A Treatise of Government
Understanding our Democracy and the dangers of loosing it.
Understanding the value of our precious and delicate Democracy is the key to protecting it from dangerous and flawed men.
The government we live under is likely the most important institution in our lives. The government’s form and policies determines whether you are born poor or rich, where (or if) you go to school, and whether you die in a trench or in a hospital bed. However, no government is the same, just as no country is the same.
A government is a system by which an area is governed. The purpose of a government is to keep law and order, as well as provide an entity to communicate with other groups of people. The government can play many roles, depending on the political ideology of the government.
For most of recorded history, countries have been ruled by often autocratic monarchies. An autocracy is a form of government where there is one ruler who holds supreme legal power. Some forms of autocratic government include dictatorships and monarchies. Autocratic governments have given many different justifications for their existence, from having divine right to rule, to having the biggest guns. Autocratic rule relies on the judgment of the supreme leader. When your king is kind-hearted and intelligent, the country prospers and the happiness of the people is ensured. However, autocratic rule is easily abused, and if your king is cruel and corrupt, you cannot do anything legal about the situation. Constant abuses of power by all too common tyrant kings led to popular unrest and removal of some or all royal powers. This process eventually gave way to democracies and republics.
A theocracy is a form of autocracy where the supreme law is the law of a religion. This law can be based on a holy book (such as the Bible or Quran), or it can be based off of the world of a holy man (such as the Pope or the Caliph). This is by far the most common form of government throughout the ages. The Egyptian pharaohs claimed that they were the sons of their sun god Ra. In the Middle Ages, all of Europe answered to the supreme power of the Pope. Asian kingdoms rose and fell based off of the faith of the people.
If everyone followed the same book of laws to the letter, than everyone would theoretically be happy if everyone believes in the authority of the book.
However, even if all people were Christian, not everyone would agree with how to interpret the Bible. Historically, religious governments tend to eliminate heretics, or people who disagree with the beliefs and teachings of the government. There is a reason why there are no European philosophers or scientists during the Middle Ages. Exhibit A is the Protestant Reformation. Many people disagreed with the Catholic Doctrine, preferring to worship and believe in different ways. The Catholic Church responded in a way similar to how it has reacted throughout history: it excommunicated, imprisoned, and executed Protestants, the same thing it did to the Muslims, Jews, various pagan groups, and tried to do to several scientists such as Galileo and Copernicus through the Spanish Inquisition. In places where Protestant governments ruled, there was also persecution of Catholics.
Fast forward to the 20th and 21st centuries, and we have religious governments in places such as Iraq, Pakistan, and one growing in the form of ISIS We also have had recent religious conflict in the Middle East, Africa, India, Ireland, and Southeast Asia.
Democracy & Republic
A democracy is a system of government where the population directly makes the laws. While this certainly sounds good, it becomes impractical with large or spread-out populations.
A republic, on the other hand, is where the citizens elect people to make laws for them, allowing them to spend more time putting food on the table.
While the first tribal systems were quite often rudimentary republics and democracies, the concept of democracy was first implemented in Ancient Greece. Despite the apparently all-inclusive nature of a democracy, voting rights were limited to only a rather small elite. It was the Roman Republic that eventually introduced the idea of attainable citizenship, mainly for immigrants and conquered peoples (or at least conquered men). Along with Rome and Greece, many other small republics and democracies sprang up around the Mediterranean. However, all of these republics were conquered by Rome, who herself eventually became authoritarian.
After the fall of Rome, republics faded in and out of existence. Towards the end of the Middle Ages the rise of the merchant class led to republics springing up around the big trading ports such as Genoa and Venice. The Renaissance reintroduced many Classical ideas from the democracies and republics of Ancient Greece and Rome. These circulating ideas eventually caused the Age of Revolt during the late 18th-early 19th centuries, a long string of revolts formed partially in response to increasingly abusive kings. Despite the fact that many of these revolts were short-lived or became dictatorships, they did produce many other politically important events, including the French Revolution, the American Revolution, and revolutions across South America.
A democracy relies on the ideas of the populace in order to sustain law and order. Democracies run on the idea that the people will be happy if they run the government to their liking. This works well in countries with a rather ideologically united populace. However, democracy breaks down when the populace has extremist or discriminatory elements, or in areas of great polarization. Therefore, the political unity required for a democracy to function is destroyed, and as the political spectrum increases in intensity, riots and civil unrest breaks out, and eventually open civil war. This inability to deal with violent polarization is why democracy has failed in many Arab, Asian, and African countries. Few democracies have gone without violence and war.
And last and definitely least of the forms of government is no government at all, or anarchy. Anarchy relies on the idea that the government is not needed to keep law and order, but that societal norms will prevent and punish evildoers. The problem with anarchy is the same that plagues many other forms of government and ideologies: humans are greedy by nature, and human altruism rarely reaches beyond their own group of family and friends. Anarchies are a rare form of government, and historically have usually come about through state collapse, most spectacularly during the French Revolution (or “Reign of Terror”) and the Russian Revolution, and most recently in Somalia. Most other examples include some tribal cultures such as the Sioux, or in areas that have minimal population or central control. Another problem with anarchies is that they cannot easily resist invaders whom are significantly more organized.
A political ideology differs from a form of government because a form of government simply describes the command structure of a country, while a political ideology describes how that country is run. Political ideologies often manifest into political parties.
Political ideologies are classified into two groups: left and right. This system comes from the makeup of the French Parliamentary system. On the right sat pro-aristocracy and pro-clergy politicians, while on the left sat pro-peasant and pro-democracy politicians. This system is roughly mirrored in most countries politics.
However, nothing in politics is ever that simple. Many political ideologies’ location on the scale is disputed, and many classifications vary between countries. One prime example is that in Indonesia, due to constant opposition to dictatorship, Islamic politicians (religious politicians are rightists in the US) tend to lean towards democracy, which is leftist. Many philosophers even suggest that our current classification is too simple and rudimentary to represent current politics, and propose their own forms.
Communism is a political ideology based off of Marxism, which describes a world view similar to that of Karl Marx. Karl Marx states that human happiness is based on how you make a living. If your love your job and you make a good amount of money, then you are happy. However, capitalism estranges the worker from their job because their wages are lowered to as low as they can be, and they are separated from the product, as the worker does not benefit if their product sells good, but is only affected if it sells bad. Communism is more anti-capitalism than anything. Communism is supposed to prevent capitalist abuse by sharing the profits and burdens of supporting a society amongst the entire populace. Therefore, those who are incapacitated can be supported, and those who are successful help the entire community. However, you need to establish in people a culture that is willing to share for the greater good of the community.
Karl Marx expected communist revolutions to take place in countries where capitalist abuses are most common, in industrialized nations, led by the industrial worker. However, communistic revolutions occurred most often in countries that have fallen upon hard times, or that have been abused by other countries. These countries were often rural societies that were far behind technologically and socially, such as Ming China or Czarist Russia. In order to establish a “communist culture”, many countries have resorted to dictatorships.
This is where many communist governments have their faults. Most communist governments try to force the people into a communist culture through varying methods, most often by removing political dissidents. The idea is that the government will create a communist culture, and then dissipates. However, when such power is put into the hands of one man, that one man often refuses to give up his power and abuses it to his heart’s content. That is why many communist nations were headed by dictators such as Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong.
The other flaw with communism is that a communist government cannot compete with capitalist nations. The direct economic management that only too often accompanies communist dictatorships tends to be mismanaged, often focusing on not-so-important sectors such as military development instead of agricultural development.
Socialism is a economic policy that states that the government should prevent the abuses of capitalism by controlling the market through various methods, from simply taxing certain businesses to totally controlling a certain industry. Socialism is a feature in various policies, most notably capitalism, but also features in fascism. Socialism is featured in communism as a way to prevent capitalist abuses. Socialism is used in fascism so that the government can control the government to benefit the country.
Capitalism is the idea that the government should interfere as little as possible in business, also known as the principle of laissez-faire. A hyper-capitalist society would have no minimum wage, no minimum work age, no safety regulations, and basically no business regulations. To summarize capitalism, you can do almost anything to make money, and that money you make is yours to keep and use for whatever. In other words, you can make a dollar however you want and spend it however you want.
Pure capitalism often creates economic prosperity. One common result of pure capitalism is better prosperity in good times and tougher depressions in bad times. The Industrial Revolution helped bolster the rise of capitalism. The “Age of Capitalism” can arguably be the 19th century. Business and commerce flourished, and the lack of regulation, while making many people fabulously rich, also led to low wages, horrific safety conditions, constricting monopolies, and widespread corruption. You can arguably state that the Age of Capitalism ended during the early 1900s, as governments finally began to enforce regulations such as consumer safety, minimum wages, and worker safety regulations. This process of “decapitalization” of the economy was accelerated due to the Great Depression. Since the 1800s, pure capitalism has been almost nonexistent.
Fascism is virtually nationalism to the extreme. The term “fascism” comes from the logo of the first fascist party in Italy, which was the fasces, a bundle of sticks and an axe, and a Roman symbol of collective power.
There are several elements of fascism, but the main element is nationalism. Fascist governments seek to achieve “autarky”, or a self sufficient economy that does not need any imports from anywhere. Fascist governments also seek out war to establish other territories as colonies to supply the homeland with stuff it cannot produce, and as a source of rebuilding national pride and unity. Fascist governments are also usually accompanied by dictatorships.
Fascism originated in Italy after World War One. Italy had been hit hard by the Great Depression, and had also been shamed by terrible defeat in World War One . The Italian Fascist Party, headed by Benito Mussolini, offered what other policies could not: economic rejuvenation, military revival, and a glorious “New Roman Empire”. When Mussolini became dictator, he went on an empire-building spree, attacking and annexing Albania, parts of Yugoslavia, and Ethiopia.
However, the most famous and likely the best example of fascism is the government of Adolf Hitler. The Nazi’s political philosophy was based off of the philosophy of Adolf Hitler, documented in Mein Kampf. Hitler claimed that the world was divided into several races, with the German or Aryan race as being the most pure or superior race, while the Jewish and Russian races being the least pure and inferior. Hitler also blamed Germany’s defeat in World War One and the subsequent Great Depression on a Jewish conspiracy to destroy Germany. Therefore, he began taking away the rights of Jews and sending the first out of the country and then to concentration camps, along with Gypsies, communists, the disabled, political opponents, and eventually prisoners of war.
The benefits of fascism are the good accomplishments of Adolf Hitler. He brought his country from the depths of depression to a world power. He developed a military that was strong enough to bring Europe to its knees.
However, the faults of fascism are the faults of Hitler. Military spending rose faster than the economy could grow. His attempts at autarky failed, as Germany did not have a diverse enough economy to support itself without imports. An uncontrolled authoritarian dictatorship led to political and racial genocide. Near the end of the war, Hitler began to force children into the war, and hanging the bodies of those who refused or retreated on the streets.
As a result of the violent and bloody legacy of the arguably fascist-incited Second World War, fascism today is generally considered a derogatory term, usually applied to far right organizations.
Imperialism is the idea that your country should spread out and conquer the world. This may seem like a section of fascism, but it is not only limited to fascism. Imperialism is very common throughout history, and has also existed since the first civilization. The goal of imperialism is usually to acquire resources and land, therefore increasing the power of your country. The 18th-19th centuries have experienced the greatest influx of imperialism activism, with the world roughly divided amongst only about 10-20 countries at that time. However, it always has and always will exist, although likely in veiled forms.
In conclusion, there are as many variations of government as there are governments, and almost as many policies. However, every form of government has it’s pros and cons, from the tyranny of many of anarchy, to the tyranny of one in an autocracy. A perfect form of government keeps law and order, keeps the populace happy and safe, and also is immune to corruption. Nothing like this exists, in any country. However, currently the most common and popular form of government is some form of democracy. How this will change, only time will tell.
Forms of Government include: Autocracy, Theocracy, Democracy & Republic and Anarchy
Policies: Communism, Socialism, Capitalism, Fascism, Nazism, Imperialism
Writer: Mikael S.
CREDITS & RESOURCES Used for article:
Philosophy 101 by Paul Kleinman, Marxism and general knowledge, The Times Complete History of the World, Historical References, Econlib.org, Info on fascism and communism, The Second World War, Info on Hitler and on Mussolini, Various PBS Programs, Nova, Historical References, American Experience, Historical References