The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BC) said that “The true forms of government … are those in which the one, or the few, or the many govern, with a view to the common interest …”
If a government was run by one person Aristotle called it monarchy. Government by the few he called an aristocracy. Government by the many he called a polity-we now call it a constitutional democracy.
Although Aristotle called these the true forms of government, he believed that each of these could be bad as well as good.
For example, a monarchy ruled by a king who ruled only for the purpose of increasing his own wealth and power became, according to Aristotle, a tyranny. When the ruling few in an aristocracy ruled only for their own benefit-not the people’s-Aristotle called their government an oligarchy.
Today most people still think of an oligarchy as a government in which a small group exercises control in a corrupt, dictatoral, or selfish way. However, an oligarchy can be a government, organization, or business that is controlled by a small group of persons. The control is not necessarily corrupt, dictatoral, or selfish. Oligarchies in government usually are formed when wealth or military power is concentrated among a small number of people in the community.
To describe bad rule by the many, Aristotle drew on the Greek word demos, which meant “common people.” He called government run by the common people a democracy. Aristotle’s idea of democracy was not so favourable as the modern idea.
Today there are only two important kinds, or systems, of government-democratic and autocratic. Although they seem to be alike in some ways, they are quite different in spirit and practice.
The Democratic System
When the people run a government are selected by the citizens and when the demands of the citizens are recognized by the government, a modern democratic system exists.
Before making an important decision, the government of a modern democracy tries to find out how the people feel about someproposed change by encouraging the people to express their opinions.
The value of freedom of speech is so great in a true democracy that people are not punished when they critize their government. A country that uses censorship (preventing the people from saing what they wish to say) runs the danger of weakening itself.
Another important characteristic of a democracy is that government leaders give up their positions willingly when new leaders are voted into office. By just and orderly changing of the people in power, a government can be constantly influenced by new social and economic ideas.
The Autocratic System
The word autocracy comes from the Greek roots meaning self and strength or rule.
Autocrats (rulers of an autocracy) do not come into power as the people’s choice by the free election. They come into power because of personal strength. And whether they govern well or poorly, they govern as they wish-without interference from the people.
One way that an autocrat may come to power is by force, as the leader of an army. The opposition is conquered by the sword-not by any vote of the people.
Adapted from Book of Knowledge