The old classification of governments into monarchies [or tyrannies], aristocracies [or oligarchies], and democracies, from Aristotle, is defective in that it presupposes forms of organization that largely vanished in the 20th Century. The old terms such as monarchy and aristocracy evoke a bit too much ermine, lavish trappings, and heriditary power. Today's monarchy, with a few exceptions such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea, might more usefully be termed an autocracy, and what in the past was termed an aristocracy might today be better called an oligarchy [whether formed from a meritocracy or the vanguard of the Proletariat].
Many countries need to deepen reforms to revive their economies. But with democratic polarization on the rise, such reforms are hard to advance. Many countries lack political forces able to lead people, advance reform and overcome difficulties. The ruling authorities are struggling with political division and factional interests. Which system is more stable? Which does better at handling problems and challenges in the process of social development? In this era full of uncertainty and unpredictable competition, cohesion is a scarce political resource and countries with this resource naturally hold the initiative.
The concept of autocracy demands that a single man formerly styled the monarch or sovereign be the supreme disposer of all things and all persons in the State, being at once clothed with all the powers of government, to legislate, to execute and to interpret the law. It does not derogate from this idea of his supremacy that he may employ a council to digest his laws, and judges to interpret them, while securing to himself personally or to other agents designated by him the supervision of their execution, provided that, in the conduct of these functions, his officers act as his creatures and subordinates, and not as independent and coordinate depositaries of governmental powers.
The natural softener and modifier of a despotic autocrat is a body of courageous and high-spirited citizens, in earlier times the nobility, who tempered the autocraft's exercise of absolute power by their influence, weight of character and jealous care of their own rights and privileges. Although the constitution may have prescribed no definite limit to the autocrat's authority, his well founded fear of combined opposition on the part of his barons or retainers would impose no inconsiderable restraint upon his arbitrary tendencies. Even in a limited autocracy a nobility is of similar, though not equal, advantage. To destroy or impair its influence beyond a certain point may prove a formidable step towards converting a constitutional autocracy into a despotism.
Monarchy, in a patriarchal form, was doubtless the government primarily adopted among men. Its simplicity and energy, and its analogy to paternal authority, as well as the fact that it is the natural result of military prowess, justify this conjecture, which is further sanctioned by the tribal customs and forms of government of the early Greeks and Romans and other nations of antiquity, and by the almost universal adoption of it among savage tribes in the earlier stages of civilization. But it is not to be therefore inferred that it is the best form of government. Whether it be or not, or what infusion of the autocratic element should exist in a given constitution, must depend upon a variety of circumstances of which the community concerned is the sole judge.
Autocracy is perhaps the strongest and most efficient of the three primary forms of government. Among its merits may be reckoned the following:
- Simplicity and Energy.The government by a single man is recommended by the qualities of simplicity of organization and greater energy than can be otherwise developed in governmental affairs. Its simplicity, indeed, goes to the extent of bestowing all power on one man, confiding in his good dispositions and in whatever self-interest may prompt him to for the general benefit of his subjects. And its energy may be, and often is, perverted from its design of protecting, to the oppressing, of the subjects.
- Steadfastness of Purpose An autocracy, like an aristocracy, is favorably characterized by its steady adherence to a given line of policy. But that very fixedness of purpose and perseverance in pursuit of its plans may be, and, while human nature remains as it is, often will be, used to the destruction of the liberties of society.
- Secrecy and Unity of Counsels The autocratic constitution has the double advantage of secrecy and unity of counsel. There are often critical occasions in governmental affairs in which the premature exposure of plans or divided counsels might bring swift destruction. Neither of these good qualities are possible in a democracy in the nature of things, and in an aristocratic constitution they can have but a feeble and fortuitous existence. Where all power is centred in one man, both are easily possible.
- Sole Responsibility One of the most valuable attributes of a autocratic constitution lies in the fact that the autocrat's responsibility to the general opinion of humanity, as well as to other States, is sole and undivided. Hence he is constrained to observe a guardedness in his conduct toward other States less familiar in countries where no single person is charged with the entire conduct of foreign affairs.
A limited government, with divided powers, may respect the rights of its own citizens, because each person concerned is responsible for his share in the transactions of government either to the whole State or to some partial body of constituents, besides that for the most part he will himself share in the burdens he assists in laying on the people. But it is not so in foreign affairs. Nations have even yet, in their politic capacities, a very dull apprehension of justice, honor, integrity and generosity towards each other. Hence the statesman or the legislator who would not dare the indignation of the people by an invasion of their rights might feel no fear of public censure in disregarding the demands of justice towards a foreign State; nor would the public opinion of the world nor fear of the injured nation much awe or check him, for the world would not usually know to what particular persons of the number constituting the government to ascribe the objectionable conduct, and punishment would be directed against the people as a whole, not the individuals concerned in the administration.
An autocrat, however, stands out, the prominent mark for the execration of the world, if his conduct deserves it. Humanity justly looks to him as solely answerable for the acts of the State, and nations injured exact from him, as it were personally, vengeance for the wrong. His people do indeed suffer in conjunction with him, but upon his head is visited the heaviest retribution. His pangs are often keen enough to constitute no inadequate penalty for his offenses, though to the superficial observer he may appear above the reach of punishment.
While the advantages of autocraty are perhaps greater than of other primary forms of government, its defects are also glaring.
- Tendency to Oppression An autocratic constitution is less oppressive to its subjects than an aristocracy because at the very worst it involves the gratification of the bad passions of one man, instead of many. The thirty tyrants of Athens or the decemviri of Rome exercised a despotism beside which the tyranny of a Nero or a Caligula was enviable. Wholesale confiscations and murders awed men into silence and made them dumb with consternation. But, while less crushing in its operation than an aristocracyn a autocracy is not calculated to preserve the rights of the people. It is likely to be administered for the benefit of the autocraft rather than for the public good. The autocrat is too far removed from the wants and wishes of the community to understand or sympathize with them.
- Wanting in Wisdom It is one of the most marked vices of a autocracy to be wanting in wisdom and self-restraint. In the past, wtih heridtary monarchy, the peace of society demanded in general that the succession should be hereditary. Hence it was a bare chance if there be much original capacity in him who occupies the throne; and his position does not favor any extraordinary cultivation or development of such natural powers as he may possess. There is always grave danger of his committing his power to minions and mistresses, while he abandons himself to luxury and pleasure. Should his manly sense and virtue escape these snares, even modern non-heriditary autocrafts face additional difficulties in the intrigues of the court and in the distorted medium through which he is compelled to see men and things. Since great pains are usually taken to disguise the truth to him, it is not wonderful that he should often be unequal to the task, however honest his intentions, of clearing away these artificial mists and at the same time of forming correct opinions and pursuing a judicious course of action in relation to the multiform affairs submitted hourly to his cognizance.
- Tendency to Sap the People's Independence One of the evil effects of absolute autocracy is that it accustoms the body of the people to regard the government as a thing wholly foreign to them, about which they may not voice nor even form an opinion; and whose influences for weal or woe upon their own happiness are independent of their own efforts. Their spirit is broken, their self-reliance destroyed. No condition of popular sentiment can be more dangerous to liberty or more fatal to happiness.
With all its stormy agitations, its anarchy and its imperfect protection of person and property, a democracy is more productive of happiness and prosperity to a nation than the warless calm of despotism, because it engenders the habit of considering the public business and stimulates men of all ranks of life to deliberate more or less rationally upon the relations of things. No government can answer its intended purposes without an intelligent comprehension of its policies by the masses of society and their vigilant co-operation. Still less can it, without such supervision, be expected to confine itself within its prescribed limits. Quis custodes custodiet?
An executive overthrowing the existing political order to increase its sovereignty has been a common modern political occurrence outside the Anglo-Saxon world. In the 20th century, France, Spain, Italy and Germany have each changed their sovereignty arrangements as a result of executives either usurping new powers or being defeated while attempting to do so. Almost all former colonies, especially those in the Arab World, experienced protracted struggles over their sovereignty arrangements in the lead-up to, and following, their decolonisations. Given our privileged history, the Anglo-American citizenry seems to be unique in its lack of experience, and hence knowledge, about how sovereignty operates in its societies. American presidents and British prime ministers have frequently tried to increase their power. But they generally did so by expanding their authorities into heretofore uncharted domains.
Forms of Autocracy
A dictatorship is a system of government in which one person has the absolute authority. There are usually no elections in a dictatorship. A dictator has complete power over a country. There is usually no government group to help rule the country. Often the dictator's power is obtained and kept by force, such as using the defence forces.
A dictator can be called 'benevolent' if s/he uses her/his powers for the good of the people, not simply for her/his own. Although many dictators have promised to defend the rights of the people, most of them have failed to do so. Many dictators have taken over the government in times of crisis, but they have ruled in a cruel and violent way. They order punishment and death for anyone who opposes them.
Caudillismo is the union of personalism and violence for the conquest of power. It is a means for the selection and establishment of political leadership in the absence of a social structure and political groupings adequate to the functioning of representative government.
On the basis of the source or tenure of the executive, monarchies may be classified as hereditary or elective, or they may be a combination of both. All of the monarchies of the present day are hereditary, though there have been many exceptions in the past. The early Roman kings were elective, as were the kings of the ancient monarchy of Poland. The head of the Holy Roman Empire, as is well known, was chosen by a small college of electors, though usually from the same family. In general, it may be said that the installation of dynasties in newly formed states usually takes place through election, though the crown thereafter is generally transmitted according to certain rules of hereditary succession.
Monarchy may be either of the absolute type, in which case the monarch is sovereign, and state and government, legally and politically speaking, are identical, or it may be constitutional or limited in form. In the former case the monarch is bound by no will except his own; in the latter case he is bound by the prescriptions of a constitution which he has sworn to support, and hence the royal office is nothing but an organ of government.
As to the difference between an absolute and a limited monarchy, the main difference consists in the impunity which, in a direct and open way, might by law be alike conferred in both monarchies. It is in an absolute monarchy, accordingly conferred in a direct and open way; in a limited monarchy in some indirect and concealed way, in preference. In a limited monarchy, the acts of the monarch and his instruments are necessarily, in one way-or other, more exposed to observation than in an absolute monarchy. In England, the situation of king, by the avowed state of the law, is placed above the field of legal responsibility, to the purpose of exposure to punishment. He cannot be made to suffer, nor, consequently, to do anything that it does not please him to do, or suffer.
Popular usage considers any government having a hereditary executive to be a monarchy, even though its legislative department rests upon a popular basis. In short, popular usage makes the test the nature of the executive tenure and the tenure of the titular executive at that.
Manifestly no satisfactory definition of monarchy can be framed. A Monarchical Government does not cease to be absolute merely because the Sovereign exercises his authority through certain functionaries, or certain Councils, appointed by himself. These Councils are the creatures of his power and pleasure ; a breath from him can unmake as it made them. They exercise no direct control whatever over him, and only share his prerogative to the extent to which it pleases him that they should.
Strictly speaking, there are no longer any pure monarchical governments in Europe. What are loosely and popularly called such are in fact mixed governments, that is, governments composed of monarchical, aristocratic, and democratic elements combined.
The theist is a man firmly persuaded of the existence of a Supreme Being equally good and powerful, who has formed all extended, vegetating, sentient, and reflecting existences; who perpetuates their species, who punishes crimes without cruelty, and rewards virtuous actions with kindness. The theist does not know how God punishes, how he rewards, how he pardons; for he is not presumptuous enough to flatter himself that he understands how God acts; but he knows that God does act and that he is just. The difficulties opposed to a Providence do not stagger him in his faith, because they are only great difficulties, not proofs: he submits himself to that Providence, although he only perceives some of its effects and some appearances; and judging of the things he does not see from those he does see, he thinks, that this Providence pervades all places and all ages.
The Egyptians, like other people of antiquity, deduced their monarchy from a theocracy; for they said and believed that they were at first governed by gods, as afterwards by mortal kings. The brahmans in India possessed for a long time the theocratical power; that is to say, they held the sovereign authority in the name of Brama; and even in their present humble condition they still believed their character indelible. The priests of Chaldea, Persia, Syria, Phenicia, and Egypt, were so powerful, had so great a share in the government, and carried the censer so loftily above the sceptre, that empiVe may be said, among those nations, to have beetf divided between theocracy and royalty. The Japannese were incontestably governed by a theocracy. Their earliest well-ascertained sovereigns were the 'dairos,' the high-priests of their gods.
Totalitarianism is a system government in which the state exercises wide-ranging control over individuals within its jurisdiction. Usually, the totalitarian state has but one political party, led by a dictator, and an official ideology that is disseminated through the mass media and educational system, with suppression of dissent. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were examples of totalitarian states.
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