The Five Most Common Political Systems Around the World

24 Aug, 2011  |  Written by  |  under Government, Politics

When we speak of political systems, it’s difficult to determine what the most common types are. After all, many political systems are similar, or have similar roots. Many countries actually have republics of some kind — variants of democracy. As you study political science, it can be helpful to understand some of the most common types of political systems from around the world.

Understanding different political systems is important. Each political system has its advantages and disadvantages. It is worth considering the merits of other political systems, and perhaps incorporating some of the ideas into your own system. Some of the five more common political systems around the world include:

  1. Democracy
  2. Republic
  3. Monarchy
  4. Communism
  5. Dictatorship
Here are some overviews of these five fairly recognizable political systems:

1. Democracy

We often hear the United States referred to as a democracy. Indeed, many refer to the U.S. as a representative democracy. A democracy in a more traditional sense is a political system that allows for each individual to participate. There are two rather popular types of democracy:
  • Direct Democracy: Many scholars point to Athens as an example of direct democracy. Technically, every citizen has an equal say in the workings of government. (The qualifications for being considered a citizen are completely different.) Citizens could show up at a meeting, and then directly participate in the governing process, and the process of making laws.
  • Representative Democracy: In a representative democracy set-up, citizens elect representatives who actually make the law. The United States operates similarly to this principle. Citizens elect legislators who, in turn, make laws. In the U.S., even the president isn’t elected directly; representatives called electors make the decision (although designated electors usually vote according to the wishes of the citizens in their states).
Other types of democracy include versions known as deliberative democracy, in which citizens approach decision making by considering different viewpoints and options, as well as democratic socialism, in which citizens help make decisions or vote for policies that are socialistic in nature. There are other types of democracy as well. The defining characteristic is some level of citizen participation in the political system


2. Republic

In theory, a republic is a political system in which the government remains mostly subject to those governed. Some scholars define any political system in which the citizens legitimize the government. As such, some (including Montesquieu) consider the U.S. a republic. Indeed, there are those that believe that any form of government that is not based on heritage or authoritarian governance. In some cases, a representative democracy (or any form of democracy) might be considered a republic. Some of the types of republics that you might see include:
  • Crowned (a constitutional monarchy might be considered a crowned republic)
  • Single Party
  • Capitalist
  • Federal (the United States is often referred to as a federal republic)
  • Parliamentary
The main characteristic of a republic is that the government is subject to the people, and leaders can be recalled. Some even make the argument that an oligarchy, which is rule by a few citizens, or a group of citizens, is a form of republic, since the government is subject to some of the wishes of some of the governed.


3. Monarchy

When most of us think of a monarchy, we think of the political systems of medieval European countries. In a monarchy, a ruler is not usually chosen by the voice of the people or their representatives. Often a monarch is the head of state until he or she abdicates or until death. In many cases a monarch is the final word in government. There may be functionaries to make decisions and run the political system, but the monarch has discretion with the laws, and how they are enforced. 

However, as with other political systems, there are different types of monarchies. The type that many of us think of as common is the absolute monarchy, in which the monarch truly has the ultimate say in matters of government. However, most monarchies in political systems today do not follow this method. Many of them, especially in the developed world, have limits. Constitutional monarchies fall into this category (and are sometimes considered republics as well). In this type of monarchy, the ruler is the head of state, but a constitution limits the power, and others make laws. The U.K., Denmark, Kuwait, Spain, Sweden, Tuvalu, and many more are examples of constitutional monarchies.
Other types of monarchies include duchies, grand duchies, elective monarchy (where the monarch is actually elected), and non-sovereign monarchy


4. Communism

In most cases, a communist state is based on the ideology of communism as taught by Marx and/or Lenin. However, some argue that these political systems are not true to the ideals espoused by these revolutionary thinkers. Communist states are often dominated by a single party, or a group of people. A planned economy is often part of the governing class, and in many cases resources are taken and then redistributed to others, at the top of the system. Sometimes communists call themselves “workers’ states” or “socialist,” but there are very real differences in their operation. In a lot of cases, citizens are required to do certain jobs, or have some of their life decisions — especially concerning where they can live and what jobs they can do. Communism is often considered an authoritarian political system. 


5. Dictatorship

Another authoritarian form of government is the dictatorship. Normally, a dictator is the main individual ruling the country. While there are lackeys and others who work for the dictator, he or she makes most of the decisions, and usually has enforcers. In some cases, the political system is run by a small group of people. Dictators are not restricted by constitutions or parliaments. The governed are usually not consented in any way. Elections held are usually affairs in which the dictator is the only candidate. 

One of the more common types of dictatorship is the military dictatorship, in which a military organization governs, running the political system. Sometimes, the military just exerts a great deal of pressure on the government, running the country de facto. In many cases, very few benefit from the decisions made in a dictatorship.
While authoritarian political systems have the advantage of quick decisions being made, many citizens prefer other forms of government — those that allow them greater participation in the political process.