The modern and contemporary classification in political regimes


With the rise of sovereign nation-state, evolution of liberal-constitutional- democratic state, formation of American federation during eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, etc. the old classification of political regimes lost its relevance. The new developments changed the basis of classification dramatically.

The new modes of classification which emerged were based upon the nature of constitution, concentration or distribution of power within the state, relation of the executive with the legislature, nature and extent of civil liberties, degree of Public participation or the role of ideology.

However, we must keep in mind one important factor that is the totality of power of all the states is the same. In other words, every state is a sovereign state; the only manner in which states can be classified is according to the structural peculiarities of the government organization.


In the context of sovereign state and its structures, attempts have been made by innumerable writers to classify the political organizations from time to time. For example, Jellenick, a German writer classified political regimes into two broad categories: monarchical and republican.

He further divided monarchy into hereditary and elective with absolute and limited forms, and republic into three forms – democratic, aristocratic and oligarchic. Finally, he described democratic variety having direct and indirect forms. This can be shown through a table:

Another writer Burgess presented his classification based upon four distinct principles and tried to place several forms of government into those categories. The four principles and the forms of government were:

1) Identity or non identity with state and government- primary and representative,


2) Tenure of executive- hereditary or elective

3) Relationship between executive and legislature-parliamentary or presidential, and

4) Concentration and distribution of power- unitary and federal.

Leacock presented the forms of government in a simplified form which can be understood by the following table:


F.C. Strong, another important writer of this century has offered his own classification. He suggested five heads under which modern constitutional states could be divided with specific types of governments. The model of Strong is as follows:

From the above models of classification, we can draw certain conclusions. Firstly, although numerous models have been identified, there is no consensus on a universal and scientific classification. Secondly, all identified models are based upon the institutions of state, government and its organs such as legislature, executive and judiciary, constitution, law, and political organisation.

The socio-economic, historical and cultural factors affecting the political system were not taken into consideration. Thirdly, and most importantly, these classifications were exclusively influenced by the type of state institutions which developed in Europe and America.

The political systems of Asia, Africa or Latin America were completely ignored. It was only after the Second World War, when these countries got independence from the colonial rule, it was found that their political systems could not be accommodated within the above models. Hence the need was felt to create new models of classification.


Contemporary classification in political regimes

S.E. Finer evolved certain new basis for his mode of classification. According to him, in all the political systems, the essence is that a few rule over the many i.e. those who formulate policies and implement them are very few. In this context, he talks about three types of political systems:

i)Liberal-democratic such as the liberal-capitalist states of Europe and America,

ii) Totalitarian system such as prevalent in the communist states,


iii)Autocracies and oligarchies, i.e. the political systems in which the political activity of the military is persistent. These are the systems which are neither liberal democratic nor totalitarian. These are prevalent in the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America where the military is the decisive factor and is an independent political factor, often a decisive factor.

Jean Blondel provides a triple basis for his model of classification of political systems:

i) Nature of political system,

ii) Social philosophy and policies, and

iii)Political ideology and the autonomy of the sub-systems.

On this basis, he classifies two types of political system under each category: a) Monarchy and Democracy, b) Traditional and Modern, and c) Liberal and Totalitarian.

Almond and Powell have also given a triple classification of political systems based upon structural differences and functions, and cultural secularization. They are: a) Primitive, b) Traditional, and c) Modern.

The primitive system based upon tribal rule could be of three types: primitive bands, seminary system or the pyramidal systems, the traditional political systems can also be divided into three categories: patrimonial system, centralized bureaucratic systems and feudal political systems.

These are the types of systems based primarily on agriculture, dominated by clergy and feudal lords and lack of industrialization. The mobilized modern systems are those based upon structuralisation as well as cultural secularization. They can be democratic as well as authoritarian. We can understand Almond’s classification through the following table.

As explained above, the modern classification was primarily based upon liberal democratic governments as developed in Europe and North America during nineteenth and twentieth centuries. However, after the Second World War, new types of political regimes emerged at two levels:

1) a host of post-colonial states which got independence from the imperialist power in which the liberal democratic institutions had not evolved, which were economically underdeveloped and had diverse cultural, social institutions and political structures, and

2) Emergence of a communist/socialist bloc of states whose objective was the building of a socialist society (in contrast to the liberal capitalist society of the West) and which had different conceptions of democracy, parliament, party system, federalism and political powers.

These factors compelled political scientist to evolve new models of classification which would encompass the variety of political regimes that evolved in the post-war period. The lead in this direction was taken by a number of American political scientists who tried to create a classification which could suit the changed circumstances.

They tried to integrate the political institutions with development and modernization. Consequently, they gave new basis for classification such as industrialization, urbanization, and technological development, level of education, commerce, cultural and social achievements and communication network. In the past forty years several prominent political scientists, such as Edward Shils, Kautsky, David Apter, Almond and Powell, Robert Dahl, David Easton, Jean Blondel, Allan Ball, etc, have studied and classified political regimes. Let us examine some of these. Edward Shils in his book Political Development in New States presented a five-fold classification of modern political systems:

i) Political democracy as in Britain and USA,

ii) Tutelary democracy – states which are not democratic but try to copy the ways of political democracy,

iii) Modernising oligarchy – states where the power is in the hands of a few civilians who rule with the help of armed forces or vice-versa,

iv) Totalitarian oligarchy of either Communist or Fascist type, and

v) Traditional Oligarchy – states which are ruled by dynastic rulers and are associated with traditional religious beliefs.

David Apter has laid emphasis on the developing societies. He talks about the type of government they have and the value system they have inherited. In this context he talks about three types of political systems:

Almond and Powell have also classified the political systems on the basis of political culture. Depending upon the nature of allegiance, apathy or alienation of the people towards the political system, the political culture can be of three types: parochical, subjective or participative. On this basis, they classified four types of political regimes: i) Anglo American, ii) Continental European, iii) Non Western, and IV) Totalitarian.

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