Form of government

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For a list of government forms, see List of forms of government

A form of government is a term that refers to the set of political institutions by which a government of a state is organized in order to exert its powers over a body politic.[1] Synonyms include "regime type" and "system of government". This definition holds valid even if the government is unsuccessful in exerting its power.

Churches, corporations, clubs, and other sub-national entities also have "government" forms, but in this article only the organization of states is discussed.


[edit] Names of governments

Nineteen states in the world do not explicitly name their government forms in their official names (the official name of Jamaica, for instance, is simply "Jamaica"), but most have an official name which identifies their form of government, or at least the form of government toward which they are striving:

Venezuela is "Bolivarian republic" which is meant to emphasize its descendance from Simon Bolivar. Uruguay is "Oriental republic" which hints to it being successor of the Provincia Oriental del Río de la Plata. Government ideology is also a common signifier appended to "republic". Besides the Comoros, four other nations specifically dictate that they are Islamic republics. Asian nations influenced by Maoism may emphasize their belief system by specifying the People as a whole in their official names: Laos is a people's democratic republic, and Bangladesh and China are people's republics. Vietnam is a socialist republic. Finally, Tanzania emphasizes the cohesion of its state as a united republic.

A color-coded legend of forms of government. Click on map for descriptions below.

[edit] Attributes of government

Beyond official typologies it is important to think about regime types by looking at the general attributes of the forms of government [2]:

[edit] Other empirical and conceptual problems

On the surface, identifying a form of government appears to be easy. Most would say that the United States is a democratic republic while the former Soviet Union was a totalitarian state. However, as Kopstein and Lichbach (2005:4) argue, defining regimes is tricky. Defining a form of government is especially problematic when trying to identify those elements that are essential to that form. There appears to be a disparity between being able to identify a form of government and identifying the necessary characteristics of that form. For example, in trying to identify the essential characteristics of a democracy, one might say "elections." However, both citizens of the former Soviet Union and citizens of the United States voted for candidates to public office in their respective states. The problem with such a comparison is that most people are not likely to accept it because it does not comport with their sense of reality. Since most people are not going to accept an evaluation that makes the former Soviet Union as democratic as the United States, the usefulness of the concept is undermined. In political science, it has long been a goal to create a typology or taxonomy of polities, as typologies of political systems are not obvious [3]. It is especially important in the political science fields of comparative politics and international relations. One important example of a book which attempts to do so is Robert Dahl's Polyarchy (Yale University Press (1971)).

One approach is to further elaborate on the nature of the characteristics found within each regime. In the example of the United States and the Soviet Union, both did conduct elections, and yet one important difference between these two regimes is that the USSR had a single-party system, with all other parties being outlawed. In contrast, the United States effectively has a bipartisan system with political parties being regulated, but not forbidden. A system generally seen as a representative democracy (for instance Canada, India and the United States) may also include measures providing for: a degree of direct democracy in the form of referendums and for deliberative democracy in the form of the extensive processes required for constitutional amendment.

Another complication is that a number of political systems originate as socio-economic movements and are then carried into governments by specific parties naming themselves after those movements. Experience with those movements in power, and the strong ties they may have to particular forms of government, can cause them to be considered as forms of government in themselves. Some examples are as follows:

  • Perhaps the most widely cited example of such a phenomenon is the communist movement. This is an example of where the resulting political systems may diverge from the original socio-economic ideologies from which they developed. This may mean that adherents of the ideologies are actually opposed to the political systems commonly associated with them. For example, activists describing themselves as Trotskyists or communists are often opposed to the communist states of the 20th century.
  • Islamism is also often included on a list of movements that have deep implications for the form of government. Indeed, many nations in the Islamic world use the term Islamic in the name of the state. However, these governments in practice exploit a range of different mechanisms of power (for example debt and appeals to nationalism). This means that there is no single form of government that could be described as “Islamic” government. Islam as a political movement is therefore better seen as a loose grouping of related political practices rather than a single, coherent political movement.
  • The basic principles of many other popular movements have deep implications for the form of government those movements support and would introduce if they came to power. For example, bioregional democracy is a pillar of green politics.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Kopstein and Lichbach, 2005
  2. ^ Regime Types
  3. ^ Lewellen, Ted C. Political Anthropology: An Introduction Third Edition. Praeger Publishers; 3rd edition (November 30, 2003)

[edit] Further reading

  • Boix, Carles (2003). Democracy and Redistribution. New York: Cambridge University Press. 
  • Bunce, Valerie. 2003. “Rethinking Recent Democratization: Lessons from the Postcommunist Experience.” World Politics 55(2):167-192.
  • Colomer, Josep M. (2003). Political Institutions. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 
  • Dahl, Robert Polyarchy Yale University Press (1971
  • Heritage, Andrew, Editor-in-Chief. 2000. World Desk Reference
  • Lijphart, Arend (1977). Democracy in Plural Societies: A Comparative Exploration. New Haven: Yale University Press. 
  • Linz, Juan. 2000. Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes. Boulder: Lynne Rienner.
  • Linz, Juan, and Stepan, Alfred. 1996. Problems of Democratic Transition and Consolidation: Southernn Europe, South America, and Post-Communist Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press.
  • Lichbach, Mark and Alan Zukerman, eds. 1997. Comparative Politics: Rationality, Culture, and Structure, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
  • Luebbert, Gregory M. 1987. “Social Foundations of Political Order in Interwar Europe,” World Politics 39, 4.
  • Moore, Barrington, Jr. 1966. Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World. Cambridge: Beacon Press, ch. 7-9.
  • Comparative politics : interests, identities, and institutions in a changing global order/edited by Jeffrey Kopstein, Mark Lichbach, 2nd ed, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • O’Donnell, Guillermo. 1970. Modernization and Bureaucratic-Authoritarianism. Berkeley: University of California.
  • O’Donnell, Guillermo, Schmitter, Philippe C., and Whitehead, Laurence, eds., Transitions from Authoritarian Rule: comparative Perspectives. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Przeworski, Adam. 1992. Democracy and the Market: Political and Economic Reforms in Eastern Europe and Latin America, New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Przeworski, Adam, Alvarez, Michael, Cheibub, Jose, and Limongi, Fernando. 2000. Democracy and Development: Political Institutions and Well Being in the World, 1950-1990. New York: Cambridge University Press.
  • Shugart, Mathhew and John M. Carey, Presidents and Assemblies: Constitutional Design and Electoral Dynamics, New York, Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992.
  • Taagepera, Rein and Matthew Shugart. 1989. Seats and votes: The effects and determinants of electoral systems, Yale Univ. Press.jimmy

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