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Different Types of Governments

Uttara Manohar Mar 11, 2020
Let's take a look at the various types of governments and governance systems that have been adopted by mankind throughout the world, from the ancient city-states of Greece to the nations of the 21st century.
"Government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth."
Abraham Lincoln
How much thought do we give to government? Not much, except for the times when things like roads, phone lines, and the economy are jammed. Tax returns remind us of the government too, so do hurricanes, dwindling social security and politicians. My point is, the government doesn't remind us of the good things in life, not often.
When it works, we barely notice, but when things go wrong, the glaring deficiencies of the system present themselves everywhere.
This piece is not, however, about the shortcomings of our government and whether we can find solutions to them, a task that seems to be way beyond any human endeavor, but about the forms that governments have, both in theory and the real world.

What is Government?

According to Ayn Rand, A government is an institution that holds the exclusive power to enforce certain rules of social conduct in a given geographical area.
A very broad overview of government, this definition is helpful in understanding the basic nature of this institution.
A rational and objective system of government, or governance, as both terms are interchangeable today, should be limited to the implementation of certain social norms desirable for holding the structure of society in place.
If men are to live in peace and harmony, and not as savages fighting over scarce resources, it is necessary that their individual rights be upheld, as an inherent property of life itself, not subjected to the vagaries of socioeconomic change.
To begin our list of the types of government, we must go back thousands of years, back to when the Greeks were giving the world great thinkers like Plato and Aristotle, who attempted to define the universe in terms of reason and logic.

Plato's 5 Regimes

One of the earliest philosophers to theorize about the nature of politics and the system of governance was Plato (424 BC - 348 BC), a Greek thinker who is credited with laying the foundations of Western philosophical thought. Among other great things, Plato also gave a theory of government, what we know today as Plato's 5 regimes.
This can be found in his seminal work The Republic, and details how man can degenerate from the best political system to the worst. This is also referred to as the cycle of decline of regimes. Plato describes 5 types of government, going from the best to the worst and uses the allegory of a man who personifies each one, to explain the value system of each regime.


The origins of aristocracy can be traced to ancient Greece, Rome too had a mix of aristocracy and an elected senate.
In this form of government, the head of state is a king who is also a philosopher, a wise and just man who has a balanced soul and an experienced world view. This philosopher-king does not rule alone, but has three classes or categories of people below him, the ones that make up the remainder of his aristocratic state.
The king is supported by the auxiliary class or the soldier class of people whose job it is to enforce law and order, and protect the state from military aggressors. The third class of people are the worker class, who have the right to produce goods and services and trade in them, own property and have the rights of citizens.
According to Plato, the aristocratic system of government is the highest form that man can attain as individuals living in a collective environment.
Plato outlines the philosopher-king as a man who has been given the best education, his wisdom is tempered by worldly experience and he has a soul of gold, he rules by the virtue of his merit and ability and because he has transcended the bonds of petty politics.
The second class of auxiliaries, or soldiers are also men of high learning and have souls of silver, while the working class have souls of iron, they work hard to provide for themselves and the nation.
Plato is of the opinion that such aristocratic system works as a benevolent government, seeking out the traits of these different classes of people, and educating and training them in a way which is suitable for their future positions in life.


The ancient city-state of Sparta had a timocratic style of government based on honor and excellence in warfare.
The second form of government described by Plato is the timocratic form, this is a notch below the high idealistic form of aristocracy and comes into existence chiefly due to the failure of the government to develop individuals who have souls of gold.
This degeneration gives rise to a leader who has the ideals of an aristocrat but is also aware of the nature of power he has inherited. Plato theorizes that the Timocratic man is the son of the aristocratic philosopher king, having the education and learning of his father, but wanting to expand his power by way of war and conquest.
The ruling class and its auxiliaries in a timocracy are men of inferior nature, because they hold the values of honor and victory to be greater than the philosophical truths that govern life. The timocratic man will lead his armies in battle and conquer foreign lands, bringing back spoils of war to enrich his own empire.
However, he is not by nature barbaric and respects his elders, the citizens of his country and takes measures to better their lives in whatever way he can.


Ancient Athens had some characteristics of the oligarchic system, when government officers had excessive control over public administration.
In more modern times the Soviet Union can be cited as an example of an oligarchy, as it had only a single party - the Communist Party - and only its members had the right to vote.
The oligarchic form of government is a further degeneration of the timocratic form. Here society is divided into two distinct classes, the rich and the poor. The rich have the reigns of administration in their hands and the poor are the ruled class.
Although the aristocratic form of government as described by Plato expressly forbids the king from owning property (his needs are satisfied by the voluntary contributions of his people) the kings in a timocracy and oligarchy are allowed to do so.
They accumulate wealth and spend it, often in excess, leading to a dependence on monetary policy and increase in the demand of wealth in the general population.
The laws are therefore changed to enable only the ruling class to hold great wealth, thereby guaranteeing their supremacy over the worker class. This is how a timocracy turns into an oligarchy, where riches are concentrated in the hands of a few.
Plato also highlights problems an oligarchy will face as a result of this divide.
▶ The rich men will consolidate power and wealth leaving the poor desperate for social emancipation, causing them to rebel against the oligarchs.
▶ Also, the threat from foreign aggressors may be greater, as the governing class, due to their far lesser numbers will be unable to amass a huge army, they will be reluctant to arm the oppressed working class too, fearing a revolt.
Like before, Plato says that the oligarch can be the son of a timocratic king, but without the love of honor and integrity that the latter possessed. He is more in tune with materialism and gives in wholeheartedly to the accumulation of money and riches.
However, he is also astute as he knows mindless spending can bring even a rich man to his knees and is therefore, moderate in his pursuit of materialistic pleasures.


Greek city states were based on a democratic system of government, Athens being the first to adopt one, around 508 B.C.
Plato relegates the democratic form of government near the bottom of his list. This is the further degeneration of oligarchy as the working class, pushed to the brink of poverty rebel against the oligarchs and establish a government based solely on the principle of freedom.
Freedom is the only good worth having in a democracy and people do what they want, even breaking the law if they have the opportunity. According to Plato, this is akin to anarchy, where there are little if any laws governing men. The democratic man is therefore a free spirit, spending as he wills, running after his desires, and having no set goal or focus in life.


The emperors of Rome like Nero and Caligula are examples of tyrannical rulers. The modern world has its own share of tyranny with dictators like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin.
The last and the worst form of government is the tyrannical form, where all power is with one man, a leader who rises from the chaos of democracy, thirsting for power but not having the wisdom or learning to use it wisely.
He will merely take advantage of the lawlessness to seize power and rule with an iron fist, often unjustly, and the populace will fear and loathe him but remain helpless. The tyrant will spend his time wasting the vast volume of his ill-gotten wealth, living under constant threat of assassination or rebellion.
Plato's 5 regimes are a classical look at some forms of government that were existing back then, although none of these types were ever the exclusive and sole system of governance in any country. Even today most types of government in the world is but a variation on one of Plato's five regimes.
Yes, we have made considerable progress in the evolution of thought and there have been epoch-making events such as the industrial revolution since that time, yet the basic structure of government remains true in many ways to the 5 regimes Plato described over 2000 years ago.

Modern Forms

The following description of types of governments are a mix of both theoretical concepts and actual real-world governance systems. There are several instances where the characteristic of one type may be found in another and often modern governments are described as having a conglomeration of several attributes of different forms.
For example the United States is termed a federal republic and the Soviet Union as a socialist republic, yet elements of oligarchy are present in both countries, although they vote their leaders into power and claim to be republics.

Where Power is Controlled

Put forth by Rael, the leader of the Raelian movement in 1977, geniocracy is basically a rule of the wise and intelligent class of people. Creativity, problem-solving skills and a high IQ would be the qualifying criteria for the people elected to office.
The elected in a meritocracy are given their positions on their abilities, skill and the contributions they make to society.
A type of government where the leaders come into power and stay in it through the exclusive use of force. The administration is characterized by leaders who will use hook or crook to stay in power.
In a technocracy a doctor, engineer or architect will be elected to run the country. It is a system of government which gives prime importance to professionals with expert skill-sets. There would be no politicians...now ain't that something!
In an autocracy, the power is centered in the hands of just one individual. He is subject to no restrictions whatsoever, and the law does not apply to him. The citizens in an autocracy are the servants of the autocrat. The Tsars of Russia were autocrats.
Similar to autocracy, the power is centered with a sole individual, the despot. He treats his citizens like slaves, often initiating genocide and mass murder. An example is the despotic rule of Idi Amin in Ugan
This system of government too has one individual who is in absolute control of the nation, he effectively dictates terms to it. Dictators can usurp power in military or populist coups, or be elected to office by the people under a different form of government and then wrest power.
The best example in modern times is the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler over Nazi Germany.
This form is highlighted by the propaganda of nationalism and patriotic pride, ruled by a single leader who is part of a larger group of individuals who adhere to a common philosophy.
Fascism relies heavily on nationalistic sentiment to bring the people under subjugation and repress their freedoms. Italy under the dictator Benito Mussolini was a fascist state.
Absolute Monarchy
The king is the head of state and also the one who controls the government in this form. There may be no formal constitution in this case. The countries of Brunei, Swaziland and Oman can be cited as absolute monarchies.
Federal Monarchy
Here there may be a federation of states which have different monarchs or heads of state but are in turn ruled by one single monarch who is the head of the entire federation. Examples are the Kingdom of Belgium and the Kingdom of Spain, though they are not so named.
Constitutional Monarchy
Here the powers and the rights of the king are limited to a certain extent by a formally adopted constitution.
It is a form of government in which a king or queen acts as the Head of State. But, the ability to make and pass legislation resides with an elected Parliament, not with the Monarch. Examples in the modern world are , The United Kingdom, Japan, New Zealand, and Denmark among several others.
Simply put, a corporatocracy is when companies take over the running of a country. There have been several fictional portrayals of corporatocracy, chiefly in films like Aliens (1986) where the Weyland-Yutani Corporation controls most of the world and finances deep space exploration.
This is also a type of monarchy in which the state is ruled by two heads of state. They pass down their responsibilities to the next generation, however, the government is always in the hands of two leaders.
A modern example is Andorra where there are two ruling heads of state, the President of France and the Bishop of Urgell.
In such a form of government, the banking and financial institutions have power to make the laws of the land.

Rule of the mob. In such systems the general population takes the running of the administration in their own hands. It is usually used in a negative context, when law and order breaks down, and the public resorts to violence and rebellion against established authority.

Where Power is Elected

A totalitarian government has a very conservative and close-knit power base.
The decision makers come from or are affiliated to a certain party or order and strive to control every aspect of public life, often in the name of patriotism or some economic ideal. The erstwhile USSR is a great example of a totalitarian government. Also, Italy under the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini was a totalitarian state.
Such governments are run by a select group of individuals who although are not as suppressive as a totalitarian government, they do have a very centralized system of administration.
Authoritarian governments can exists in republics or unions even with officials who are not elected but are power brokers and have much influence. The Chinese government has been termed authoritarian for its uncompromising economic reforms.
A democracy is where the people vote to put a government in power.
There are different political parties which compete in elections and are voted into power on the basis of their campaign promises and propaganda. There are also criteria for the voters and they are common people, not exclusive members of society. The government may work on principles of coalition or power-sharing.
Direct Democracy
This is an extreme and rather fantastical version of democracy where the people represent themselves, and all policy decisions are taken directly by the people through a referendum voting.
Social Democracy
It is a variation on the principles of democracy, granting certain social rights to citizens like, healthcare, education and social security. Social democracy is part of many political systems throughout the world, mostly as ideologies of select parties.
Liberal Democracy
A liberal democracy is what many countries in the world follow today. Liberalism, or the principles of equality and freedom is what guides these governments and they are voted into power by a representative democratic populace, through a system of fair elections between different representative groups or political parties.
The country has defined laws under a people's constitution and the power in the government is well-distributed and compartmentalized among different departments, so no one man holds excessive influence over the rest.
A liberal democracy may have a parliamentary, monarchical or presidential system and some examples are the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, France, Germany, and India.
Here the legal system is the one that makes and enforces all the laws and is responsible for the resolution of disputes.
The best and possibly the only example is Somalia, where the people observe a centuries old tradition called Xeer, where elders come together to discover laws, sitting under an acacia tree. Somalia remained a stateless society after the collapse of the federal government in 1991, although the Federal Government of Somalia was formally established in 2012.
Libertarian Socialism
Liberalism freedom and equality to all the public. A libertarian socialist government is essentially a democratic one but which does not allow for the private ownership of the factors of production and deems the traits of capitalism, such as minimum wages as a social evil.
It allows for private ownership of property unlike communism but opposes bureaucracy.
Once practiced in ancient Athens as a system for electing public officials, demarchy uses lots to appoint people to various offices of power. This method of drawing lots is called sortition, and the candidates involved are generally people of certain social and economic standing in society.
In a stratocracy, the military and the government are synonymous with each other. Military service is the criteria for selection into positions of leadership. Sparta is a very good example of this type of government.
This is a type of government where the ultimate power rests in the hands of the working class people, called the proletariat. Often the rebels who have taken over a country after a violent revolution will convert the society into a socialist or communist one claiming they have given power back to the people.
Rule by people of wealth and power. Plutocracy is a negative connotation used often when the rulers, whether they be part of a republic or democracy, are men of wealth and high social standing.
Here the government is indistinguishable from the Church or other religious body that administers the country. Only the members of the religious order are allowed into positions of power. Vatican City is a theocracy.

Where Power is Distributed

Republics can include many types of governments already mentioned, being defined as a society which has no monarchy, and one where the people have control over the government, either through representation or directly.
Democratic Republic
A variation on the republican form of government, a democratic republic is one where all public officials, including the heads of state are elected by the people.
The country is run by the elected representatives of the people not by bloodlines or inherited wealthy men, as in an aristocracy or a monarchy. The United States of America, although a federal republic can also be termed a democratic republic as it has free and fair elections to elect people in power.
Parliamentary Republic
Here the head of state does not have exclusive powers, but is kept separate from the government which is run by an elected official, often the Prime Minister. There is a parliament where discussion on law, economy, and policy matters take place and laws are passed by voting.
Federal Republic
A federal republic has several states with governments of their own but under a central government, or federal government. The division of power between the center and state is a feature of this form of governance. Examples are the United States, Switzerland, India, Russian Federation, and Mexico.
Islamic Republic
A republic where the administration is done in accordance with Islamic Law can be considered an Islamic Republic. Examples are Pakistan and Afghanistan.
Socialist Republic
A socialist republic does not allow its citizens to vote and is primarily devoted to achieving the goals of socialism.
It has a one-party system with centralized planning and implementation of laws and policies. An example is the People's Republic of China.
Federal Monarchy
A federal system where there are many states with monarchs but with one reigning monarch as the head of the state.

Economic Classification

A country ruled by the free-market economy and practices of perfect competition.
The people can earn their living, keep property, and buy goods and services according to their income. The type of government can be either democratic, federal, oligarchic or even aristocratic in nature. The US is often cited as an example of a capitalist economy.
Similar to a socialist republic system, the means of production are controlled by the government, which provides basic services to the public like education and health-care.
However, the people are allowed to own personal property and engage in trade. China can be termed a socialist republic and also a communist nation.
Here the people own the factors of production and have no personal holdings.
Everything is produced by the state, which is the people, and is distributed to each individual according to his or her need. The power structure in such governments is often centralized and conservative. The countries under the aegis of the former Soviet Russia, followed communism as their state-sponsored goal.
An old form of governance, the feudal system was established by kings who gave vast portions of land to lesser nobles and allowed them to hire workers and levy taxes. In most countries before the 18th century, under a monarchy, this was the dominant form of government. Examples are France in the 11th century and Russia under the Tsars.

Other Types of Government

Anarchism is a state where there is no defined government, there may or may not be lawlessness, but there is a certain lack of control and structure to society.
Anarchy in the context of politics may be defined as a stateless society which governs itself on the basis of simple institutions which have no power structure. In the Western world anarchism has a negative connotation and means a state of unrest, violent reprisals against authority and mob rule.
Military Junta
Junta is a Spanish word meaning meeting, a military junta on the other hand is a group of military officers who control the government of a country.
They wrest power from the government in a coup d'état and share power amongst themselves. An example is the island nation of Fiji.
Banana Republic
Defined as a country dependent on exports of a certain natural resource, such as minerals or fruits, a banana republic has a mix of powerful and wealthy oligarchs, a business and military class which is also influential and well off, and a lower class of economically impoverished people making up the bulk of the population.
Honduras is the best example of a banana republic, where American companies like the United Fruit Company gained exclusive control over the banana exports back to the States, virtually running the country itself. Guatemala is another example of a typical banana republic.
This list of the types of governments is by no means exhaustive. There are several other forms of governance which may be found in the realms of dystopian fantasy or science fiction but are not real. As to which type is the best for mankind, well, if only we had the answer to that...