Types of Government with Examples

Types of Government with Examples

In any state, the rights and liberties of the citizens, as well as the quality of governance, are affected by the form of government in practice. 

These types of government such as aristocracy, monarchy, theocracy, gerontocracy, plutocracy, oligarchy, dictatorship and democracy are variously adopted and adapted by states in the contemporary international system. 

Therefore, an attempt will be made in this post to provide the reader with an insight into the aforementioned forms of government.


Table of Content

By the end of this article, you will be able to:

1. State and explain the different types of government

2. Compare and contrast the different types of government.


Different Types of Government with Examples

Types of Government with Examples
1.  Monarchy

2. Aristocracy

3. Theocracy

4.  Oligarchy

5.  Gerontocracy

6.  Plutocracy

7.  Dictatorship

8.  Democracy

1.  Monarchy

This is the oldest type of government in which a King or Queen exercise the ruling powers of the State. In an absolute monarchy, the King or Queen has unlimited powers to rule the country and his/her authority is not subject to any legal limitations and cannot be challenged because he/she is sovereign and it is believed that he/she does no wrong, especially when it is primogenial.

Perhaps to emphasize the powerful nature the position of a monarch, King James I of England in his book The Trew Law of Free Monarchies (1603) has this to say: Even if the King is wicked, it means God has sent him as a punishment for people’s sins, and it is unlawful to shake off the burden that God has laid upon them. 

Patience, earnest prayer and amendment of their lives are the only lawful means to move God to relieve them of that heavy curse!

However, in a constitutional monarchy, the King or Queen reigns but does not rule. The monarch has his/her powers regulated by the constitution; he/she is a titular Head of State and simply performs ceremonial functions while a Prime Minister who is appointed amongst the elected Parliament, exercises effective powers of the State as the head of government. This is the practice in Britain and most Commonwealth Nations. It was practiced in Nigeria’s First Republic.


Merits of Monarchy

1. As the oldest form of government, monarchy is seen as the most stable since the succession is by hereditary and once the successor attains the position, he/she cannot be removed from office by impeachment or a vote of no confidence.

The system thus provides for less rancor and animosity in the decision-making process since the final say belongs to the monarch who is supreme.

2. The policy formulation and implementation are easier and quicker under a monarchy than in any other systems of government.

Hence, the state is saved from the trouble of time-wasting on explains why King Charles I of England was beheaded in a revolution led by Oliver Cromwell in1625.

3. Absolute monarchy is associated with inefficiency, corruption, nepotism, and high-handedness.


2. Aristocracy

This is a type of government in which a few wealthy, gifted or the noble rule. Rousseau literally describes aristocracy as ‘government by the best citizens’.

In an aristocratic government, a few persons distinguished by their superiority, ability and merit exercises of power.

The followings are some of the distinctions of aristocracy:

    I.   1. Circumstances of birth (aristocratic family)

  II.    2. Culture and education (aristocracy of intellectuals)

III.     3. Military prowess or talent

IV.      4. Property or wealth (aristocracy of landowners)

   V.    5. Charismatic potentialities

VI.      6. Religious position

Read On: Public Policy: Meaning and Nature

Merits of Aristocracy

1. Aristocratic government is conservative, which is an element necessary for political stability and socio-economic development. Aristocracy is averse to irrational political experimentation but advance slowly but steadily.

2. Aristocrats are moderates for the sake of their security as they are always aware that the citizens are greater in number, therefore, excessive use of power may lead to insurgence and instability in the polity.

3. Finally, aristocracy gives premium to merit and quality because political power is given to people who deserve it because they are chosen few by virtue of their blood, wisdom, wealth, physical strength and skill.


Demerits of Aristocracy

1. Aristocratic governments degenerate quickly into oligarchy and dictatorship.

2.  It is anti-democracy because it does not allow for mass participation by the people in the decision-making process of their affairs.

3. The ruling class often treats the lower class in the society with disdain because the system is anti-democratic. Debates and lengthy discussions on public issues.

4.  With the longevity of the position of a monarch, there is consistency and continuity on both domestic and foreign policies that make for sustainable development.


3. Theocracy

This is a form of government in which a religious or spiritual leader is the Head of State or Head of Government or both combined.

According to Merriam-Webster online dictionary, ‘it is a system in which a state is understood as governed by immediate divine guidance especially a state ruled by clergy, or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided.’

A theocracy has the administrative hierarchy of the government, which is identical with the administrative hierarchy of the religion, or it may have two 'arms,' but with the state administrative hierarchy subordinate to the religious hierarchy. 

This system of government is clearly different from other secular forms of government that have a state religion or are merely influenced by theological or moral concepts.

An example of a Theocratic government is that of the Vatican City in Rome where the

Pope is both the Head of State and Head of government. The system has similar characteristic with monarchy except that the source of authority of a theocrat is not by hereditary successions like that of the King or Queen. Another example of theocracy was Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini.


4.  Oligarchy

This is a form of government in which power structure effectively rests with a small number of people, distinguished by such attributes as royalty, wealth, family ties, corporate and military control, among others. Throughout history, most oligarchies have been tyrannical, relying on public servitude to exist, although others have been relatively benign.

Aristotle pioneered the use of the term as a synonym for rule by the rich, for which the exact term is plutocracy, but oligarchy is not always a rule by wealth, as oligarchs can simply be a privileged group, and do not have to be connected by bloodlines as in a monarchy. Some city-states from ancient Greece were oligarchies.

Read On: Meaning and Functions of Government

Iron Law of Oligarchy

The iron law of oligarchy is a political theory, first developed by the German Sociologist, Robert Michels in his book, Political Parties (1911). Michels posited that all forms of organization, regardless of how democratic or autocratic they may be at the start, will eventually develop into oligarchies.

Following are the reasons for this process:

1.  The indispensability of leadership.

2.  The tendency of all groups, including the organization leadership, to defend their interests.

3. The passivity of the led individuals, more often than not taking the form of actual gratitude towards the leaders.

He concluded that formal organization of bureaucracies inevitably leads to oligarchy, under which organizations originally idealistic and democratic eventually become dominated by a small, self-serving clique who pervert the positions of power and responsibility.

This can occur in large organizations because it becomes physically impossible for everyone to get together every time a decision has to be made.

Imagine the trouble and rowdiness it would create, bringing all the ordinary shareholders of a reputable commercial bank e.g. United Bank Africa (UBA), or a bottling company (Coca-Cola) etc. together for the day-to-day running of the company. Therefore, a small group is given the responsibility of making such decisions.


5.  Gerontocracy

This is a form of government in which a polity is ruled by leaders who are regarded as senior citizens because they are significantly older than most of the adult population. 

Often the political structure is such that political power within the ruling class accumulates with age.

Those holding the most powerful positions may not be occupying formal leadership positions, but they often dominate those who are.

An example of this was the pre-colonial Ibadan confederacy where the position of the leader was (and still is) never open for contest. Such a system of government is also common in communist states where the length of one's service to the party is held to be the main criteria for leadership.

The greatest advantage of the form of government is that it provides for stability, which is seen as its strength and could be better for countries that teach principles that do not vary over time. 

However, gerontocracy may not provide effective administration to cope with rapid changes that characterize modern states because of antiquated ideas and decreased faculties associated with old age.


6.  Plutocracy

Plutocracy is a system of government in which the wealthy in the society have a great influence on the political process. The wealthy minority exerts influence over the political arena via many methods.

Most western democracies permit a partisan organization to raise funds for politicians, and political parties frequently accept significant donations from various individuals either directly or through corporations or advocacy groups.

These donations may be part of a patronage system, in which major contributors and fund-raisers are rewarded with high-ranking government appointments.

In some instances, extremely wealthy individuals have financed their own political campaigns. Many corporations and business interest groups pay lobbyists to maintain constant contact with elected officials and press them for favorable legislation.

Owners of mass media outlets, and the advertisement buyers, which financially support them, can shape public perception of political issues by controlling the information available to the population and how it is presented.


7.  Dictatorship

Dictatorship is a type of government where one person or political party has the power to do whatever they want. The ruler is called a dictator. 

In a dictatorship, the individual’s rights are, generally speaking, suppressed.

In this form of government, the power rests entirely on the person or group of people and can be obtained by force or by inheritance.

This system of government became popular shortly after the First World War (WWI) when its manifestation became noticeable in Turkey under Kamal Ataturk and in Russia under Joseph Stalin, among others.

An extreme type  of dictatorship is called fascism, which is a far-right, authoritarian ultra-nationalism, characterized by dictatorial power, forcible suppression of opposition, and strong regimentation of society and of the economy. Fascism came to prominence in early 20th-century in Italy under Benito Mussolini, in Germany under Adolf Hitler, and in Spain under General Francisco.

A dictator is usually not elected or appointed by the people but emerges in a particular circumstance, and once he gets to office, he sits tight until he dies in office or he is forced to step down. A dictator has enormous power and he brooks no opposition to his authority. He gives an ideological coloration to the character of his autocratic position. Dictatorship is anti-democracy as the powers of the government are not regulated by the constitution; therefore, the government is not accountable to the people.

Three different types of dictatorship are autocracy, authoritarian oligarchy, and absolute democracy. Late General Sani Abacha of Nigeria and Field Marshall Dada Idi Amin of Uganda are good examples of modern dictators in Africa.


8.  Democracy

Democracy has generally and simplistically defined as the government of the people, for the people and by the people; implying a situation in government where the will of the majority in the society prevails.

The concept has its origin far back to the development of Greek city-state where all members of the society often gathered together to take decisions of issues affecting the society by physical presence.

From its very origins in the Greek city-state, it has therefore had a single, simple connotation: “popular power actualized through political structures that are based on mass participation and popular participation, and undergirded by such cardinal norms as liberty, equality and unity” For our purpose, democracy may be defined as a form of government where the society acquires and enjoys all attributes of a democratic form of rule manifested in an increase in the quantity and quality of people’s right and freedom, particularly the right to participate in taking decisions that govern their lives.

The practice of democracy has changed with the development of society, especially with the evolution of modern state and civil society.

Consequently, two kinds of democracy can be identified – direct and indirect democracy. Direct democracy, belonging to the ancient Greek period, is where the decisions relating to government policies, laws and other issues, are taken by the people, while the indirect democracy, which belongs to the modern state system, is when the people choose

their representatives to take decisions relating to government policies, laws and other issues on their behalf.

Like other concepts in political science, Liberal or Western view on the nature, form and dimensions of democracy has predominated social science literature. The result is that the liberal view of democracy or more specifically liberal democracy was (and is) the general view of democracy.

However, one could still talk of institutionalization of democracy outside multipartism. This is true because the existence of so many parties within a particular society does not correspond or mean the existence of democracy in the society.

Consequently, democracy as a form of government may be classified into two broad categories in modern times: western liberal or capitalist democracy and socialist democracy. 

Examples of capitalist democracies include USA, Britain, France, Germany, Japan, Nigeria, South Africa etc., while socialist democracies include; former Soviet Union (Russia), China, Cuba, Tanzania, former Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia etc.

Conditions for Effective Operation of Democracy

For any society to be regarded as democratic, the following elements must not only feature in the settings but must be cultivated by the people:

1. Regular and Periodic Multi-Party Elections base on Equality of Electors

Free, fair and credible elections conducted periodically, say, every three or four years in which all adults of voting age not only participate to elect their leaders, but also have freedom of choice in doing so, and the result of such election should reflect the wishes of the people.

2. An Independent Judiciary

The courts must not only be free from the control of the executive or any other arm of government but the judicial officers must be above board in the dispensation of justice.

3. A Free Press

The press and mass media should be free to disseminate information to the public without fear of being arrested or molested by the authority.

The media practitioners should be free to have access to information to inform the members of the public about government policies and also give the government a feedback on the feelings and aspirations of the people.

4. A Virile Civil Society

A virile civil society composed of independent association and groups capable of putting those who exercise political power under check is required for the effective operation of democracy.


Merits of Democracy

1.  It allows the people to choose their leaders and to them change periodically, through the ballot box.

2. Democracy gives the people a sense of belonging and satisfaction because they know that the power to elect and remove their leaders belongs to them. Even if the leadership and the governance are bad, they would rather exercise patience until the election period to effect a change.

3. Democracy is unique because ideally it recognizes and respects the fundamental human rights of the citizens, and as well as the decision of courts on any issue.


Demerits of Democracy

1.  It breeds mediocrity because, in democratic contests, it is not always the ‘best’ among the candidates that win either the primary or general elections to represent the people.

2.  Another drawback of democracy is the attendant high cost of governance. It requires a huge amount of national income to maintain the national and state assemblies and the executives with the retinue of personal assistants. Enormous wealth is needed for elections and electioneering campaigns periodically, which could have been avoided under a non-democratic government.

3. Democracy is also criticized because it encourages the slow progress of development. If leadership changes hands too often through elections, the tendency is that the new leadership may abandon the on-going policies and programmes to start afresh to impress the electorates. It also takes a lot of time and resources to make a decision in a democracy because issues are to be well articulated and widely debated before taking a popular decision.

Read On: Definition, Examples, and Functions of Pressure and Interest Group

Conclusion on 8 Types of Government with Examples

There are no fewer than 8 types of government in the contemporary international system. These types forms of government, depending on the prevailing power structure, affect the rights and liberties of the citizens, as well as the quality of governance.

At present, democracy, especially liberal democracy, appears to enjoy popular appeal because of the emphasis it places on liberty and freedom that the people enjoy under it.

The fact that the government and the governed are conscious of the ‘Social Contract’ that is binding on both sides, makes the system to be more preferable to any other forms of government.

Discussions in this post have centered on forms of government adopted and adapted by states in the contemporary international system.

Monarchy is the type of government in which a King or Queen rules.

Aristocracy is one in which a few wealthy, gifted or the noble rule.

In a theocracy, a religious or spiritual leader is either the head of state or head of government. Oligarchy is one in which power structure rests with a small number of people distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, among others; in gerontocracy, leaders who are regarded as senior citizens’ rules. 

Plutocracy is a system of government in which the wealthy in the society holds sway. Dictatorship is one in where one person or political party has unlimited powers to do whatever it wants.

Democracy refers to a government where the will of the majority in the society prevails.

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