1. Without doubt, the most influential system of classification was that devised by Aristotle in the fourth century BCE, which was based on his analysis of the 158 Greek city states then in existence. This system dominated thinking on the subject for roughly the next 2500 years. Aristotle held that governments could be categorized on the basis of two questions: «who rules? » and «who benefits from rule? ». Government, he believed, could be placed in the hands of a single individual, a small group, or the many. In each case, however, government could be conducted either in the selfish interests of the rulers or for the benefit of the entire community.
2. Aristotle’s purpose was to evaluate forms of government on normative grounds in the hope of identifying the ‘ideal’ constitution. In his view, tyranny, oligarchy and democracy were all debased or perverted forms of rule in which a single person, a small group and the masses, respectively, governed in their own interests and therefore at the expense of others.
In contrast, monarchy, aristocracy and polity were to be preferred, because in these forms of government the individual, small group and the masses, respectively, governed in the interests of all. Aristotle declared tyranny to be the worst of all possible constitutions, as it reduced citizens to the status of slaves. Monarchy and aristocracy were, on the other hand, impractical, because they were based on a God-like willingness to place the good of the community before the rulers’ own interests. Polity (rule by the many in the interests of all) was accepted as the most practicable of constitutions. Nevertheless, in a tradition that endured through to the twentieth century, Aristotle criticized popular rule on the grounds that the masses would resent the wealth of the few, and too easily fall under the sway of a demagogue. He therefore advocated a ‘mixed’ constitution that combined elements of both democracy and oligarchy, and left the government in the hands of the ‘middle classes’, those who were neither rich nor poor.
3. The Aristotelian system was later developed by thinkers such as Thomas Hobbes and Jean Bodin (1530—96). Their particular concern was with the principle of sovereignty viewed as the basis for all stable political regimes. Sovereignty was taken to mean the ‘most high and perpetual’ power, a power which alone could guarantee orderly rule.
4. These ideas were later revised by early liberals such as John Locke and Montesquieu, who championed the cause of constitutional government. In his epic The Spirit of the Laws ( 1949), Montesquieu attempted to develop a ‘scientific’ study of human society, designed to uncover the constitutional circumstances that would best protect individual liberty. A severe critic of absolutism and an admirer of the English parliamentary tradition, he proposed a system of checks and balances in the form of a ‘separation of powers’ between the executive, legislative and judicial institutions. This principle was incorporated into the US constitution (1787), and it later came to be seen as one of the defining features of liberal democratic government.
5. The «classical» classification of regimes, stemming from the writings of Aristotle, was rendered increasingly redundant by the development of modem constitutional systems from the late eighteenth century onwards. In their different ways, the Constitutional republicanism established in the USA following the American war of Independence of 1775—1783, the democratic radicalism unleashed in France by the 1789 French Revolution, and the form of parliamentary government that gradually emerged in the UK created political realities that were substantially more complex than early thinkers had envisaged. Traditional systems of classification were therefore displaced by a growing emphasis on the constitutional and institutional features of political rule. In many ways, this was built on Montesquieu’s work in that particular attention was paid to the relationships between the various branches of government. Thus monarchies were distinguished from republics, parliamentary systems were distinguished from presidential ones, and unitary systems were distinguished from federal ones.
Ex. 17. Comment on:
«That government is best which governs not at all» (Henry David Thoreau: Civil disobedience, 1849)
Ex. 18. What do you think?
What is the difference between governments, political systems and regimes?
What is the purpose of classifying systems of government?
On what basis have, and should, regimes be classified?
What are the major regimes of the modem world?
Has western liberal democracy triumphed worldwide?
Ex. 19. Translate from English into Russian:
Government is any mechanism through which ordered rule is maintained, its general feature being its ability to make collective decisions and enforce them. A political system, or regime, however, encompasses not only the mechanisms of government and institutions of the state, but also the structures and processes through which these interact with the larger society.
• The classification of political systems serves two purposes. First, it aids understanding by making comparison possible and helping to highlight similarities and differences between otherwise shapeless collections of facts. Secondly, it helps us to evaluate the effectiveness or success of different political systems.
• The collapse of communism and advance of democratization has made it much more difficult to identify the political contours of the modern world, making conventional systems of classification redundant. It is nevertheless still possible to distinguish between regimes on the basis of how their political, economic and cultural characteristics interlock in practice, even though all systems of classification are provisional.
• There is evidence that regime types have become both more complex and more diverse. The principle regime types found in the modern world are western polyarchies, post-communist regimes. East Asian regimes, Islamic regimes and military regimes.
Ex. 20. Questions for discussion:
1. To what extent have post-communist regimes discarded their communist past?
2. Why have liberal-democratic structures proved to be so effective and successful?
3. How democratic are Western polyarchies?
4. Do Confucianism and Islam constitute viable alternatives to western liberalism as a basis for a modem regime?