The Political Atlas (6/9) Constitutional Spectrum

[The cover image of every post in this series is an apolitical mock flag design of my own creation.The flower overlapping the star is a pansy, which represents Free Thought. I will eventually discuss political symbolism in Part 9.]

Before now, we focused on policy, as in the day to day opinions and values which individual actors adhere to while governing a state. But what about the differences between how a political state itself may be structured? That’s what this essay will explore–the various constitutional frameworks by which whole governments may be organized. This may sound simple, but the question of a state’s territorial as well as bureaucratic foundation may be broken down into several categories.

Territorial Administrative Structure

Sovereign State: in international law, a nonphysical juridical entity that is represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood that a sovereign state is neither dependent on nor subjected to any other power or state.

A state or political body may have internal divisions or it may not. In some cases, these divisions may have significant autonomy to make their own taxes or laws, or they may be more subordinate to the state or supra-national body. The two most common forms of state structure are the Unitary State and the Federation. The former is the most common system of government structure in the world, while the latter makes up the rest, including the United States.

Unitary States are governed by one single centralized seat of government. Any internal divisions are purely for the central government’s convenience. They may be created or abolished at any time. Their powers may be stripped or broadened to suit the purposes of the central government.

Federations, in contrast, are a union of partially self governing states overseen by a central government, whose powers are enumerated to it by those smaller regional states. The division of power is usually constitutionally entrenched and may not be altered unilaterally by either party.

Related to the Federation is the Confederation, also known as a Confederacy or League. This is defined as a union of completely sovereign states, often for the purpose of a defined common action between them, and usually created through a treaty. The balance of power between the individual states, and their government as compared to the union government, may vary considerably, but generally the central government is very weak and its actions non-binding. Member states of a Confederation maintain their sovereignty, and therefore may secede at any time. Some examples include the pre-Constitution USA, the Iroquois Confederation, Switzerland, and by some interpretations, the European Union, defunct League of Nations and even the modern United Nations.

Devolution is the statutory delegation of powers from the central government of a sovereign state to govern at a subnational level, such as a regional or local level. It is a form of administrative decentralization. Devolved territories have the power to make legislation relevant to the area. Devolution differs from federalism in that the devolved powers of the subnational authority may be temporary and are reversible, ultimately residing with the central government. Thus, the state remains de jure unitary.

Green countries are federations, blue are unitary states.

Secular Bureaucratic Structure

Monarchy: is a form of government in which a group, generally a family representing a dynasty(aristocracy), embodies the country’s national identity and its head, the monarch, exercises the role of sovereignty. The actual power of the monarch may vary from purely symbolic (crowned republic), to partial and restricted (constitutional monarchy), to completely autocratic (absolute monarchy). Traditionally the monarch’s post is inherited and lasts until death or abdication. In contrast, elective monarchies require the monarch to be elected.

  • Absolute Monarchy: or despotic monarchy, is a form of monarchy in which one ruler has supreme authority and where that authority is not restricted by any written laws, legislature, or customs. These are often, but not always, hereditary monarchies. In contrast, in constitutional monarchies, the head of state’s authority derives from and is legally bounded or restricted by a constitution or legislature.

  • Constitutional Monarchy: a form of monarchy in which the sovereign exercises authority in accordance with a written or unwritten constitution. Constitutional monarchy differs from absolute monarchy, in that constitutional monarchs are bound to exercise their powers and authorities within the limits prescribed within an established legal framework

Diarchy: a form of government characterized by corule, with two people ruling a polity together either lawfully or by collusion and force. The leaders of such a system are usually known as corulers. Corule is one of the oldest forms of government. Historical examples include Pandyan’s of Tamilakam, Sparta’s joint kingdom, Rome’s consuls, Carthage’s judges, and several ancient Polynesian societies.

Autocracy: a system of government in which supreme power (social and political) is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control (except perhaps for the implicit threat of a coup d’état or mass insurrection).

  • Despotism: a form of government in which a single entity rules with absolute power. Normally, that entity is an individual, the despot, as in an autocracy, but societies which limit respect and power to specific groups have also been called despotic. Colloquially, the word despot applies pejoratively to those who abuse their power and authority to oppress their populace, subjects, or subordinates. More specifically, the term often applies to a head of state or government. In this sense, it is similar to the pejorative connotations that are associated with the terms tyrant and dictator.

  • Dictatorship: an authoritarian form of government, characterized by a single leader or group of leaders with either no party or a weak party, little mass mobilization, and limited political pluralism. According to other definitions, democracies are regimes in which “those who govern are selected through contested elections;” therefore dictatorships are “not democracies”. Typically, in a dictatorial regime, the leader of the country is identified with the title of dictator. A common aspect that characterized dictators, is to take advantage of their strong personality, usually by suppressing freedom of thought and speech of the masses, in order to maintain political and social supremacy and stability. Dictatorship and totalitarian societies generally employ political propaganda to decrease the influence of proponents of alternative governing systems.

Oligarchy: a form of power structure in which power rests with a small number of people. These people might be distinguished by nobility, wealth, family ties, education or corporate, religious or military control. Such states are often controlled by families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next, but inheritance is not a necessary condition for the application of this term. Throughout history, oligarchies have often been tyrannical, relying on public obedience or oppression to exist.

  • Kraterocracy: “Might makes right” rule by the strongest, conquerors, invaders. “Woe to the Conquered”

  • Meritocracy: a political philosophy which holds that certain things, such as economic goods or power, should be vested in individuals on the basis of talent, effort and achievement. Advancement in such a system is based on performance, as measured through examination or demonstrated achievement.

  • Technocracy: a system of governance where decision-makers are selected on the basis of their expertise in their areas of responsibility, particularly scientific knowledge. This system explicitly contrasts with the notion that elected representatives should be the primary decision-makers in government, though it does not necessarily imply eliminating them. Leadership for decision- makers are selected on the basis of specialized knowledge and performance, rather than political affiliations or parliamentary skills.

  • Plutocracy: or plutarchy is a society that is ruled or controlled by people of great wealth or income. The first known use of the term was in 1631. Unlike systems such as democracy, capitalism, socialism or anarchism, plutocracy is not rooted in an established political philosophy. The concept of plutocracy may be advocated by the wealthy classes of a society in an indirect or surreptitious fashion, though the term itself is almost always used in a pejorative sense.

  • Aristocracy: a form of government that places power in the hands of a small, privileged ruling class. The term derives from the Greek aristokratia, meaning “rule of the best”. The term is synonymous with hereditary government, and hereditary succession is its primary philosophy, after which the hereditary monarch appoints officers as they see fit.

Demarchy: is the selection of political officials as a random sample from a larger pool of candidates. The logic behind the sortition process originates from the idea that “power corrupts.” For that reason, when the time came to choose individuals to be assigned to empowering positions, the ancient Athenians resorted to choosing by lot.

Democracy: is a system of government in which the citizens exercise power directly or elect representatives from among themselves to form a governing body, such as a parliament. Democracy is sometimes referred to as “rule of the majority”. Democracy is a system of processing conflicts in which outcomes depend on what participants do, but no single force controls what occurs and its outcomes. The uncertainty of outcomes is inherent in democracy, which makes all forces struggle repeatedly for the realization of their interests, being the devolution of power from a group of people to a set of rules.

  • Direct democracy or pure democracy is a form of democracy in which people decide on policy initiatives directly. This differs from the majority of most currently established democracies, which are representative.

  • Representative democracy: a type of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people, as opposed to direct democracy. Nearly all modern Western-style democracies are types of representative democracies; for example, the United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy, Ireland is a unitary parliamentary republic, and the United States is a federal republic.

  • Delegative democracy, also known as liquid democracy, is a form of democracy whereby an electorate has the option of vesting voting power in delegates rather than voting directly themselves. Voters can either vote directly or delegate their vote to other participants; voters may select a delegate for different issues. In other words, individual A of an X society can delegate its power to another individual B – and withdraw such power again at any time.

  • Liberal democracy is a liberal political ideology and a form of governmentin which representative democracy operates under the principles of classical liberalism. Also called western democracy, it is characterised by fair, free and competitive elections between multiple distinct political parties, a separation of powers into different branches of government, the rule of law in everyday life as part of an open society and the equal protection of human rights, civil rights, civil liberties and political freedoms for all people. To define the system in practice, liberal democracies often draw upon a constitution, either formally written or uncodified, to delineate the powers of government and enshrine the social contract.

  • Illiberal democracy, also called a partial democracy, low intensity democracy, empty democracy, or hybrid regime, is a governing system in which, although elections take place, citizens are cut off from knowledge about the activities of those who exercise real power because of the lack of civil liberties. It is not an “open society”. There are many countries “that are categorized as neither ‘free’ nor ‘not free’, but as ‘probably free’, falling somewhere between democratic and nondemocratic regimes”. This may be because a constitution limiting government powers exists, but those in power ignore its liberties, or because an adequate legal constitutional framework of liberties does not exist.

  • Guided democracy, also called managed democracy, is a formally democratic government that functions as a de facto autocracy. Such governments are legitimized by elections that are free and fair but lack the ability to change the state’s policies, motives, and goals. In other words, the government controls elections so that the people can exercise all their rights without truly changing public policy. While they follow basic democratic principles, there can be major deviations towards authoritarianism. Under managed democracy, the state’s continuous use of propaganda techniques prevents the electorate from having a significant impact on policy.

  • Social democracy is a political, social and economic ideology that supports economic and social interventions to promote social justice within the framework of a liberal democratic polity and capitalist economy. The protocols and norms used to accomplish this involve a commitment to representative and participatory democracy, measures for income redistribution, and regulation of the economy in the general interest, and welfare state provisions. Social democracy thus aims to create the conditions for capitalism to lead to greater democratic, egalitarian and solidaristic outcomes; and is often associated with the set of socioeconomic policies that became prominent in Northern and Western Europe—particularly the Nordic model in the Nordic countries—during the latter half of the 20th century.

Anarchy: the condition of a society, entity, group of people, or a single person that rejects hierarchy. Colloquially, it can also refer to a society experiencing widespread turmoil and collapse. The word originally meant leaderlessness, but in 1840 Pierre-Joseph Proudhon adopted the term in his treatise What Is Property? to refer to a new political philosophy: anarchism, which advocates stateless societies based on voluntary associations. In practical terms, anarchy can refer to the curtailment or abolition of traditional forms of government and institutions. It can also designate a nation (or anywhere on earth that is inhabited) that has no system of government or central rule.

Theological Bureaucratic Structure

Theocracy: a form of government in which a deity is the source from which all authority derives. A system of government in which priests rule in the name of God or a god.

Ecclesiocracy: a situation where the religious leaders assume a leading role in the state, but do not claim that they are instruments of divine revelation: for example, the prince-bishops of the European Middle Ages, where the bishop was also the temporal ruler. Such a state may use the administrative hierarchy of the religion for its own administration, or it may have two ‘arms’—administrators and clergy—but with the state administrative hierarchy subordinate to the religious hierarchy.

Caesaropapism: the idea of combining the power of secular government with the religious power, or of making secular authority superior to the spiritual authority of the Church; especially concerning the connection of the Church with government. In its extreme form, caesaropapism is a political theory in which the head of state, notably the emperor (“Caesar”, by extension a “superior” king), is also the supreme head of the church (papa, pope or analogous religious leader). In this form, caesaropapism inverts theocracy in which institutions of the church control the state. However, both caesaropapism and theocracy are systems in which there is no separation of church and state and in which the two form parts of a single power-structure.

State Religion (also called an established religion or official religion) is a religious body or creed officially endorsed by the state. A state with an official religion, while not secular, is not necessarily a theocracy, a country whose rulers have both secular and spiritual authority. State religions are official or government-sanctioned establishments of a religion, but the state does not need be under the control of the religion (as in a theocracy) nor is the state-sanctioned religion necessarily under the control of the state.

Secularism is the principle of the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institution and religious dignitaries (the attainment of such is termed secularity). One manifestation of secularism is asserting the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, or, in a state declared to be neutral on matters of belief, from the imposition by government of religion or religious practices upon its people. Another manifestation of secularism is the view that public activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be uninfluenced by religious beliefs or practices.

State Atheism, according to Oxford University Press’s A Dictionary of Atheism, “is the name given to the incorporation of positive atheism or non-theism into political regimes, particularly associated with Soviet systems.” In contrast, a secular state purports to be officially neutral in matters of religion, supporting neither religion nor irreligion. State atheism may refer to a government’s anti-clericalism, which opposes religious institutional power and influence in all aspects of public and political life, including the involvement of religion in the everyday life of the citizen.

States that currently (red) or previously (pink) practiced State Atheism.

Christian Democracy & Economics

Christian Democracy is a political ideology that emerged in nineteenth-century Europe under the influence of Catholic social teaching, as well as Neo-Calvinism. Christian democratic political ideology advocates for a commitment to social market principles and qualified interventionism. It was conceived as a combination of modern democratic ideas and traditional Christian values. In practice, Christian democracy is often considered center-right on cultural, social, and moral issues (and is thus a supporter of social conservatism), and it is considered center-left “with respect to economic and labor issues, civil rights, and foreign policy” as well as the environment. Specifically, with regard to its fiscal stance, Christian democracy advocates a social market economy.

Social Market Economy: also called Rhine capitalism, is a socioeconomic model combining a free market capitalist economic system alongside social policies which establish both fair competition within the market and a welfare state. It is sometimes classified as a coordinated market economy. The social market economy was designed to be a third way between laissez-faire economic liberalism and socialist economics.

Sphere Sovereignty also known as differentiated responsibility, is the concept that each sphere (or sector) of life has its own distinct responsibilities and authority or competence, and stands equal to other spheres of life. Sphere sovereignty involves the idea of an all encompassing created order, designed and governed by God. This created order includes societal communities (such as those for purposes of education, worship, civil justice, agriculture, economy and labor, marriage and family, artistic expression, etc.), their historical development, and their abiding norms. The principle of sphere sovereignty seeks to affirm and respect creational boundaries, and historical differentiation. Sphere sovereignty implies that no one area of life or societal community is sovereign over another

Distributism is an economic ideology that developed in Europe in the late 19th and early 20th century based upon the principles of Catholic social teaching, especially the teachings of Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum novarum and Pope Pius XI in Quadragesimo anno. According to distributists, property ownership is a fundamental right, and the means of production should be spread as widely as possible, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state capitalism), a few individuals (plutocracy), or corporations (corporatocracy). Distributism, therefore, advocates a society marked by widespread property ownership. Distributism has often been described in opposition to both socialism and capitalism, which distributists see as equally flawed and exploitative.

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