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What is a Political Regime?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 23, 2024
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A political regime is a set of political structures that make up a state. These political systems range from direct democracies to totalitarian regimes, such as military dictatorships. Common systems in the modern world include democratic republics, monarchies, and representative democracies. There are also primarily theoretical types of governments, like a strict meritocracy.

Democracies

One of the most often-talked about political system is a representative democracy. This is a system in which representatives are directly elected by the citizens, and these representatives then make political decisions for the people, with the assumption that their decisions will reflect the general will of the republic. This can be compared to a direct democracy, in which the citizens directly vote on all issues of importance.

Republics

The republic is one of the most common systems of government in the world, although it takes many different forms. For instance, a republic can be associated with a religion, as in the case of an Islamic republic; an economic system, as in a socialist republic; or a political procedure, like a parliamentary republic. A number of republics try to show the fact that they are actually made up of smaller, semi-autonomous parts. The United States of America, for example, says very clearly that its political regime is that of a group of united state entities. Both Nigeria and Germany also convey this idea by calling themselves federal republics.

Republics are often denoted in the official name of the state, and often include a modifier to convey some sort of philosophical ideal the political regime holds. For example, Guyana is known as a the Co-Operative Republic of Guyana, Sri Lanka is known as the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, and mainland China is known as a People’s Republic of China. The actual governmental system in these countries can vary: for instance, China is a Marxist-Leninist single party state, not a republic. This type of government can also go the other way, with several republics being part of one state, like countries in the former Soviet Union.

Dynastic Governments

Dynastic systems of government consist of all the leaders of the country coming from one family. Common types of this government include monarchies, emirates, and dynastic empires, like that of Imperial China. In modern times, the leaders of many monarchies and emirates serve primarily as figureheads. This type of government is called a constitutional monarchy or nominal monarchy, and includes countries like the United Kingdom. The opposite of this is an absolute monarchy, in which the ruler has total power to govern the state, and is not subject to control from a constitution or parliament. Examples of modern absolute monarchies include Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Authoritarian and Totalitarian Regimes

In authoritarian and totalitarian political regimes, one person, entity, or party has complete control over the affairs of the state, without the input or consent of the population. In totalitarian regimes specifically, this leader attempts to control all aspects of a society, including things like the personal beliefs and morals of the population. These are sometimes accompanied by a cult of personality around the leader or leaders, as in the case of Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany. Common forms of authoritarian or totalitarian regimes include military juntas, in which a small committee of military leaders rules the country or a single-party state, in which only one political party is in power and others are either outrightly or tacitly not allowed to challenge that authority. Another form is a dictatorship, in which one person rules the country without being accountable to anyone and then passes his or her powers on to another person upon death.

Rare or Archaic Systems

Some systems are leftovers from a bygone age. Luxembourg, for example, is officially known as a grand duchy, dating back to a time when it was a part of the Netherlands as a Dutch dominion. Another type of archaic system is a kritarchy, or a rule by judges; and a timocracy, or country in which only people who own land can be active in governing. Other types of governments are rare in the modern world, but still exist in pockets. Theocracies, for example, such as the government of Tibet in exile, or of Vatican City, where a religious figure is also granted secular power of the government.

Theoretical Systems

There are a number of types of political regime that exist more in theory than anywhere in the world. One example of this is a strict meritocracy, for example, where leaders are chosen based on their ability to lead. Other theoretical systems include a corporatocracy, a popular theme in science fiction, in which corporations rule their own sovereign states; and a geniocracy, in which leaders are selected based on their problem-solving abilities and creativity.

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Discussion Comments

By Crispety — On Nov 10, 2010

BrickBack-There would be markets available where people could grow their own crops and sell them on the market.

A political decentralization is desperately needed there. Some governments are given political government legitmacy because of their constitutionalism and level of democracy.

The government adheres to the rules of laws already predetermined as in a constitution and there are separations of power within branches of government as in the United States. This gives the United States government political legitimacy throughout the world.

By BrickBack — On Nov 10, 2010

Oasis11-Political reform is needed in Cuba because the country is going bankrupt. Their crops are not cultivating like they used to and there is no economy when you have a government run communist regime.

The fact that they had to let go of thousands of government workers speaks volumes. They have to realize that the government does not produce anything, only businesses do.

Therefore, allowing capitalism is the only way that this country can survive. People now have no incentive to produce because everything is taken away.

If people were able to keep a good portion of what they earned, which would be counter to the communist regime in Cuba, then they would actually have an economy to speak of and the government would not have to shelter the burden on rationing things.

By oasis11 — On Nov 10, 2010

Sunshine31-Authoritarian regimes like that seen in Cuba offer a political government that stifles the creativity and ingenuity of the public and makes them dependent on the government.

This has created such a problem in Cuba, that the government as had to lay off thousands of government workers.

After over 50 years of a repressive culture and political dictatorship, Raul Castro recently admitted that communism does not work.

He even went so far as to blame the Cuban people for not being productive enough, but the government took all of the opportunities away and gave the Cuban people no reason to work hard.

They would only be offered a meager sum of money for the effort which is why many have given up.

Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is also developing an authoritarian regime that does not allow dissent. This is also starting to develop in the Soviet Union to some degree, and Brazil, just elected a Marxist.

By sunshine31 — On Nov 10, 2010

Anom34520- I am so glad that you are interested in learning about different political institutions.

Often political legitimacy can only be given to political governments that offer political democracy and a form of free speech.

Some say that political decentralization offers the public more power, but it only works when enough participate in the political process. An active electorate is required for such a structure to achieve success.

By anon34520 — On Jun 24, 2009

i am too happy that i have accessibility to that political site, i take information from that, please put information about parliamentary regime and federal systems.

thank you

wali ahmad shirzad from Afghanistan

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