As long as people have lived together in communities there have been governments to rule those communities.

Types of Government

Long before there were governments ruled by kings, queens, presidents, and dictators, early peoples organized themselves into tribes. Tribes organized their power around family. Leaders guarded the customs of the group and recorded its history through storytelling.

As various tribes combined into larger units, the political system of a village came into being. Villages were organized around rural jobs and agricultural life. The government of early villages consisted of a basic form of democracy. Council or village elders held face-to-face discussions to settle disputes and cooperate on matters of public concern.

Later, cities began to grow.

As the world population grew, cities began to form relationships with one another and with surrounding villages.

Levels of Government
A modern country is a mix of governments of various sizes, ranging from local (towns, villages, and cities) to regional (states or provinces) to national. The larger national government must work with its smaller units.

Structure of Governments

Democracy

There are two leading types of constitutional democracy in the world today. These are the presidential system, such as that of the United States, and the parliamentary system, such as that of the United Kingdom.

In both systems political parties are important. It is through them that the citizens are able to express their opinion by voting for candidates for office. The parties are groups of people with similar views about major issues. Most candidates for political office are members of a particular party, though membership in a party means different things in different countries.

In some countries, such as the United Kingdom, the parties are fairly rigid, meaning that its members are expected to always vote with the party. In the United States, however, party members are free to vote as they see fit on any particular issue.

Presidential System

In a presidential system the executive, legislative, and judicial branches are clearly separated. The president is elected by the people and is not a member of the legislature. In such systems the president is both the political head of the government and also the head of state, who presides over ceremonies and official functions. The president chooses people to serve as his or her cabinet. These are the heads of various departments. They are not elected.

Parliamentary System

In a parliamentary system the prime minister is the national political leader, and another figure serves as head of state. In the United Kingdom the head of state is the queen. In Japan it is the emperor. In some countries the head of state may be an elected president, but the prime minister usually has the true power. The prime minister is generally a member of the legislature who is either elected by the legislature or chosen automatically as the leader of the party with the most members in the legislature. The prime minister’s cabinet, and the leaders of the government departments, are also members of the legislature.

Other Systems

Some constitutional countries, notably France, have systems that combine elements of the presidential and parliamentary approaches. Although France’s constitution established a parliamentary form of government, it also increased the role of the president of the republic. The constitution gives the president the power to appoint the prime minister and the executive ministers, preside over the cabinet, sign the more important decrees, appoint high civil servants and judges, and dissolve one house of the parliament. Because of this arrangement the prime minister and president must share power to a certain extent.

Monarchies

In a monarchy one person – the king or queen – has control over all parts of the government. By the beginning of the 21st century there were few remaining absolute monarchies. Most countries that had been ruled by a monarch had become constitutional monarchies. In such cases the government consisted of a parliamentary system led by a prime minister. The king or queen had a very limited role as the head of state. Only a few countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia are still ruled by a monarch.

Dictatorships

Dictatorships can take various forms. In some cases elected presidents and prime ministers capture power by establishing one-party rule and ending all opposition. They may continue to call the country a republic and maintain some institutions, such as a legislature, but in fact they control all the power in the country. In other cases, the military may take control.

Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin were examples of a third type of dictatorship. In both cases the government was led by a strong leader with a specific program and goals based on a theory about the world. Both also tried to spread their power and make others follow their ideas.

One of the major differences between democracies and dictatorships is in the role played by political parties since there are no elections in dictatorships.

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