5 Types of Government & Their Characteristics

by Philip Sim

Government is the organized way in which a country is run, either by a council or parliament of representatives or by an individual ruler. There are a great many types of government, each with different ideological characteristics, and the differences between these systems have been the root of many disputes and wars across the ages. The following five kinds of government span the broad range of ideologies and systems, from authoritarian to liberal.

Democracy

Since the end of the Cold War, democracy has become the dominant ideology in world government. In a democratic system, each citizen is equally afforded a single vote, which he can cast when electing who will represent him in the government. Each of these representatives will then have an equal vote in the government. There are regular free and fair elections, in which citizens can vote anonymously without fear or intimidation. Individual liberties like freedom of speech, thought and religion are very important in a democratic system and should be completely available to all, regardless of age, sex or race.

Monarchy

Monarchies were the main form of government when the modern nation-states were developing. Each country was ruled by a king or queen, usually hereditary, passed down through ruling families. This monarch had complete control over the affairs of the state, but often delegated power to regional lords or aristocrats. Most monarchies exist today as constitutional monarchies, chiefly symbolic in nature, which are in reality beholden to democratically elected governments. The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy -- the queen is technically the head of the British state, but her power is mostly vested in the prime minister.

Dictatorship

In a dictatorship, one single figure leads an entire country with no elections or democratic accountability and no political opposition in place. Dictators tend to serve life terms until they die or are overthrown and rule through fear and intimidation. Almost everything in a country ruled by a dictatorship will be run by the government -- dictators like to have total control over their subjects. Repressive dictatorships have been looked down upon since that of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party in Germany, which was defeated in World War II.

Federal

In a federal government, a single, central government governs alongside a number of geographically independent regional governments. Local governments will have distinct powers from the center, and vice versa. The United States is an example of federal government, where the central federal government's powers are constrained by local state authorities. Federal governments are usually also democratic governments, as they involve several levels of elected representation.

Communism

Communist government strongly emphasizes the central state, with very little private enterprise and almost everything owned by the government. All industry and agriculture is state-run, and government provides all education, healthcare and welfare. Social classes are discarded and equality is emphasized, with wages and amenities kept at a consistent level across society. In communist governments that have been realized, a central Communist Party ran the government in a one-party system with a figurehead like Josef Stalin or Fidel Castro acting as the leader and public face of the administration.

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About the Author

Philip Sim has been writing professionally since 2008. He has been published in "The Guardian," as well as regional newspapers in Aberdeen, Scotland. Sim is working toward a Master of Science in journalism from Robert Gordon University, and holds a Master of Arts in politics and international relations from the University of Dundee.

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