Types of Government


Main Idea

Many countries are shifting toward a more democratic system of government.

Key Terms authoritarian, absolute monarch, dictator, totalitarian, constitutional monarchy, parliamentary system, prime minister

Reading Strategy Contrasting Information Create a chart like the one below to explain the difference between authoritarian government and democratic government.




♦ What types of government exist?

■ Why are many nations changing from authoritarian rule to a more democratic form of government?

Read to Learn

♦ What types of government exist?

■ Why are many nations changing from authoritarian rule to a more democratic form of government?

588 Chapter 27

Authoritarian Government

Like snowflakes, no two governments are exactly alike, liach country is unique, shaped by its history, culture, political interests, and economic needs; yet for thousands of years» people have been studying and classifying governments.

Aristotle, for example, was a scholar who lived in ancient Greece. He identified three types of government: rule by a single person; rule by a small, elite group; and rule by the people. Many scholars prefer to describe governments by using two broad categories on a spectrum: those that arc democratic (on one end of the spectrum) and those that are authoritarian (on the other end of the spectrum). In democratic regimes, as you know, the people ride. In authoritarian regimes, power is held by an individual or group not accountable to the people.

Winston Churchill, Great Britain's leader during World War II, said that "no one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise." Yet most people who live in democratic countries—and many who don't—would agree that democracy beats the alternatives. Whether power is concentrated to a small group (an oligarchy) or just one person (a dictatorship), die ordinary citizens commonly have little voice in authoritarian governments.

in Action

As a teenager in World War liin Italy, Ginetta Sagan joined the underground resistance movement. During the war, the young girl helped publish an underground paper and carried information to the Allies in Switzerland. She escorted hundreds of fugitives—-Jews, antifascists, soldiers who deserted, and many others—across a barbed wire fence that separated Italy from Switzerland. Glnetta Immigrated to the United States in 1951 and over time helped found Amnesty International USA. Ginetta also worked to abolish torture practices In foreign prisons. For her efforts on behalf of the oppressed, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

Ginetta Sagan, proponent of amnesty and prisoners' rights

Absolute Monarchy

The word "monarchy" describes a government with a hereditary ruler a king or queen (or czar, empress, sultan, or other royal figure) who inherits this position of power. Until about the 1600s, such rulers were mostly absolute monarchs, That is, they had unlimited authority to rule as they wished.

Many countries still have monarchs, but absolute monarchy is almost nonexistent. In the Aiiddie East, however, the king of Saudi Arabia and the emir of Qatar might still be considered "absolute." Their power is technically unrestricted, although they do consult with advisers and arc constrained by Islamic law*.


Dictators, like absolute monarchs, exercise complete control over the state. They usually take power by forcc, although sometimes, when a crisis situation demands a strong leader, authorities may placc them in charge. To stay in power, most dictators rely on the police and military. 'ITicy often tamper with elections or refuse to hold them. They also limit freedom of speech> assembly, and the press.

Scorcs of dictators have ruled tlirough-out history. Those who only seek personal gain arc often overthrown quickly. The ruler of Uganda, Idi Amin was deposed (removed from powTcr) in 1979. His brutal regime led to hundreds of thousands of deaths and plunged the country into chaos and poverty. With the help of the United States, Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega wTas deposed in 1989.

Others endure for decades. Fidel Castro has been in power in Cuba sincc 1959. Saddam Hussein ruled Iraq from 1979 until he was overthrown in 2003.


Many dictators impose totalitarian rule on their people. In a totalitarian state, the government's control extends to almost all aspects of people's lives. Totalitarian leaders typically have a master plan for die economy and society. They ban political opposition. They regulate what industries

Chapter 27 Comparing Systems of Government 589

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Forms or Government Democracies like Mexico and Japan endeavor to provide their citizens freedom and opportunities that Thomas Jefferson called i:the pursuit of happiness.'-' Vicente Fox (right) is Mexico's president. Junichiro Koizumi (below) is Japan's prime minister. How do democracies and authoritarian regimes differ?

Chapter 27 Comparing Systems of Government 589

Eannna w

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