10 Types of Government

Democracy can be traced back to ancient Athens in Greece.
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The subject of “The Republic,” a dialogue written around 360 B.C. by Greek philosopher Plato, is justice and its relationship to political realities and ideals. After discussing increasingly unsatisfying forms of government, a fictional ideal city, Kallipolis, is imagined. Its rulers would be “philosopher kings”: gifted philosophers able to consider the most profound ideas and the most pressing. Though Plato’s Kallipolis was imaginary, the preoccupation with types of government continues still. Though the classification of government types varies, they can be grouped into 10 categories.

1 Governing by the Few

One type of government, known as “Aristarchic” bears some resemblance to Plato’s Kallipolis. Aristarchic governments are controlled by a select few, a group of people who are best-qualified to make decisions -- with no intervention from the governed. Sometimes the group is determined by wealth and could be subcategorized as “aristocratic.” Other governments of this sort select a group based on other attributes such as merit or strength. A second form of government is generalized as “Pejorative” and involves governments run by entities that have not been granted political power, such as "bankocracies" (where banks hold power), "corporatocracies" or "plutocracies" in which corporations or the wealthy hold government power. In other words, in a pejorative system a select group rules, but their interests are not public welfare but private gain.

2 Ruled by a Single Person

A third form of government is well known: monarchy. A monarchical government is controlled by a ruler chosen by right of birth. Power is inherited. Some monarchies are absolute while others are balanced by government entities defined by a constitution. The monarchy of the United Kingdom, for example, is constitutional. Fourth is the autocratic government, which is controlled by a single leader. Dictatorships are a form of autocratic government as is fascism, where power is wielded by a single leader on the basis of a specific ideology. Adolf Hitler's regime was fascist. Even more extreme is the fifth type of government, known as “authoritarian.” In an authoritarian government, power is exercised by an unelected leader and the government, in extreme cases, regulates how people conduct themselves both publicly and privately.

3 For the People, By the People

The sixth and seventh major forms of government are common in the West: republics and democracies. The democratic government is ruled by popular vote, which is open to all citizens. In a pure democracy, laws are determined by the people. Though many believe that the United States is a democracy, it is technically a constitutional republic. In republics, the government is led by elected officials and, although the population votes, their opinions are represented indirectly. In a constitutional republic, the constitution checks the power of elected leaders. Federalism, the eighth form of government, resembles republicanism and democracy. What distinguishes federalism is a belief that national and state-level governments should not exist in a hierarchy but should band together in a "federation."

4 Money Rules

Still other forms of government are characterized by different qualities. Perhaps the most prominent are the ninth and 10th forms of government, which are socio-economic in orientation. Many governments are, to varying degrees determined by socio-economic factors (the United States would have a “capitalist” orientation). However, communism and socialism, are the most well-known variations of this type. A communist government is envisioned as unfettered by economic distinctions, government oversight or even money. Communism grew out of socialism, which imagined a society where the population works for the general good and services such as health care are available to all. Although Russian communism after World War II has negative associations with these forms of government, many prominent nations are have socialist aspects, including France and Canada.

Alana Shilling is a contributor to several publications including "The Brooklyn Rail," "Art in America" and the "Fortnightly Review." She writes on subjects ranging from archaeology and history to contemporary art. Shilling received a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in comparative literature from Princeton University and has been writing for audiences both general and academic since 2005.