Political System

What is Political System? Definition, Functions, and Types (Explained)

What is Political System?

A Polity or Political System is the social institution that creates, enforces, and applies laws, distributes power, sets a society’s agenda, and makes decisions.

The political system is a procedure of political activities, rules, assumptions, customs behaviors, and a working system. A political institution is an institution with a working procedure allocation of power and ascertaining leadership rights. Leadership is selected by the political system and that leadership makes policies for conducting economic, social-political activities and implements these policies. The formation of the constitution, its implements, and foreign affairs are also broadened through the political institutions. These institutions have a significant impact on socio-cultural life as well.

In traditional societies, tribal chiefs, elders, and shamans exercised power and control while in large and complex modern societies, an organizer and structured power structure called the government exercises power and control over the society or state. For e.g.political parties, trade unions, the (legal) courts, and the state are examples of political institutions. The state is the biggest political institution.

What is a State?

The state is a political institution of definite territory, organized government, population, and sovereign power.

According to Aristotle, the father of political science, ” The state is an organization consisting of some families and villages” According to Woodrow Wilson, “State is a conglomeration of people within a definite territory organized by law”.

Elements: a state is formed with these four elements,

  • Population
  • Definite territory
  • Government
  • Sovereignty

Functions of the State:

Modem nation-states, perform a wide variety of functions. The major functions include;

Social control: The state has the authority to enact and enforce laws. The state allows certain forms of behavior and prohibits certain other behaviors that disrupt the social order. The state is also responsible for maintaining law and order, punishing criminals, and protecting law-abiding citizens. For e.g. the police and courts are established to carry out the responsibility of maintaining law and order.

Defense: It is a prime responsibility of the state to protect its citizen from external aggression and threat. Modern nation-states utilize a large portion of the national budget is utilized for purposes of defense.

Welfare: The state formulates policies and programs for the welfare of its citizens. Welfare schemes would include health, education, employment, public services, and retirement benefit. Other welfare activities such as equity, elimination of poverty, promotion of social justice, and cultural development are also conducted for the welfare of its citizen by the nation’s state.

The Functions of a Political System

The political system consists of both politics and government.

In 1960, Almond and Coleman gathered three core functions of a political system which include:

  • To maintain integration of society by determining norms
  • To adapt and change elements of social, economic, religious systems necessary for achieving collective (political) goals
  • To protect the integrity of the political system from outside threats

Similarly, Eisenstadt (1966) has classified the functions of a political system as:

  • Legislative
  • Decision-making
  • Administrative

Types of Political System or Government

In general, the political system i.e. most governments in the world falls into one of the five categories as follows;

  • Monarchy
  • Democratic System or Democracy
  • Oligarchic System
  • Authoritarian System or Authoritarianism
  • Totalitarian System or Totalitarianism

Let’s understand these forms of polity or political system individually,

Monarchy

What is Monarchy?

Monarchy is a form of government or political system in which a representative (called the king or queen or emperor) from single family rules from generation to generation is called monarchy.

The word “monarchy” is made up of the Greek words ‘monos” which means “one”, and “arkhein”, which means “to govern, to rule”. So, the meaning of monarchy is ‘ruling of one’ or ‘government of one’.

Power in this form of government is transferred in a hereditary way, which is why political power resides in family groups over several generations. These families are called ‘dynasties’.

Monarchy was common in preindustrial societies. But in modern-day nations, most of the world’s monarchies are constitutional monarchies, in which the king or queen is the symbolic head of state, and therefore, the governing (executive) power lies in the people’s elected representative. For e.g. Saudi Arabia, Norway, Kuwait, etc. have a monarchy. The territory ruled by the monarchs is called ‘kingdom’ or ’empire’.

Types of Monarchy

Monarchy is also of two types as follows;

Constitutional Monarchy: In this monarchy, there is a powerless royal family, royals are national symbols, people elect a parliament to make laws, and the people have the final power to choose leaders and laws. For e.g. Japan, United Kingdom, etc.

Absolute Monarchy: In this monarchy, there is a powerful royal family that holds all power, power is passed through generations in the family, has absolute power, uses force to carry out decisions, and people who oppose are severely punished. For e.g. Saudi Arabia.

Features of Monarchy:

Monarchical Power is Lifelong: The monarch’s position is unipersonal and lifelong, which means monarchs usually govern until they die or resign, or are overthrown.

The Monarchical Title is Transferred Hereditarily: The title as the king or queen is given to the family members, with the priority of men over women, and children over any other kind of kinship. In case the king or queen dies the crown may pass to the brothers, nephews, or cousins.

Unelected leader: The monarchs are not elected rather self-proclaimed in most cases. For e.g. PrithiviNarayn Shah declared the King of Kathmandu valley after its conquest.

Multiple forms: Basically, monarchs have two forms; Constitutional Monarchy and Absolute Monarchy

The monarch embodies the identity of his Nation: The monarch is considered a symbol of national identity because of its mediating role between the different public powers.

Provision of Regent: In case, the successor is a minor (child) or disabled, the regent is appointed to carry out the administrative affairs of the state on behalf of the minor King

One of the oldest forms of government: The existence of monarchy goes back to, at least, three thousand years with the first emperors of Ancient Egypt.

Democracy

Democracy is the most popular form of government or political system in the modern world. It is often said to be the best and most civilized form of the political system in which everyone has a share.

The word ‘democracy’ is derived from two Greek words, ‘demos’ which means ‘the people, and ‘kratia’ which means ‘power’. Thus when the supreme power is in the hands of people it is called democracy. Abraham Lincoln defined democracy as ‘government of the people by the people for the people.’

Therefore democracy is regarded as that government where the power is vested in the people. There are different forms of democratic government in the modern World some o the well-known democracies are limited monarchy, republic, unitary, federal, parliamentary, and presidential.

Basic features of Democracy:

  • It is based on equality.
  • It is based on liberty.
  • It is responsible government.
  • It promotes interest of all.
  • Change in government by peaceful manner.
  • It has educative value.
  • Individual liberty and state power are balanced.
  • Peaceful co-existence.

Oligarchic System (Oligarchy)

Any form of government in which a small group (elites) rules and holds supreme power over a larger society or state is called the oligarchic political system.

Authoritarian Political System

The system of government in which the state, controls and regulates people’s lives by permitting limited political participation under strict control is called an authoritarian political system or government. In such a rule, the power is in the hands of a military dictator. For e.g. the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

Features:

Some of the most important features of authoritarianism or authoritarian state are as follows:

Small-sized legislature: The size of the legislature (parliament) is small as all legislative and political choices are given to one person (autocracy) or a small group (oligarchy). The legislative members are not people who are elected and also a constitution rarely exists in an authoritative government.

Control of the press: All forms of media are controlled by the government. There are legal penalties for anti-government speech in an authoritarian government.

Political Parties: There is a strict restriction of political views that differ from those of the authoritarian government so as not to undermine political control.

Limitations on political process: Important limitations are imposed on the open political processes, political parties, and elections.

Use of an ideology: Religion or an ideology (like racialism or nationalism) is often used to secure support and serve the ends of the rulers and these ideologies provide some basis for the exercise of state power over the people.

Rulers determine all decisions: The rulers and not the people determine all decisions.

Dependence on coercion and force: Authoritarian rulers mostly use force and coercion to bring political uniformity and obedience.

Less importance to rights and liberties: This government provides fewer rights and civil liberties.

Authoritarianism can involve family rule or military rule: The rule is based on a family rule or the army, which seizes power by a coup. A Small group uses all the powers: Under authoritarianism a small group monopolies political power and control.

Based on power and manipulations: Manipulation, suppression, and coercion constitute the basis of the power of the rulers.

Bureau as the main tool of the rule of the rulers: The rulers use bureaucracy and police as the instruments of their control over the People.

Use of Propaganda: The rulers try to secure their legitimacy by declarations, manipulations, and propaganda or by the use of ideology of peace, development, and security.

Rulers control public opinion: In an authoritarian political system, public opinion is controlled by rulers. Rulers allow only those opinions that do not challenge the authority of the rulers.

Totalitarianism

The system of government in which the state, excessively controls and regulates all aspects of the public and private lives of its citizens and where people are denied rights to select their representatives is called totalitarianism.

In this political system, government controls everything (politics, economy, personal lives), the government makes all political decisions, the government owns and runs all businesses, control personal aspects of people’s lives (where they live, what they do, and what they see and hear), and even try to control their thoughts and beliefs.

In totalitarianism, people have to act (adhere) to the will of the government without any opposition. In other words, totalitarianism is the most extreme form of authoritarianism. For e.g. political system that emerged during the 20th century in Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, modern North Korea, etc.

Features of Totalitarianism:

The term ‘totalitarianism’ is synonymous used with the words such as, dictatorship, tyranny’, ‘fascism’, ‘authoritarian regime’ etc. However, some of the features of totalitarianism include;

  • An official ideology relying upon propaganda and terror.
  • Aggressive nationalism, militarism and expansionism.
  • Rule by a single party, usually led by a dictator.
  • Total control of the military.
  • A terroristic police force to eradicate dissent.
  • Total control over means of communication such as newspapers, radio, etc.
  • State control of economy.

Compare and Contrast between Democracy and Totalitarianism

The comparison between democracy and totalitarianism includes similarities and dissimilarities as follows;

Similarities between Democracy and Totalitarianism

  • Both political systems have a form of government and a leader of some sort.
  • Both forms of government have the potential to oppress its people. Although, a democracy typically does not follow this pattern, it is not impossible that majority party that form government would oppress the minority party. Similarly, the party or an individual who is elected may abuse it and eventually come to control the entire state.

Dissimilarities between Democracy and Totalitarianism

  • Democracy is the form of government that allows its citizens to have the greatest amount of freedom and the most control over their government. Whereas, totalitarianism is a type of government where nobody has any individual freedom, and is completely controlled by the government.
  • Democracy attempts to equalize every individual by giving them all of them the power to elect their representatives. Whereas, the single-party system of the totalitarian government, however, only gives power to those already in power, as well as those who strongly support the system.
  • Democracy allows for the public voice to be heard and represented. Whereas, a totalitarian government silences the people through oppression.
  • In a democratic system, the leaders come to power by election and they are changed on the basis of public voting. In a totalitarian system, the leaders may come to power by force or by manipulation. They will stay in power for as long as they want.
  • In democratic state, people can have individual values alongside the state values and not necessarily adhere to any particular political ideology. While, in totalitarian states enforce strict conformity to state values and political ideology.
  • In democratic political system rules are people friendly. Whereas, in totalitarian political system it usually has more harsh rules.

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