What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about politics? For many people, the answer is government. For others the answer is politicians — the people who make up government.
Most of us know what government is, even if we don’t really understand how it works. but how would you define the word government?
Well, you can check some of the definitions offered by Merriam-Webster. But for now, let’s keep it simple. Let’s think of government as a group of people that rule (or govern) a political unit, such as a nation, state, province, county, city or even a school district or a local chess club.
Let’s also understand that governments differ from place to place and over time. In other words, the government of the United States isn’t the same as the government of Venezuela, and the current U.S. government is different from the U.S. government of 1950 or even 2000.
Government, even in its best state, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state, an intolerable one.
One cannot have an intelligent conversation about government without mentioning the C word — corruption. People often ask why we have to have government in the first place. Would it be possible to live happily and peacefully without government?
In fact, people got along without government for many thousands of years. They lived in small groups, hunting or fishing and gathering plants for food. Life was very simple.
Origin of Government
But things changed when people began discovering things — like how to start fires and grow their own food. Agriculture had an enormous impact on the human race.
Instead of traveling in search of food, people now stayed in one place. Instead of living in small groups, they gathered to form villages, some of which grew into larger cities. Eventually, groups of villages and cities formed nations.
Imagine living in a village of two hundred people. Some of these people are bullies who cheat or harass you. Maybe they steal your food or cut in line at the well where you go for drinking water. What can you do?
Governments help us by making and enforcing rules that help everyone. At least, that’s what they should do. Unfortunately, there’s that C word — corruption. Since no person is perfect, it’s only logical that no government can be perfect. All governments are corrupt to some degree.
Yet even bad governments may be better than the chaos that would result if there was no government at all. On the other hand, some governments are so bad, people have little choice but overthrow them — something that seldom happens without bloodshed.
There are some people who still don’t believe in government. Anarchists are people who typically don’t believe in any authority or ruling power, a condition known as anarchy.
There are also people who still live much as our ancestors lived thousands of years ago. Most of them live in tropical forests in Africa, Asia and South America.
But many of these people couldn’t survive without government protection. They’re often at the mercy of explorers, loggers, settlers and people looking for gold or oil. The lucky ones get some protection from their governments. Those who aren’t so lucky are often driven off their lands or even killed — sometimes by their government.
Types of Government
There are a bewildering variety of governments. Comparing them is very difficult, partly because of false advertising. Brutal dictatorships may call themselves democratic republics, for example. Equally bizarre is the United States, which calls itself a democracy and a champion of human rights.
In addition, individual governments may change over time. In some cases, the change may be abrupt and severe, as in the case of a revolution or a military coup.
Nevertheless, various government classification schemes have been created based on the nature of the ruling class, the acquisition and exercise of power, the government’s political institutions, the principles of authority, the economic system and other factors. Some of the most familiar types of government are listed below.
A monarchy is a form of government in which sovereignty is embodied in one or several individuals (monarchs, often called kings or queens) who reign until death or abdication. Monarchy was the most common form of government until the 19th century but is now rare. Most existing monarchies are constitutional monarchies, in which the monarch’s role is largely ceremonial.
Today, there are nearly four dozen sovereign nations with monarchs acting as heads of state, most of them in Europe, with a few in Asia and the Middle East and two (Morocco and Swaziland) in Africa. Roughly a third of them are commonwealth realms that recognize Queen Elizabeth II as their head of state.
Constitutional GovernmentWhile medieval kings and queens answered to no one, most modern governments (including monarchies and republics) are guided by national constitutions that specify a legal framework for their rule. Even one-party states often establish formal constitutions, even if they’re just a facade. In fact, the U.S. constitution sometimes appears to be disappearing as the government increasingly ignores it.
In modern times, a republic is commonly defined as a government that excludes a monarch, with citizens instead represented by elected individuals. In a republic, government leaders exercise power according to the rule of law, rather than by divine whim.
Today, nearly three quarters of the world’s sovereign states use the word “republic” as part of their official name. However, modern and ancient republics alike vary widely in composition and ideology.
Commonly defined as “government by the people,” democracy is a system of government in which most of the people are involved in making decisions about a state’s affairs, typically by voting to elect representatives to a parliament or similar assembly.
The two primary forms of democracy are direct democracy (all eligible citizens participate directly in decision making) and representative democracy (political power is exercised indirectly through elected representatives).
Democracies are commonly considered republican forms of government.
Other Forms of Government
We’ve already learned that most modern governments are republics (a category that includes most democracies). But there are many other kinds of governments, including monarchy, which was also discussed above.
In plain English, a theocracy is a religious government — one that is supposedly guided by some divine being or by officials who are divinely guided.
Theocracies are very rare today. Iran is an Islamic state (or Islamic theocracy), while the Holy See (Vatican City) is a Christian theocracy.
Religion is a very visible part of Israel’s political system, though Israel isn’t technically a theocracy.
A dictatorship is a form of government in which one person (the dictator) has all the power, perhaps sharing it with a clique. There is generally no effective rule of law, and the regime may or may not have a distinctive political ideology. Dictators are almost always men and are often military leaders.
Principally a 20th-century phenomenon, dictatorships can be very confusing. Dictators are generally stereotyped as greedy, brutal monsters who torture and murder people, often driving their countries into ruin in the process. That description certainly works for Idi Amin (Uganda), Fulgencio Batista (Cuba), Rafael Trujillo (Dominican Republic) and Augusto Pinochet (Chile). At the same time, the United States is commonly portrayed as the sworn enemy of autocratic thugs.
Yet the United States supported all the dictators listed above except Idi Amin. Fulgencio Batista was toppled during the Cuban Revolution and replaced by another dictator, Fidel Castro, who became one of the world’s most respected and beloved leaders. One of the longest serving leaders in modern history was Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, one of the most inspirational leaders of our era and Africa’s best hope until he was murdered during an illegal NATO invasion commanded by President Obama.
The three bloodiest monsters in world history are often said to be Adolf Hitler (Germany), Joseph Stalin (Soviet Union) and Mao Zedong (China). Yet critics typically ignore the almost unbelievable problems they had to wrestle with, including revolution, World Wars I and II, massive poverty and hunger and opposition from the West.
Oligarchy and Plutocracy
Oligarchy is rule by a small group of individuals (the oligarchs) who share similar interests or family relations. Plutocracy is rule by the rich.
Both can be thought of as characteristics of government or de facto types of governments, rather than official governments. After all, no country would proclaim itself the United Plutocracy of North America.
Theoretically, a democracy whose citizens are all rich could be considered a plutocracy. But in actual practice, the rich are almost always greatly outnumbered by the poor.
As the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, it is ever more apparent that the United States is a plutocracy. Some conspiracy theorists maintain that all but perhaps one or two U.S. presidents have been related to royalty, cementing the country’s status as an oligarchy as well. However, I haven’t yet verified that claim.
It’s increasingly hard to ignore that enormous control Jews, including the Israeli government, have over the U.S. government. Some people have thus described the U.S. as a Jewarchy, or a Jewocracy.
A socialist state is one that rejects capitalism in favor of socialism. Countries that combine capitalism and socialism in a so-called mixed economy are sometimes labeled socialist states as well.
With the fall of the Soviet Union, communist states — states that practice extreme socialism — are now very rare. On the other hand, a milder form of socialism known as the “pink tide” has become firmly entrenched in Latin America, particularly South America.
Let’s see how much you’ve learned by translating the following definition of banana republic from Wikipedia:
The term kleptocracy means rule by thieves, while ergatocracy is just a fancy word for the working class.
In plain English, a banana republic is an autocratic state that exploits large-scale plantation agriculture, especially banana cultivation. Corrupt, impoverished countries, especially in Latin America, are commonly referred to as banana republics. The irony is that countries typically transform into banana republics because of exploitation by business interests based in the United States.
Anarchy is a situation where there is no government, a situation that can mean two wildly different things. In popular usage, anarchy describes a lawless state resulting from a revolution or a natural disaster. In this sense, anarchy can be synonymous with chaos.
However, anarchists believe that it is possible to maintain an orderly society without a government. In this spirit, anarchy can signify just the opposite — peace and quiet and a lack of government bureaucracy and oppression.
The United States Government
The United States’ government sometimes seems to defy description.
Technically, it’s a constitutional democratic republic. Many armchair politicians emphasize that the U.S. isn’t a democracy, even though it’s commonly promoted as a beacon of democracy.
Growing economic disparity makes the U.S. a plutocracy, though the highest members of the ruling class may be related to each other and therefore oligarchs. Some call the U.S. a corporatocracy, as the government is seemingly controlled by corporations. Some would refine that classification to a bankocracy, a government run by banks. And since banks (as well as the media) are widely believed to be controlled by Jewish interests, the U.S. government could be described as a Jewarchy or Jewocracy.
Things get even weirder when you consider the control Israel has over the U.S. political system. Does the U.S. even have its own government, or has the U.S. evolved into an Israeli colony?
One could argue that the United States has gone through four major changes. It began as a sleepy republic, composed of several loosely allied states. The second republic was created out of the ashes of the Civil War, which greatly increased the power of the central (federal) government at the expense of the states. An industrial boom further transformed the U.S. into a plutocracy increasingly run by Big Business.
The third republic was arguably born when the Spanish American war (1898) turned the U.S. into an empire with overseas possessions.
Defining or pinpointing the origin of the fourth republic is difficult. Some would argue that it began when the U.S. was effectively taken over by Jewish interests with the creation of the Federal Reserve and the country’s subsequent entry into World War I. Others might argue that it began with the rise of the “military-industrial complex,” which President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned about in his post-World War II farewell address. Of course, the military-industrial complex was probably born long before Eisenhower warned about it — perhaps during or shortly after World War I.
An explosion in technology (aided largely by the computer revolution), an explosion in corporation corruption, 9/11 and the subsequent war on terror or even a looming environmental holocaust could all be cited as landmark milestones. At any rate, the United States, including its government, changed dramatically during the 20th century, with the change appearing to accelerate after World War II and again after 9/11.