for our people what was needed was a real democracy; and of all forms of tyranny the least attractive and the most vulgar is the tyranny of mere wealth, the tyranny of a plutocracy.
The Sherman Antitrust Act had been enacted in 1890, with large industries reaching monopolistic or near-monopolistic levels of market concentration and financial capital increasingly integrating corporations, a handful of very wealthy heads of large corporations began to exert increasing influence over industry, public opinion and politics after the Civil War. Money, according to contemporary progressive and journalist Walter Weyl, was “the mortar of this edifice”, with ideological differences among politicians fading and the political realm becoming “a mere branch in a still larger, integrated business. The state, which through the party formally sold favors to the large corporations, became one of their departments.”
In his book The Conscience of a Liberal, in a section entitled The Politics of Plutocracy, economist Paul Krugman says plutocracy took hold because of three factors: at that time, the poorest quarter of American residents (African-Americans and non-naturalized immigrants) were ineligible to vote, the wealthy funded the campaigns of politicians they preferred, and vote buying was “feasible, easy and widespread”, as were other forms of electoral fraud such as ballot-box stuffing and intimidation of the other party’s voters.
The U.S. instituted progressive taxation in 1913, but according to Shamus Khan, in the 1970s, elites used their increasing political power to lower their taxes, and today successfully employ what political scientist Jeffrey Winters calls “the income defense industry” to greatly reduce their taxes.
Post World War II
In modern times, the term is sometimes used pejoratively to refer to societies rooted in state-corporate capitalism or which prioritize the accumulation of wealth over other interests. According to Kevin Phillips, author and political strategist to U.S. President Richard Nixon, the United States is a plutocracy in which there is a “fusion of money and government.”
Chrystia Freeland, author of Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else, says that the present trend towards plutocracy occurs because the rich feel that their interests are shared by society.
You don’t do this in a kind of chortling, smoking your cigar, conspiratorial thinking way. You do it by persuading yourself that what is in your own personal self-interest is in the interests of everybody else. So you persuade yourself that, actually, government services, things like spending on education, which is what created that social mobility in the first place, need to be cut so that the deficit will shrink, so that your tax bill doesn’t go up. And what I really worry about is, there is so much money and so much power at the very top, and the gap between those people at the very top and everybody else is so great, that we are going to see social mobility choked off and society transformed.
— Chrystia Freeland, NPR
When the Nobel-Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote the 2011 Vanity Fair magazine article entitled “Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%”, the title and content supported Stiglitz’s claim that the United States is increasingly ruled by the wealthiest 1%. Some researchers have said the US may be drifting towards a form of oligarchy, as individual citizens have less impact than economic elites and organized interest groups upon public policy. A study conducted by political scientists Martin Gilens (Princeton University) and Benjamin Page (Northwestern University), which was released in April 2014, stated that their “analyses suggest that majorities of the American public actually have little influence over the policies our government adopts.” Gilens and Page do not characterize the US as an “oligarchy” or “plutocracy” per se; however, they do apply the concept of “civil oligarchy” as used by Jeffrey A. Winters with respect to the US.
A report by Credit Suisse in 2013 states that “Russia has the highest level of wealth inequality in the world, apart from small Caribbean nations with resident billionaires. Worldwide, there is one billionaire for every USD 170 billion in household wealth; Russia has one for every USD 11 billion. Worldwide, billionaires collectively account for 1%– 2% of total household wealth; in Russia today, 110 billionaires own 35% of all wealth.”
In the political jargon and propaganda of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and the Communist International, western democratic states were referred to as plutocracies, with the implication being that a small number of extremely wealthy individuals were controlling the countries and holding them to ransom. Plutocracy replaced democracy and capitalism as the principal fascist term for the United States and Great Britain during the Second World War. For the Nazis, the term was often a code word for “the Jews”
A federation (from Latin: foedus, gen.: foederis, “covenant”), also known as a federal state, is a political entity characterized by a union of partially self-governing states or regions under a central (federal) government. In a federation, the self-governing status of the component states, as well as the division of power between them and the central government, are typically constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered by a unilateral decision of either party, the states or the federal political body.
The governmental or constitutional structure found in a federation is known as federalism. It can be considered the opposite of another system, the unitary state. Germany, with sixteen Bundesländer, is an example of a federation, whereas neighboring Austria and its Bundesländer was a unitary state with administrative divisions that became federated, and neighboring France by contrast has always been unitary.
Federations may be multi-ethnic and cover a large area of territory (e.g. Russia, the United States, or India), although neither is necessarily the case. The initial agreements create a stability that encourages other common interests, reduces differences between the disparate territories, and gives them all even more common ground. At some time this is recognized and a movement is organized to merge more closely. At other times, especially when common cultural factors are at play such as ethnicity and language, some of the steps in this pattern are expedited and compressed.
The international council for federal countries, the Forum of Federations, is based in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. It helps share best practices among countries with federal systems of government, and currently includes nine countries as partner governments.
Several ancient chiefdoms and kingdoms, such as the 4th-century BC League of Corinth, Noricum in Central Europe, and the Haudenosaunee Confederation in pre-Columbian North America, could be described as federations or confederations. The Old Swiss Confederacy was an early example of formal non-unitary statehood.
Several colonies and dominions in the New World consisted of autonomous provinces, transformed to federal states upon independence (see Spanish American wars of independence). The oldest continuous federation, and a role model for many subsequent federations, is the United States. Some of the New World federations failed; the Federal Republic of Central America broke up into independent states ten years after its founding. Others, such as Argentina and Mexico, have shifted between federal, confederal, and unitary systems, before settling into federalism. Brazil became a federation only after the fall of the monarchy (see States of Brazil), and Venezuela became a federation after the Federal War. Australia and Canada are also federations.
Germany is another nation-state that has switched between confederal, federal and unitary rules, since the German Confederation was founded in 1815. The North German Confederation and the Weimar Republic were federations.
Founded in 1922, the Soviet Union was formally a federation of Soviet Republics, Autonomous republics of the Soviet Union and other federal subjects, though in practice highly centralized under the Government of the Soviet Union. The Russian Federation has inherited a similar system.
Nigeria, Pakistan, India and Malaysia became federations on or shortly before becoming independent from the British Empire.
The Forum of Federations was established in 1999.
In some recent cases, federations have been instituted as a measure to handle ethnic conflict within a state, such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Iraq since 2005.
The component states are in some sense sovereign, insofar as certain powers are reserved to them that may not be exercised by the central government. However, a federation is more than a mere loose alliance of independent states. The component states of a federation usually possess no powers in relation to foreign policy, and so they enjoy no independent status under international law. However, German Länder do have this power, which is beginning to be exercised on a European level.
Some federations are called asymmetric because some states have more autonomy than others. An example of such a federation is Malaysia, in which Sarawak and Sabah agreed to form the federation on different terms and conditions from the states of Peninsular Malaysia.
A federation often emerges from an initial agreement between a number of separate states. The purpose can be the will to solve mutual problems and to provide for mutual defense, or to create a nation state for an ethnicity spread over several states. The former was the case with the United States and Switzerland. However, as the histories of countries and nations vary, the federalist system of a state can be quite different from these models. Australia, for instance, is unique in that it came into existence as a nation by the democratic vote of the citizens of each state, who voted “yes” in referendums to adopt the Australian Constitution. Brazil, on the other hand, has experienced both the federal and the unitary state during its history. Some present day states of the Brazilian federation retain borders set during the Portuguese colonization (i.e. previous to the very existence of the Brazilian state), whereas the latest state, Tocantins, was created by the 1988 Constitution for chiefly administrative reasons.
Seven of the top eight largest countries by area are governed as federations.
A unitary state is sometimes one with only a single, centralised, national tier of government. However, unitary states often also include one or more self-governing regions. The difference between a federation and this kind of unitary state is that in a unitary state the autonomous status of self-governing regions exists by the sufferance of the central government, and may be unilaterally revoked. While it is common for a federation to be brought into being by agreement between a number of formally independent states, in a unitary state self-governing regions are often created through a process of devolution, where a formerly centralised state agrees to grant autonomy to a region that was previously entirely subordinate. Thus federations are often established voluntarily from ‘below’ whereas devolution grants self-government from ‘above’.
It is often part of the philosophy of a unitary state that, regardless of the actual status of any of its parts, its entire territory constitutes a single sovereign entity or nation-state, and that by virtue of this the central government exercises sovereignty over the whole territory as of right. In a federation, on the other hand, sovereignty is often regarded as residing notionally in the component states, or as being shared between these states and the central government.
The Swiss Confederation and its 26 cantons.
A confederation, in modern political terms, is usually limited to a permanent union of sovereign states for common action in relation to other states. The closest entity in the world to a confederation at this time is the European Union. While the word “confederation” was officially used when the present Canadian federal system was established in 1867, the term refers only to the process and not the resulting state since Canadian provinces are not sovereign and do not claim to be. In the case of Switzerland, while the country is still officially called the Swiss Confederation (Confoederatio Helvetica, Confédération suisse) this is also now a misnomer since the Swiss cantons lost their sovereign status in 1848.
In Belgium, however, the opposite movement is under way. Belgium was founded as a centralised state, after the French model, but has gradually been reformed into a federal state by consecutive constitutional reforms since the 1970s. Moreover, although nominally called a federal state, the country’s structure already has a number of confederational traits (ex. competences are exclusive for either the federal or the state level, the treaty-making power of the Federating units almost without any possible veto of the Federal Government). At present, there is a growing movement to transform the existing federal state into a looser confederation with two or three constitutive states and/or two special regions.
By definition, the difference between a confederation and a federation is that the membership of the member states in a confederation is voluntary, while the membership in a federation is not. A confederation is most likely to feature these differences over a federation: (1) No real direct powers: many confederal decisions are externalised by member-state legislation. (2) Decisions on day-to-day-matters are not taken by simple majority but by special majorities or even by consensus or unanimity (veto for every member). (3) Changes of the constitution, usually a treaty, require unanimity.
Over time these terms acquired distinct connotations leading to the present difference in definition. An example of this is the United States under the Articles of Confederation. The Articles established a national government under what today would be defined as a federal system (albeit with a comparatively weaker federal government). However, Canadians, designed with a stronger central government than the U.S. in the wake of the Civil War of the latter, use the term “Confederation” to refer to the formation or joining, not the structure, of Canada. Legal reforms, court rulings, and political compromises have somewhat decentralised Canada in practice since its formation in 1867.
An empire is a multi-ethnic state, multinational state, or a group of nations with a central government established usually through coercion (on the model of the Roman Empire). An empire often includes self-governing regions, but these will possess autonomy only at the sufferance of the central government. On the other hand, a political entity that is an empire in name, may in practice consist of multiple autonomous kingdoms organised together in a federation, with a high king designated as an emperor. One example of this was Imperial Germany, or the Russian Empire.
Comparison with other systems of autonomy
A federacy is essentially an extreme case of an asymmetric federation, either due to large differences in the level of autonomy, or the rigidity of the constitutional arrangements. The term federacy is more often used for the relation between the sovereign state and its autonomous areas.
A federation differs from a devolved state, such as Indonesia, the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Spain, because, in a devolved state, the central government can revoke the independence of the subunits (Scottish Parliament, Welsh National Assembly, Northern Ireland Assembly in the case of the UK) without changing the constitution.
A federation also differs from an associated state, such as the Federated States of Micronesia (in free association with the United States) and Cook Islands and Niue (which form part of the Realm of New Zealand). There are two kinds of associated states: in case of Micronesia, association is concluded by treaty between two sovereign states; in case of Cook Islands and Niue, association is concluded by domestic legal arrangements.
The relation between the Crown dependencies of the Isle of Man and the bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey in the Channel Islands and the United Kingdom is very similar to a federate relation: the Islands enjoy independence from the United Kingdom, which, via The Crown, takes care of their foreign relations and defence – although the UK Parliament does have overall power to legislate for the dependencies. However, the islands are neither an incorporated part of the United Kingdom, nor are they considered to be independent or associated states. The Isle of Man does not have a monarch, per se; rather, the British Monarch is, ex officio, Lord of Mann (irrespective of the incumbent’s sex).
Overseas territories, such as the British overseas territories, are vested with varying degrees of power; some enjoy considerable independence from the sovereign state, which only takes care of their foreign relations and defence. However, they are neither considered to be part of it, nor recognised as sovereign or associated states.
Alleged de facto federations
The distinction between a federation and a unitary state is often quite ambiguous. A unitary state may closely resemble a federation in structure and, while a central government may possess the theoretical right to revoke the autonomy of a self-governing region, it may be politically difficult for it to do so in practice. The self-governing regions of some unitary states also often enjoy greater autonomy than those of some federations. For these reasons, it is sometimes argued that some modern unitary states are de facto federations.
De facto federations, or quasi-federations, are often termed “regional states”.
The Autonomous communities of Spain.
Spain is suggested as one possible de facto federation as it grants more self-government to its autonomous communities than most federations allow their constituent parts. For the Spanish parliament to revoke the autonomy of regions such as Galicia, Catalonia or the Basque Country would be a political near-impossibility, though nothing bars it legally. Additionally, some regions such as Navarre or the Basque Country have full control over taxation and spending, transferring a small payment to the central government for the common services (military, foreign relations, macroeconomic policy). For example, scholar Enrique Guillén López discusses the “federal nature of Spain’s government (a trend that almost no one denies).” Each autonomous community is governed by a Statute of Autonomy (Estatuto de Autonomía) under the Spanish Constitution of 1978.
The European Union (EU) is a type of political union or quasi Federation. Robert Schuman, the initiator of the European Community system, wrote that a supranational Community like the Europe’s founding European Coal and Steel Community lay midway between an association of States where they retained complete independence and a federation leading to a fusion of States in a super-state. The European Founding Fathers made a Europe Declaration at the time of the signing of the Treaty of Paris on 18 April 1951 saying that Europe should be organized on a supranational foundation. They envisaged a structure quite different from a federation called the European Political Community.
The EU is a three pillar structure of the original supranational European Economic Community and the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Euratom, plus two largely intergovernmental pillars dealing with External Affairs and Justice and Home Affairs. The EU is therefore not a de jure federation, although some academic observers conclude that after 50 years of institutional evolution since the Treaties of Rome it is becoming one. The European Union possesses attributes of a federal state. However, its central government is far weaker than that of most federations and the individual members are sovereign states under international law, so it is usually characterized as an unprecedented form of supra-national union. The EU has responsibility for important areas such as trade, monetary union, agriculture, fisheries. Nonetheless, EU member states retain the right to act independently in matters of foreign policy and defense, and also enjoy a near monopoly over other major policy areas such as criminal justice and taxation. Since the Treaty of Lisbon, Member States’ right to leave the Union is codified, and the Union operates with more qualified majority voting (rather than unanimity) in many areas.
By the signature of this Treaty, the participating Parties give proof of their determination to create the first supranational institution and that thus they are laying the true foundation of an organized Europe. This Europe remains open to all nations. We profoundly hope that other nations will join us in our common endeavour.
— Europe Declaration signed by Konrad Adenauer (West Germany), Paul van Zeeland, Joseph Meurice (Belgium) Robert Schuman (France) Count Sforza (Italy) Joseph Bech (Luxembourg) and Dirk Stikker, J. R. M. van den Brink (The Netherlands)
Europe has charted its own brand of constitutional federalism.
— European Constitutionalism Beyond the State. Edited with Marlene Wind (Cambridge Univ. Press, 2003) page 23, Joseph H. H. Weiler
Those uncomfortable using the “F” word in the EU context should feel free to refer to it as a quasi-federal or federal-like system. Nevertheless, for the purposes of the analysis here, the EU has the necessary attributes of a federal system. It is striking that while many scholars of the EU continue to resist analyzing it as a federation, most contemporary students of federalism view the EU as a federal system.
(See for instance, Bednar, Filippov et al., McKay, Kelemen, Defigueido and Weingast)
— R. Daniel Kelemen
A more nuanced view has been given by the German Constitutional Court. Here the EU is defined as ‘an association of sovereign national states (Staatenverbund)’. With this view, the European Union resembles more of a confederation.
People’s Republic of China
In the People’s Republic of China, a form of de facto federation is evolving without formal legislation, and so is a myth. This has occurred as largely informal grants of power to the provinces, to handle economic affairs and implement national policies. This has resulted in a system some (how many not known) have termed “de facto federalism with Chinese characteristics”, which in fact is too far from the federalism idea (in reference to Deng Xiaoping’s policy of socialism with Chinese characteristics). Constitutionally, the power vested in the special administrative regions of the People’s Republic is granted from the Central People’s Government, through decision by the National People’s Congress.
Internal controversy and conflict
The United Provinces of Central America was a short-lived federal republic
Certain forms of political and constitutional dispute are common to federations. One issue is that the exact division of power and responsibility between federal and regional governments is often a source of controversy. Often, as is the case with the United States, such conflicts are resolved through the judicial system, which delimits the powers of federal and local governments. The relationship between federal and local courts varies from nation to nation and can be a controversial and complex issue in itself.
Another common issue in federal systems is the conflict between regional and national interests, or between the interests and aspirations of different ethnic groups. In some federations the entire jurisdiction is relatively homogeneous and each constituent state resembles a miniature version of the whole; this is known as ‘congruent federalism’. On the other hand, incongruent federalism exists where different states or regions possess distinct ethnic groups.
The ability of a federal government to create national institutions that can mediate differences that arise because of linguistic, ethnic, religious, or other regional differences is an important challenge. The inability to meet this challenge may lead to the secession of parts of a federation or to civil war, as occurred in United States (southern states interpreted slavery under the tenth amendment as a state right, while northern states were against slavery, with a catalysis occurring in the then Kansas Territory) and Switzerland. In the case of Malaysia, Singapore was expelled from the federation because of rising racial tension. In some cases internal conflict may lead a federation to collapse entirely, as occurred in Nigeria, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, the Gran Colombia, the United Provinces of Central America and the West Indies Federation.
The federal government is the common or national government of a federation. A federal government may have distinct powers at various levels authorized or delegated to it by its member states. The structure of federal governments vary. Based on a broad definition of a basic federalism, there are two or more levels of government that exist within an established territory and govern through common institutions with overlapping or shared powers as prescribed by a constitution.
Federal government is the government at the level of the sovereign state. Usual responsibilities of this level of government are maintaining national security and exercising international diplomacy, including the right to sign binding treaties. Basically, a modern federal government, within the limits defined by its constitution, has the power to make laws for the whole country, unlike local governments. As originally written, the United States Constitution was created to limit the federal government from exerting power over the states by enumerating only specific powers. It was further limited by the addition of the Tenth Amendment contained in the Bill of Rights and the Eleventh Amendment. However, later amendments, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment, gave the federal government considerable authority over states.
Federal government within this structure are the government ministries and departments and agencies to which the ministers of government are assigned.
For a detailed list of federated units, see Federated state#List of constituents by federation. There are 27 federations as of October 2013.
Main articles: Federal republic and Federal monarchy
|Year est.||Federation||Federating units||Major federating units||Minor federating units||Type*|
|1853||Argentina||Provinces of Argentina||23 provinces||1 autonomous city||R|
|1901||Australia||States and territories of Australia||6 states||2 (mainland) territories||M|
|1920||Austria||States of Austria||9 Länder or Bundesländer||R|
|1970||Belgium||Divisions of Belgium||3 communities, 3 regions||M|
|1995||Bosnia and Herzegovina||Divisions of Bosnia and Herzegovina||2 entities||10 cantons
|1889||Brazil||States of Brazil||26 states and 1 federal district (Previously 20 provinces during the Imperial period between 1822 and 1889)||5,565 municipalities||R|
|1867||Canada||Provinces and territories of Canada||10 provinces||3 territories||M|
|1975||Comoros||Autonomous Islands of the Comoros||3 islands||R|
|1995||Ethiopia||Regions of Ethiopia||9 regions||2 chartered cities||R|
|1949||Germany||States of Germany||16 Länder or Bundesländer||R|
|1950||India||States and territories of India||29 States||7 Union Territories, including a National Capital Territory||R|
|2005||Iraq||Governorates of Iraq||18 provinces||R|
|1963||Malaysia||States of Malaysia||13 states||3 federal territories||M|
|1821||Mexico||States of Mexico||31 states, 1 federal district||2,438 municipalities||R|
|1979||Federated States of Micronesia||Administrative divisions of Micronesia||4 states||R|
|2015||Nepal||Provinces of Nepal||7 provinces||75 districts||R|
|1963||Nigeria||States of Nigeria||36 states||1 federal capital territory||R|
|1956||Pakistan||Provinces and territories of Pakistan||4 provinces||4 federal territories including a federal capital territory||R|
|1918||Russia||Federal subjects of Russia||46 oblasts, 22 republics, 9 krais, 4 autonomous okrugs, 3 federal-level cities, 1 autonomous oblast||R|
|1983||Saint Kitts and Nevis||The islands St. Kitts and Nevis||2 islands/14 parishes||M|
|2012||Somalia||Federal Member States of Somalia||18 states||R|
|2011||South Sudan||States of South Sudan||10 states||R|
|1956||Sudan||States of Sudan||17 states||R|
|1848||Switzerland||Cantons of Switzerland||26 cantons||R|
|1971||United Arab Emirates||Emirates of the UAE||7 emirates||M|
|1776||United States of America||States of the United States||50 states||1 federal district; 2 commonwealths; 1 incorporated territory, 11 unincorporated territories||R|
|1863||Venezuela||States of Venezuela||23 states||1 federal district, 1 federal dependency||R|
* As defined and listed in the respective articles:
R: Federal republic
M: Federal monarchy
Long form titles
- Federal Republic of: Germany, Somalia, Nigeria.
- Federation: Russia, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Malaysia (informal)
- Republic: Argentina, Austria, India (also called Indian Union), Iraq, South Africa, Sudan, South Sudan.
- Bolivarian Republic (Venezuela)
- Confederation (Switzerland)
- Commonwealth (Australia)
- Dominion (Canada before 1982)
- Federal Democratic Republic (Ethiopia, Nepal)
- Federated States (FS Micronesia)
- Federative Republic (Brazil)
- Islamic Republic (Pakistan)
- Kingdom (Belgium)
- Union (Comoros)
- United Emirates (United Arab Emirates)
- United States (USA, Mexico, Brazil before 1969)
- Bosnia and Herzegovina (since 1998)
- Canada (since 1982)
- United Kingdom of Portugal, Brazil and the Algarves (1815-1825)
- Confederate States of America (1861–1865)
- Argentine Confederation (1831-1861)
- Austria (1934–1938)
- Federal Republic of Cameroon (1961–1972)
- United Provinces of Central America (1823 – circa 1838)
- United States of Colombia (1863–1886)
- Democratic Republic of the Congo (1964–1967)
- Czechoslovakia (1969–1992)
- Republic of Kenya (1963-2013)
- Federated Dutch Republic (1581–1795)
- Federation of Ethiopia and Eritrea (1952-1962)
- French Equatorial Africa (1910–1958)
- French Indochina (1887–1954)
- French West Africa (1904–1958)
- North German Confederation (1867-1871)
- German Empire (1871-1918)
- Weimar Republic (1919-1933)
- East Germany (1949-1952)
- Inca Empire (1197–1572)
- United States of Indonesia (1949–1950)
- United Kingdom of Libya (1951–1963)
- Federated Malay States (1896–1946)
- Federation of Malaya (1948–1963)
- Malayan Union (1946–1948)
- Mali Federation (1959–1960)
- Mengjiang (1937-1945, since 1941 autonomous region of the Reorganized National Government of China)
- New Granada (1858–1863)
- Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1569–1795)
- Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland (1953–1963)
- Federation of South Arabia (1962–1967)
- Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1922–1991)
- Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (1917–1991)
- Federal Republic of Spain (1873–1874)
- Uganda (1962–1967)
- West Indies Federation (1958–1962)
- Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1943–1992)
- Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (1992–2003), renamed Serbia and Montenegro (2003–2006)
Some of the proclaimed Arab federations were confederations de facto.
A unitary state is a state governed as one single power in which the central government is ultimately supreme and any administrative divisions (subnational units) exercise only powers that their central government chooses to delegate. The majority of states in the world have a unitary system of government. Of the 193 UN member states, 165 of them are governed as unitary states.
Unitary states are contrasted with federal states (federations) and confederal states (confederation):
- In a unitary state, subnational units are created and abolished, and their powers may be broadened and narrowed, by the central government. Although political power in unitary states may be delegated through devolution to local government by statute, the central government remains supreme; it may abrogate the acts of devolved governments or curtail their powers.
- The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is an example of a unitary state. Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have a degree of autonomous devolved power, but such devolved power is delegated by the Parliament of the United Kingdom which may enact laws unilaterally altering or abolishing devolution (England does not have any devolved power).
- Many unitary states have no such areas having any degree of autonomy. Subnational areas can not decide any of their own laws. Some examples of such countries are the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Sweden.
- In federal states, by contrast, states or other subnational units share sovereignty with the central government, and the states constituting the federation have an existence and power functions that cannot be unilaterally changed by the central government. In some cases, it is the federal government that has only those powers expressly delegated to it.
- The United States of America is an example of a federal state. Under the U.S. Constitution, power is shared between the federal government and the U.S. states, with the tenth amendment explicitly stating, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Many federal states also have unitary lower levels of government; while the United States is federal, the states themselves are unitary under Dillon’s Rule – counties and municipalities have only the authority granted to them by the state governments under their state constitution or by legislative acts. For example, in the state of Connecticut, county government was abolished in 1960.
Devolution (like federation) may be symmetrical, with all subnational units having the same powers and status, or asymmetric, with regions varying in their powers and status.
- 1 List of unitary states
- 1.1 Unitary republic
- 1.2 Unitary monarchy1.3 5 largest unitary states by nominal GDP1.4 5 largest unitary states by population1.5 5 largest unitary states by area2 See Unitary republic
- Burkina Faso
- Cape Verde
- Central African Republic
- Costa Rica
- Czech Republic
- Dominican Republic
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- East Timor
- El Salvador
- Equatorial Guinea
- Ivory Coast
- Marshall Islands
- North Korea
- San Marino
- São Tomé and Príncipe
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- South Korea
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad and Tobago
- Antigua and Barbuda
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Saudi Arabia
- Solomon Islands
- United Kingdom
- Vatican City
5 largest unitary states by nominal GDP
- United Kingdom
5 largest unitary states by population
5 largest unitary states by area
- Democratic Republic of the Congo
- Saudi Arabia
This article is about the form of government. For the formation of the Canadian government, see Canadian Confederation. For the Polish historical institution, see Confederation (Poland).
“Confederate state” redirects here. For the unrecognized example that existed in North America between 1861 and 1865, see Confederate States of America.
Not to be confused with Federation.
A confederation (also known as confederacy or league) is a union of political units for common action in relation to other units. Usually created by treaty but often later adopting a common constitution, confederations tend to be established for dealing with critical issues (such as defense, foreign affairs, or a common currency), with the central government being required to provide support for all members.
The nature of the relationship among the states constituting a confederation varies considerably. Likewise, the relationship between the member states, the central government, and the distribution of powers among them is highly variable. Some looser confederations are similar to intergovernmental organizations and even may permit secession from the confederation. Other confederations with stricter rules may resemble federations. A unitary state or federation may decentralize powers to regional or local entities in a confederal form.
In a non-political context, confederation is used to describe a type of organization which consolidates authority from other autonomous (or semi-autonomous) bodies. Examples include sports confederations or confederations of pan-European trades union.
In Canada, the word confederation has an additional, unrelated meaning. “Confederation” refers to the process of (or the event of) establishing or joining the Canadian federal state.
In the context of the history of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, a confederacy may refer to a semi-permanent political and military alliance consisting of multiple nations (or “tribes”, “bands”, or “villages”) which maintained their separate leadership. One of the most well-known is the Iroquois, but there were many others during different eras and locations across North America; these include the Wabanaki Confederacy, Western Confederacy, Powhatan, Seven Nations of Canada, Pontiac’s Confederacy, Illinois Confederation, Tecumseh’s Confederacy, Great Sioux Nation, Blackfoot Confederacy, Iron Confederacy and Council of Three Fires.
- 1 Examples
- 1.1 Belgium
- 1.2 Canada
- 1.3 European Union
- 1.4 Iroquois League
- 1.5 Serbia and Montenegro
- 1.6 Switzerland
- 2 Historical confederations
Many scholars have claimed that the Kingdom of Belgium, a country with a complicated federal structure, has adopted some characteristics of a confederation under the pressure of separatist movements, especially in Flanders. For example, C. E. Lagasse declared that Belgium was “near the political system of a Confederation” regarding the constitutional reform agreements between Belgian Regions (federated states with well-defined geographical borders: Flanders, Wallonia and Greater Brussels) and Communities (statelike authorities based on the mother tongue, not geography), while the director of the Centre de recherche et d’information socio-politiques (CRISP) Vincent de Coorebyter called Belgium “undoubtedly a federation…[with] some aspects of a confederation” in Le Soir. Also in Le Soir, Professor Michel Quévit of the Catholic University of Leuven wrote that the “Belgian political system is already in dynamics of a Confederation”.
Nevertheless, the Belgian regions (and linguistic communities) lack the necessary autonomy to leave the Belgian state. As such, the federal aspects are still dominating. Also for fiscal policy and public finances, the federal state dominates the other levels of government.
The increasingly confederal aspects of the Belgian Federal State appear to be a political reflection of the profound cultural, sociological and economical differences between Flemings (Belgians who speak Dutch or Dutch dialects) and Walloons (Belgians who speak French or French dialects). As an example, in the last several decades, over 95% of the Belgians have voted for political parties that represent voters from only one community, the separatist NVA being the party with the biggest voter support among the Flemish population. Parties that strongly advocate Belgian unity and appeal to voters of both communities play usually only a marginal role in nationwide general elections.
This makes Belgium fundamentally different from federal countries like Switzerland, Canada, Germany and Australia. In those countries, national parties get regularly over 90% of voter support. The only geographical areas comparable with Belgium within Europe are Catalonia, the Basque Country (both part of Spain), Northern Ireland and Scotland (both part of the United Kingdom) and Italy, where a massive voter turnout for regional (and often separatist) political parties has become the rule in the last decades, while nationwide parties advocating national unity draw less (frequently much less) than half of the votes.
In modern terminology, Canada is a federation and not a confederation. However, at the time the Constitution Act, 1867, confederation was the normal British and Canadian term for a single sovereign nation-state of federating provinces. Canadian Confederation generally refers to the Constitution Act, 1867 which formed the Dominion of Canada from three of the colonies of British North America, and to the subsequent incorporation of other colonies and territories. Therefore, on July 1, 1867, Canada became a self-governing dominion of the British Empire with a federal structure under the leadership of Sir John A. Macdonald. The provinces involved were the Province of Canada (comprising Canada West, now Ontario, formerly Upper Canada; and Canada East now Quebec, formerly Lower Canada), Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. Later participants were Manitoba, British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Alberta and Saskatchewan (the latter two created as provinces from the Northwest Territories in 1905), and finally Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) in 1949. Canada is an unusually decentralized federal state and not a confederate association of sovereign states (the usual meaning of confederation in modern terms). A Canadian law, the Clarity Act, and a court ruling, Reference Re Secession of Quebec, set forth the conditions for negotiations to allow Canadian provinces (though not territories) to leave the Canadian federal state; however, as this would require a constitutional amendment, there is no current “constitutional” method for withdrawal.
Due to its unique nature, and the political sensitivities surrounding it, there is no common or legal classification for the European Union (EU). However, it does bear some resemblance to both a confederation (or “new” type of confederation) and a federation. The EU operates common economic policies with hundreds of common laws, which enable a single economic market, open internal borders, a common currency and allow for numerous other areas where powers have been transferred and directly applicable laws are made. However, unlike a federation, the EU does not have exclusive powers over foreign affairs, defence and taxation. Furthermore, laws sometimes must be transcribed into national law by national parliaments; decisions by member states are taken by special majorities with blocking minorities accounted for; and treaty amendment requires ratification by every member state before it can come into force.
However, academic observers more usually discuss the EU in the terms of it being a federation. As international law professor Joseph H. H. Weiler (of the Hague Academy and New York University) wrote, “Europe has charted its own brand of constitutional federalism”. Jean-Michel Josselin and Alain Marciano see the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg City as being a primary force behind building a federal legal order in the Union with Josselin stating that a “complete shift from a confederation to a federation would have required to straight-forwardly replace the principality of the member states vis-à-vis the Union by that of the European citizens. As a consequence, both confederate and federate features coexist in the judicial landscape”.Rutgers political science professor R. Daniel Kelemen observed: “Those uncomfortable using the ‘F’ word in the EU context should feel free to refer to it as a quasi-federal or federal-like system. Nevertheless, the EU has the necessary attributes of a federal system. It is striking that while many scholars of the EU continue to resist analyzing it as a federation, most contemporary students of federalism view the EU as a federal system”.Thomas Risse and Tanja A. Börzel claim that the “EU only lacks two significant features of a federation. First, the Member States remain the ‘masters’ of the treaties, i.e., they have the exclusive power to amend or change the constitutive treaties of the EU. Second, the EU lacks a real ‘tax and spend’ capacity, in other words, there is no fiscal federalism.”
Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the chairman of the body of experts commissioned to elaborate a constitutional charter for the European Union, was confronted with strong opposition from the United Kingdom towards including the words “federal” or Federation in the European Constitution, and hence replaced the word with either “Community” or Union.
The Iroquois League, historically the Iroquois Confederacy, is a group of Native Americans (in what is now the United States) and First Nations (in what is now Canada) that consists of six nations: the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, the Seneca and the Tuscarora. The Iroquois have a representative government known as the Grand Council. The Grand Council is the oldest governmental institution still maintaining its original form in North America. The League has been functioning since prior to major European contact. Each tribe sends chiefs to act as representatives and make decisions for the whole nation.
Serbia and Montenegro
Serbia and Montenegro (2003–06) was a confederation that was formed by the two remaining republics of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (SFR Yugoslavia): Montenegro and neighboring Serbia were sole legal successors to FR Yugoslavia, which consequently ceased to exist. The country was reconstituted as a very loose political union called the State Union of Serbia and Montenegro. It was established on February 4, 2003.
As a confederation, Serbia and Montenegro were united only in very few realms, such as defense, foreign affairs and a very weak common president of the confederation. The two constituent republics functioned separately throughout the period of its short existence, and continued to operate under separate economic policies, as well as using separate currencies (the euro was and still is the only legal tender in Montenegro, while the dinar was still the legal tender in Serbia). On May 21, 2006, the Montenegrin independence referendum was held. Final official results indicated on May 31 that 55.5% of voters voted in favor of independence. The state union effectively came to an end after Montenegro’s formal declaration of independence on June 3, 2006, and Serbia’s formal declaration of independence on June 5.
Switzerland, officially known as the Swiss Confederation, is an example of a modern country that traditionally refers to itself as a confederation. This is due to the fact that the official (and traditional) name of Switzerland in German (the majority language of the Swiss) is Schweizerische Eidgenossenschaft (literally Swiss Comradeship by Oath), an expression which was translated into the Latin Confoederatio Helvetica (Helvetic Confederation).
After the Sonderbund War of 1847 (the so-called Sonderbundskrieg), when some of the conservative Catholic cantons of Switzerland tried to set up a separate union (Sonderbund in German) against the liberal Protestant majority, the resulting political system established by the victorious liberal cantons acquired all the characteristics of a federation. It had been a confederacy since its inception in 1291 as the Old Swiss Confederacy, originally created as an alliance among the valley communities of the central Alps, and retains nowadays the name of Confederacy for reasons of historical tradition. The confederacy facilitated management of common interests (e.g. freedom from external domination, especially by the Austrian Habsburg, development of republican institutions in a Europe composed of monarchies, free trade, etc.) and ensured peace between the different cultural entities in the central alpine area.
The monarchs of the member states of the German Confederation meet in Frankfurt in 1863.
Historical confederations (especially those predating the 20th century) may not fit the current definition of a confederation, may be proclaimed as a federation but be confederal (or the reverse), and may not show any qualities that 21st-century political scientists might classify as those of a confederation.
Some have more the characteristics of a personal union, but appear here because of their self-styling as a “confederation”:
|Toltec Empire||496–1122||Existed as a confederation between the Toltecs and the Chichimeca, simultaneously as an empire exerting control over places like Cholula.|
|League of Mayapan||987–1461|
|Crown of Aragon||1137–1716|
|Hanseatic League||13th–17th century|
|Old Swiss Confederacy||1291–1848||Officially, the “Swiss Confederation”.|
|Kalmar Union||1397–1523||Denmark, Sweden, Norway.|
|Aztec Empire||1428–1521||Consisted of the city-states of Tenochtitlan, Texcoco and Tlacopan.|
|Pre-Commonwealth Poland and Lithuania||1447–1492
|Shared a monarch (Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland), parliament (Sejm) and currency.|
|Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands||1581–1795|
|New England Confederation||1643–1684|
|Aro Confederacy||1690–1902||Parts of present-day Nigeria, Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea.|
|The U.S. under
the Articles of Confederation
|Confederation of the Rhine||1806–1813||Had no head of state nor government.|
|United Provinces of New Granada||1810–1816||Now part of present-day Colombia.|
|Confederation of the Equator||1824||Located in northeast Brazil.|
|Confederation of Central America||1842–1844||Present-day El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.|
|Confederate States of America||1861–1865||Southern US secessionist states during the American Civil War.|
|North German Confederation||1867–1871|
|Carlist States||1872–1876||Spanish states.|
|USSR||1922–1936||Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic and Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic|
|Arab Federation||1958||Iraq and Jordan.|
|United Arab Republic
and the United Arab States
|1958–1961||Egypt and Syria,
joined by North Yemen.
|Union of African States||1961–1963||Mali, Ghana and Guinea.|
|Federation of Arab Republics||1972||Egypt, Syria and Libya.|
|Arab Islamic Republic||1974||Libya and Tunisia.|
|Senegambia||1982–1989||Senegal and Gambia.|
|Serbia and Montenegro||2003–2006|
An autocracy is a system of government in which supreme power is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup d’état or mass insurrection). Absolute monarchy and dictatorship are the main historical forms of autocracy. In very early times, the term: ‘Autocrat’, was written in coins as a favorable feature of the ruler, having some connection to the concept of: ‘Lack of conflicts of interests’.
- 1 History and etymology
- 2 Comparison with other forms of government
- 3 Maintenance
History and etymology
In the Medieval Greek language, the term Autocrates was used for anyone holding the title emperor, regardless of the actual power of the monarch. Some historical Slavic monarchs, such as Russian czars and emperors, included the title Autocrat as part of their official styles, distinguishing them from the constitutional monarchs elsewhere in Europe.
Comparison with other forms of government
Both totalitarianism and military dictatorship are often identified with, but need not be, an autocracy. Totalitarianism is a system where the state strives to control every aspect of life and civil society. It can be headed by a supreme dictator, making it autocratic, but it can also have a collective leadership such as a commune, junta, or single political party.
In an analysis of militarized disputes between two states, if one of the states involved was an autocracy the chance of violence occurring doubled.
Dictatorship is a form of government where a country is ruled by one person or political entity, and exercised through various mechanisms to ensure the entity’s power remains strong.
A dictatorship is a type of authoritarianism, in which politicians regulate nearly every aspect of the public and private behavior the citizens. Dictatorships and totalitarianism generally employ political propaganda to decrease the influence of proponents of alternative governing systems, as is the nature of nationalism of any governing system.
Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong meets with U.S. President Richard Nixon. Mao’s dictatorial rule from 1949 to 1976 is believed to have caused the deaths of an estimated 40 to more than 70 million people.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, traditional monarchies gradually declined and disappeared. Dictatorship and constitutional democracy emerged as the world’s two major forms of government.
Between the two world wars, four types of dictatorships have been described: constitutional, communist (nominally championing “dictatorship of the proletariat”), counterrevolutionary, and fascist, and many have questioned the distinctions among these prototypes. Since World War II a broader range of dictatorships have been recognized including Third World dictatorships, theocratic or religious dictatorships and dynastic or family-based dictatorships.
In the Roman Empire, a Roman dictator was the incumbent of a political office of legislate of the Roman Republic. Roman dictators were allocated absolute power during times of emergency. Their power was originally neither arbitrary nor unaccountable, being subject to law and requiring retrospective justification. There were no such dictatorships after the beginning of the 2nd century BCE, and later dictators such as Sulla and the Roman Emperors exercised power much more personally and arbitrarily.
19th century Latin America caudillo
After the collapse of Spanish colonial rule, various dictators emerged in many liberated countries. Often leading a private army, these Caudillo or self-appointed political-military leaders, attacked weak national governments once they control a regional political and economic powers, with examples such as Antonio López de Santa Anna in Mexico and Juan Manuel de Rosas in Argentina. Such dictators have been also referred to as “personalismo”.
The wave of military dictatorships in Latin America in the second half of the twentieth century left a particular mark on Latin American culture. In Latin American literature, the dictator novel challenging dictatorship and caudillismo, is a significant genre. There are also many films depicting Latin American military dictatorships.
Stalinism and fascism in the 20th century dictatorships
Adolf Hitler (right) and Benito Mussolini (left). Hitler’s policies and orders resulted in the death of about 11 million noncombatants
People’s Republic of China celebrate Joseph Stalin’s 70th birthday
In the first half of the 20th century, Stalinist and fascist dictatorship regimes appeared in a variety of scientifically and technologically advanced countries, which are distinct from the dictatorship in Latin America and the post-colonial dictatorships in Africa and Asia. Leading examples of modern totalitarian dictatorship include:.
- Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Benito Mussolini’s Italy, and other fascist dictatorships;
- Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, and other Stalinist and Soviet-style communist dictatorships that appeared after World War II in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, China and other countries.
Dictatorships of Africa and Asia after World War II
Mobutu Sese Seko, Zaire’s longtime dictator.
After World War II, dictators established themselves in the several new states of Africa and Asia, often at the expense or failure of the constitutions inherited from the colonial powers. These constitutions often failed to work without a strong middle class or work against the preexisting autocratic rule. Some elected presidents and prime ministers captured power by suppressing the opposition and installing one-party rule, and some established military dictatorships through army.
The often-cited exploitative dictator is the regime of Mobutu Sese Seko, who ruled Zaire from 1965 to 1997, embezzling over $5 billion from his country. Another classic case is the Philippines under the rule of Ferdinand Marcos. He is reputed to have stolen some US$5–10 billion. More than $400 billion were stolen from the treasury by Nigeria’s leaders between 1960 and 1999.
The global dynamics of democratization has been a central question for political scientists. The Third Wave Democracy was said to turn some dictatorships into democracies. (see also the contrast between the two figures of the DD index in 1988 and 2008).
Democracy Index by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 2011. Countries that are more red are authoritarian, and most often dictatorships. Most current dictatorships are in Africa and Asia.
The conceptual and methodological differences in the political science literature exist with regards to measuring and classifying regimes into dictatorships and/or democracies, with prominent examples such as Freedom House, Polity IV and DD index, and their validity and reliability being discussed.
Roughly two research approaches exist: (1) the minimalist approach focuses on whether a country has continued elections that are competitive, and (2) the substantive approach expands the concept of democracy to include human rights, freedom of the press, the rule of law, etc. The DD index is seen as an example of the minimalist approach, whereas the Polity data series, relatively more substantive.
The most general term is despotism, a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. That entity may be an individual, as in an autocracy, or it may be a group, as in an oligarchy. Despotism can mean tyranny (dominance through threat of punishment and violence), or absolutism; or dictatorship (a form of government in which the ruler is an absolute dictator, not restricted by a constitution, laws or opposition, etc.). Dictatorship may take the form of authoritarianism or totalitarianism.
Dictatorship is ‘a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator or a small clique’ or ‘a government organisation or group in which absolute power is so concentrated’, whereas democracy, with which the concept of dictatorship is often compared, is defined by most people as a form of government where those who govern are selected through contested elections. Authoritarian dictatorships are those where there is little political mobilization and “a small group exercises power within formally ill-defined limits but actually quite predictable ones”. Totalitarian dictatorships involve a “single party led by a single powerful individual with a powerful secret police and a highly developed ideology.” Here, the government has “total control of mass communications and social and economic organizations”. Hannah Arendt labelled totalitarianism a new and extreme form of dictatorship involving “atomized, isolated individuals” in which ideology plays a leading role in defining how the entire society should be organised. Juan Linz argues that the distinction between an authoritarian regime and a totalitarian one is that while an authoritarian one seeks to suffocate politics and political mobilization (depoliticization), a totalitarian one seeks to control politics and political mobilization.
Antonio López de Santa Anna wearing Mexican military uniforms
Dictatorships may be classified in a number of ways, such as:
- Military dictatorship
- “arbitrator” and “ruler” types may be distinguished; arbitrator regimes are professional, civilian-oriented, willing to give up power once problems have been resolved, and support the existing social order; “ruler” types view civilians as incompetent and have no intention of returning power to them, are politically organised, and have a coherent ideology
- Civil-military dictatorship
- An example is the Civic-military dictatorship of Uruguay (1973–85)
- One-party state
- “weak” and “strong” versions may be distinguished; in weak one-party states, “at least one other actor eclipses the role of the party (like a single individual, the military, or the president).” Joseph Stalin era in Soviet Union  and Mao Zedong era in China can be given as example.
- Some combination of the types above.
Origins of power
- Family dictatorship – inheriting power through family ties
- Military dictatorship – through military force or coup d’etat. In Latin America, military dictatorships were often ruled by committees known as military juntas.
- Constitutional dictatorship – dictatorial powers provided for by constitutional means (often as a provison in case of emergency)
- Self-coup – by suspending existing democratic mechanisms after attaining office by constitutional means.
Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator of the Philippines
A stable dictatorship is a dictatorship that is able to remain in power for long periods. The stable dictatorship theory concerning the Soviet Union held that after the succession crisis following Joseph Stalin’s death, the victorious leader assumed the status of a Stalinist dictator without Stalin’s terror apparatus. Chile and Paraguay were considered to be stable dictatorships in the 1970s. It has been argued that stable dictatorships behave differently than unstable dictatorships. For instance, Maria Brouwer opines that “expansionary policies can fail and undermine the authority of the leader. Stable dictators, would therefore, be inclined to refrain from military aggression. This applies to imperial China, Byzantium and Japan, which refrained from expanding their empire at some point in time. Emerging dictators, by contrast, want to win the people’s support by promising them riches from appropriating domestic or foreign wealth. They have not much to lose from failure, whereas success could elevate them to positions of wealth and power.”
Theories of dictatorship
Emergence out of anarchy
Mancur Olson suggests that the emergence of dictatorships can be linked to the concept of “roving bandits”, individuals in an anarchic system that move from place to place extracting wealth from individuals. These bandits provide a disincentive for investment and production. Olson states that a community of individuals would be better served if that bandit were to establish himself as a stationary bandit in order to monopolize theft in the form of taxes. Thus, a potential dictator will have greater incentive in providing security for a given community from which he is extracting from and conversely the people from whom he extracts are more likely to produce because they will be unconcerned with potential theft by other bandits.
An illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, or hybrid regime, is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties. It is not an “open society”. There are many countries “that are categorized as neither ‘free’ nor ‘not free’, but as ‘probably free’, falling somewhere between democratic and nondemocratic regimes”. This may be because a constitution limiting government powers exists, but its liberties are ignored, or because an adequate legal constitutional framework of liberties does not exist.
- 1 Terminology
- 2 Description
- 3 Types
- 4 Tentative illustration
- 5 Research
The term illiberal democracy was used by Fareed Zakaria in a regularly cited 1997 article in the journal Foreign Affairs.
Writers such as Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way reject the concept of an illiberal democracy, saying it only “muddies the waters” on the basis that it if a country does not have opposition parties and an independent media, it is not democratic. They argue that terms like “illiberal democracy” are inappropriate for some of these states, because the term implies that these regimes are, at their heart, democracies that have gone wrong. Levitsky and Way argue that states such as Serbia under Slobodan Milosevic, Zimbabwe, and post-Soviet Russia, were never truly democratic and not developing toward democracy, but were rather tending toward authoritarian behavior, despite having elections (which were sometimes sharply contested). Thus, Levitsky and Way coined a new term to remove the positive connotation of democracy from these states and distinguish them from flawed or developing democracies: competitive authoritarianism.
According to Zakaria, illiberal democracies are increasing around the world and are increasingly limiting the freedoms of the people they represent. Zakaria points out that in the West, electoral democracy and civil liberties (of speech, religion, etc.) go hand in hand. But around the world, the two concepts are coming apart. He argues that democracy without constitutional liberalism is producing centralized regimes, the erosion of liberty, ethnic competition, conflict, and war. He points out that Russia is democratic but because of Boris Yeltsin’s super presidency, illiberal. In order to solve this problem, Zakaria proposes that the international community and the United States must end their obsession with balloting and promote gradual liberalization of societies. Zakaria advances institutions like the World Trade Organization, the Federal Reserve System, and a check on power in the form of the judiciary to promote democracy and limit the power of people which can be destructive. Illiberal democratic governments may believe they have a mandate to act in any way they see fit as long as they hold regular elections. Lack of liberties such as freedom of speech and freedom of assembly make opposition extremely difficult. The rulers may centralize powers between branches of the central government and local government (having no separation of powers). Media are often controlled by the state and strongly support the regime. Non-governmental organizations may face onerous regulations or simply be prohibited. The regime may use red tape, economic pressure, imprisonment or violence against its critics. Zakaria believes that constitutional liberalism can bring democracy, but not vice versa.
There is a spectrum of illiberal democracies: from those that are nearly liberal democracies to those that are almost openly dictatorships. One proposed method of determining whether a regime is an illiberal democracy is to determine whether “it has regular, free, fair, and competitive elections to fill the principal positions of power in the country, but it does not qualify as Free in Freedom House’s annual ratings of civil liberties and political rights.” A 2008 article by Rocha Menocal, Fritz and Rakner describes the emergence of illiberal democracies and discusses some of their shared characteristics.
In a 2014 speech Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary described his views about the future of Hungary as an illiberal state. In his interpretation the illiberal state does not reject the values of the liberal democracy, but does not adopt it as a central element of state organisation.
A classic example of an illiberal democracy is the Republic of Singapore. Conversely, liberal autocracies are regimes with no elections and that are ruled autocratically but have some liberties. Here, a good example is the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong. Both Hong Kong and Singapore are ethnic Chinese majority city-states and former British colonies. However, their political evolution has taken different paths, with Hong Kong residents enjoying the liberal freedoms of the United Kingdom, but, as a colony, without the power to choose its leaders. This state of affairs was inherited by the People’s Republic of China when it resumed control of the territory in 1997. In contrast, Singapore acquired full independence, first from Britain and then from Malaysia in the 1960s. At that time, it was structured as a relatively liberal democracy, albeit with some internal security laws that allowed for detention without trial. Over time, as Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party government consolidated power in the 1960s and 1970s, it enacted a number of laws and policies that curtailed constitutional freedoms (such as the right to assemble or form associations, bearing in mind that there were race and religious riots at these times), and extended its influence over the media, unions, NGOs and academia. Consequently, although technically free and fair multi-party elections are regularly conducted, the political realities in Singapore (including fear and self-censorship) make participation in opposition politics extremely difficult, leaving the dominant ruling party as the only credible option at the polls.
The Russian Federation under Yeltsin, Putin and Medvedev has also been described as an illiberal democracy. Elections take place regularly, but many foreign observers (e.g. from the OSCE) do not consider them free or fair. The disturbing rate at which journalists have been murdered in Russia shows the limits of freedom of speech. 13 Russian journalists died between 2000 and 2003. Also, most major television networks and newspapers are owned or controlled by the government and openly support it or parties that support the government during elections.