Traditional Systems of Classification:

This system was first introduced by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle. According to it, a political system or regime includes the structures and mechanisms of government in addition to the structures through which government structures interact with the larger society.

A regime is defined as a system of rule that endures despite the fact that governments come and go. While governments change by changing the leaders or characters etc., regimes can only be changed through revolution or through military intervention by an international power. The classifications of political systems can be various:

Why Classify Political Systems?

For two reasons:

-Classification enables us to understand politics and government, especially that it allows us to compare and contrast the different forms of government.

-Classification enables us to evaluate various kinds of systems so we know how to choose better and how to find solutions for the problems faced by our systems.

Problems with classification include the following:

-There is a danger of simplification since by putting several regimes in one class, we ignore the differences among them.

-There is the danger of ethnocentrism, that is, looking at other systems through our own perspectives in relation to our culture, not the culture in which the system we are studying exists.

Classical Typologies

Aristotle defined six kinds of systems based on a scale that measures who rules versus who benefits (see figure 2.1 page 25):

-Tyranny: One person rules and benefits from the system. This is the worst kind of rule.

-Oligarchy: An elite will rule the system and benefit from it, therefore depriving the general public of the benefits of the state.

-Democracy: The many rule but only the few will benefit, and therefore, this was not a really fair system.

-Monarchy: such as in kingdoms where one will rule but all will benefit.

-Aristocracy: A few will rule but all will benefit.

-Polity: Where all will rule and all will benefit.

Aristotle believed that the best system was one which was a mixture of democracy and aristocracy, where the middle classes rule for the benefit of all. He warned that the rule of polity can easily swift to become the rule of the demagogue.

Aristotle’s theory was later on developed by Thomas Hobbes and Jean Bodin. According to Bodin, the major issue was to have an absolute ruler who makes the law but is not bound by it (absolutism). At the same time, Hobbes in his Leviathan believed that sovereignty is the monopoly of coercive power which means that the ruler is not constrained by any laws.

Liberal such as John Locke and Montesquieu had different ideas to develop the theory later on. In his Two Treatises of Government, Locke argued that sovereignty resided with the people, not the monarch. Thus he supported a system of limited government to provide protection of natural rights (life, liberty and property). Similarly, Montesquieu criticized absolutism and called for a system of checks and balances known as the separation of powers between the executive, legislative and the judicial institutions.

The Three World’s Typology

This appeared during the twentieth century, especially after the revolution in Russia and the independence of most colonies. The three worlds are the capitalist first world, the communist second world and the developing third world. The following factors distinguished these different classes of systems:

¾Economic power: The first world nations had the least population of the world (15%) with the greatest part of the world GDP (63%). Second world produced 19% with 33% of the world’s population. Third world produced only 18% with 52% of the world’s population. The first world was highly industrialized, the second partially whereas the third was not.

¾Political structures: First world countries are democratic and free elections among various parties decide who rules. Second world countries are ruled by one-party regimes while third world countries are ruled by dictators, kings and armies.

This theory collapsed in 1989 and 1990 when communism ceased to exist. Fukuyama announced in 1989 that this was the end of history as it gave a clear victory of capitalism and democracy as systems to follow.

Regimes of Modern World

The classical modes of classification which were based on a constitutional-institutional approach are now replaced by a structural-functional approach which emphasizes the way in which regimes operate in their cultural contexts. Accordingly, there are five classes:

-Western Polyarchies: These developed through democratization and liberalization. Although they are democratic, these regimes actually fall short of achieving democratic goals in many ways. Lindblom and Dahl prefer to use the term polyarchies instead of democracies because it acknowledges these problems (power of corporations, etc). Emphasis in these regimes is on individualism. However, there are differences between them: eg. some are centralized other are not; some follow the Westminister model of rule (parliamentary as in Britain) others follow the pluralist model as in the US (institutions are divided), while others are based on the consociational democracy as in various countries of Europe (Switzerland, Austria) where there are many regional, religious and cultural divisions.

-Post-Communist Regimes: Post-communist regimes have actually started to follow the steps of polyarchies, but they are very different from them since the heritage of communism has lasted for many years. First of all, they face problems that are different (especially getting over censorship, rebuilding their economies in new ways, and establishing new civil cultures). This is in addition to the insecurity that prevails in these countries due to the shocking changes taking place in such a short time. These systems have also witnessed the emergence of national and ethnic divisions and feelings that are too strong to ignore. Even these systems themselves tend to be different from each other: for example, countries such as Czech Republic is wealthier and more stable than countries such as Rumania and Bulgaria.

-East-Asian Regimes: These countries have suddenly become the focus point of study because of the enormous economic development they have been undergoing. Based on industrial capitalism, they developed faster than any other nations. However, this was not accompanied by a similar degree of development in democratic values because their main priority was prosperity and growth of their economies. They have a tendency for strong government since they are influenced by the father-like figure of the state which they derive from Confucianism. They also respect their leaders and fear them while showing loyalty, discipline and duty, thus creating explicit and implicit authoritarianism. Finally, there is a lot of stress on the family and the social cohesion of the community. Yet, these regimes are also different from each other. Some are influenced by Confucianism such as Korea, Taiwan etc. where as some are influenced by Islam such as Malaysia. Some are industrial such as Korea and Taiwan whereas China is heavily agricultural.

-Islamic Regimes: Islam has become a rising political force in the past few decades, especially in North Africa, parts of Asia and in the Middle East. This has developed after the failure of Marxism to satisfy the poor during the 1970s. The first Islamic state in modern history was the Saudi Kingdom in 1932. The second was Iran in 1979 after the revolution of the Khomeini. Sudan and Pakistan followed suit later on. Islam is not just a religion, it is a complete way of life, defining social, economic and political values and structures both for the individual and the nation. It aims at the construction of a theocracy where political and all affairs are based on religious values. Political Islam has ranged between fundamentalism to pluralist extremes. These differences can be understood in the following examples:

Despite the change towards moderation in Iran after the death of Khomeini, the laws of Shari’a were still harshly applied. Saudi Arabia applies Shari’a with the same zeal, although there the conservative air of absolutism is not similar to the revolutionary temper of Iran. Malaysia applies a system where the ruler is both the leader of the state and religion and the system runs a form of guided democracy that seems to be working well.

-Military Regimes: These systems are based on military power and systematic repression. These systems have been common in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa and South East Asia, in addition to a few exceptions such as in Spain, Portugal and Greece during earlier periods of this century. The state is usually filled with individuals who have positions in the army. However, military regimes have their differences from each other too.

First of all, there is the military junta, mostly existing in Latin America where the armed forces assume direct control of the government and where it operates as a form of collective military government centered on a command of council of officers who usually represent the three armed services: army, navy and air force. These tend to change a lot due to rivalry among the leaders.

A second form is the military-backed regimes or dictatorships where a single individual rules supported by the military such as Colonel Papadopoulos in Greece, General Abacha in Nigeria and General Pinochet in Chile.

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