new classification of political systems presented here is an answer for
one question that obsessed me since 1986 (as I recall):
a small city-state of Rome for a few hundred years won almost every war
step-by-step building an empire. (What was the reason for such
aberration of the statistics?)”
answer came after Autumn of Nations (1989) when I found that there are
strong analogies between XVIIIth century Great Britain and Rome in IVth
There are only three political systems: feudal,
Natural route of evolution for a
system of any state (contry) is from feudal system thorough populistic
to democratic. It is the consequence of increasing
percentage of people living in cities.
Generally, the more people live in cities the
"higher" the political system is.
So the process is reversible. Populistic
can turn back to feudal. Democratic state can turn back to populistic
(however this happened only once! See the political evolution of Roman Empire or visit this page).
Every higher political system is more
effective than lower ones. Country with higher political system usually
have more effective economy, more effective institutions, more
effective army, and diplomacy. Moreover, country with higher political
system have a higher ability to expansion.
When you will read definitions below, please
remember: dolphin is not a fish, even it likes as one. Its internal
construction proves that this fish-looking animal is actually a mammal.
The same is true for definitions of political systems presented here - the key element of this definition is
the internal mechanics of political system -
so read carefully and make an effort to understand them.
Short definition of feudal system
Definition of feudal system is very similar
the definition presented by Karl Marx. The ruling class is a noble
class. Political power comes from land. Usually only nobles have
citizens laws, and have political monopoly. Social hierarchy have a
shape of pyramid with a monarch on the top. Social hierarchy have a
shape of pyramid with a monarch on the top. Social mobility between
different classes is very limited (or not possible).
Feudal system have a few sub-systems
despotism, absolute monarchy or noble-democracy with strong
parliament (like in England, Hungary or Poland).
Not only medieval countries were feudal
states. Many ancient states like Egypt or Assyria or Persian Empire
were feudal too.
Short definition of populistic system
Like previous system, populistic system have
many varieties: starting from totalitarian ones thorough authoritarian
ones, many kinds of dictatorships (including military ones like junta
or religious dictatorships), tyrannies to varieties that have
republican or quasi-democratic form of government.
They are look so different. So why put
together in one basket?
Because internal mechanics of changing
government, and laws of ruling are the same for every one of
sub-systems I have mentioned. Under some conditions one variety could
easily evolve into another. Quasi-democratic republic could become
totalitarian state, and vice versa.
In populistic states political power comes
cities. But there are still many poor peasants, and poor people living
cities who are very susceptible to populistic ideologies, and often
political clients of strongest group of political interests (GPI)
like: rich plantation owners, rich traders, religious fanatics or
bureaucracy. In consequence the ruling group could easily dominate the
of community using ideologies, money, some administrative means (tools)
Some important characteristics of populistic
- There are no effectively functioning institutions that
protects the laws of political opposition, that guarantees the freedom
of speech or citizens laws.
- Mobility between different social classes is higher than
in the feudal system but is still often restricted.
- Government often changes in a very dramatic way: with
revolution, coup d`etat, political upheaval.
- Even if populistic state has democratic-like or republican
form, all political discussions are strongly saturated with ideology
Sometimes, when the strength of different
political groups are almost equal, and country economy prospers,
populistic system could have form very similar to democracy. I will
refer to this variety of populistic system as "quasi-democratic".
Examples of populistic states include:
- almost all ancient city-states including Sparta, Athens, Carthage or Corinth.
- medieval, and renaissance "merchant republics" like Venice,
Switzerland or Great Novogorod
- post "merchant-revolution" (or "burgeois revolution"
using Marx terminology) states like Netherlands, England (1642-1689)
France (1789-1876), Spain (1810-1976) Germany (1848-1948), oe Japan
- and many XXth century dictatorships, and quasi-democratic
India (1947-1998) or Mexico (1822-1997)
Short definition of democratic system
Democratic system usually emerges when most
the country population live in cities. There are a strong group of
middle-income citizens (we can call them "middle class"). There
is a STABLE balance between the major political powers.
Because of that balance, a political group that hold government cannot
dominate over other political groups, and thus cannot restrict
or shrink political laws of opposition parties and individual citizens.
That balance is responsible for birth of
institutions like freedom of speech, civil rights, free press,
independent court system, etc. which preserve democratic system,
and thus made it very stable.
So stable that democracy NEVER falls (actually
was one exception). All examples of "fallen democracy" are actually
examples of quasi-democratic form of populistic system changing to more
repressive form of populistic system (case of Mussolini or Hitler are great
IMPORTANT NOTE: Democratic system is not "the
rule of majority" it is the system where "minority rights are
well-protected", and politicians (especially government) are well
Democratic system is not the system where all
citizens have right to vote (in many populistic systems all citiziens
also have voting rights). Actually some times in democratic countries
rights could be more restrictive to protect community against the
danger of "political clientelism".
Here are some most important characteristics
of democratic system:
- There are set of civil rights like Bill of the Rights or
first 10 amendments to USA Constitution
- There are effective and functioning
institutions that protect civil and political rights of citizens
- Parliament has a control over government spendings and
- Political system changes in an evolutionary way. There is NO
revolutions, coups d`etat or serious political upheavals. Democratic
institutions and political balance are too strong so this is impossible.
Examples of democratic states:
First democratic state, and only one example
of democracy before the modern times was:
There was only one case when democracy had fallen. In modern times
that become democratic stays democratic till now. Here are
the oldest democracies in order of appearance:
- England since 1689
- Sweden since 1809
- Belgium (probably since 1830)
- Netherlands, and Switzerland since 1848 (but Protestant
cantons of Switzerland was democratic a few years before)
- USA since 1865 (but
New England states of USA was democratic since more
or less 1780)
- France since more or less 1875
Basic laws for
There are many laws linked with political
systems. Here are a few most important:
- Democratic countries
do not wage war against each other. (Best example is
the war of 1812 between Great Britain, and USA when New England states
of USA effectively did not wage war against Great Britain, and vice
- Moreover, democratic countries are often in one alliance
during the war that are great threat to one of them.
- Machiavellian politic tricks are effective in populistic
state, and are not working in democratic state. Of course it not means
that they are not used by politicians. People are free to make
mistakes. It only means that this kind of tricks which are standard
political techniques in the populistic system, are exceptions in
- Because of stronger
mechanisms of public control of the government, political
scandals are more often observed in democratic countries - in
populistic states most of them remains hidden. Watergate in USA becomes
a scandal but the same time eavesdropping the opposition was a
"standard procedure" in a country like for example Poland, Chile or
- The “higher” is the
country political system, the greater ability to expansion has that
As a rule of thumb we can expect that feudal country could conquer
with population from 0.5 to 1 times its population, populistic country
could conquer lands with population from 3 to 4 times its population,
democratic country could conquer lands with population from 30 to 40
its population. Then the country’s political system is starting to
As you can see populistic system ability to expansion about 6 times
feudal system ability to expansion, and democratic system ability to
about 10 times exceeds populistic system ability of expansion.
There are three basic reasons, why democratic
system is more effective than populistic.
- First, all important
groups of citizens have real political laws, and thus
they are protected from overexploitation by some other group of
citizens. Democratic country works like an living organism, where all
vital organs gains enough share of common resources to make organism
work as effective as possible. Especially, there is no way in
democratic system to create a situation when some part of community
pays all cost of country policy (for example a war), and the other part
gains all benefits of this policy.
- Second, freedom of speech, and "the free market of
opinions" usually protects democratic country from making major
- And finally, there is a "positive selection" of
politicians, so the political class of the democratic country (even if
it is hard to believe) is usually made of quite intelligent humans.
Brainwashed fanatics, megalomaniacs that don't see natural limits, or
idiots are always a margin.
Similar argumentation we can use when comparing the efficiency of
feudal system, and populistic system.
between populistic system, and democratic system
First I have to mention that more than 50%
countries that are commonly called “democratic” were (and are) really a
“quasi-democratic” populistic states. Sometimes is very hard do
differentiate real democratic country from quasi-democratic. So, here I
present some flaws of quasi-democratic countries that help us to
distinguish “quasi-democratic (really populistic) system from true
Quasi-democratic populistic states often have the same institutions as
real democracy have: free election, officially independent courts,
freedom of speech, civil rights. But they are not working (are not
“active”), they are only printed on paper - so these guaranties really
do not protect citizens, and political opposition from government
could be this short political joke from Poland (popular when Poland was
under communists rule, before 1989):
- What is the difference between the Consttitution of Poland, and the
Constitution of USA?
- Our Constitution guaranties the freedom of speech, and the
Constitution of USA guaranties the freedom AFTER the speech.
So, If we want test whether some country is
really a democracy or acually a populistic state pretending to be a
democracy, we have to look how the democratic institutions really work
in that country.
Here a list of a few, more common flaws of
political system in quasi-democratic countries:
- Government could have a special (usually secret) funds to
buy votes in parliament
- Voting districts could be intentionally constructed,
so the ruling group (GPI)
will always win
- Different social classes could have very different voting
- Political opposition have no real opportunity to control
votes counting during elections
- Opposition politicians or journalists are continuously
killed or terrorized
- Opposition politicians are blocked from public functions by
the government using the administrative means
- Opposition politicians are forced to emigrate
- Parliament have no real control over the government
- There is a group in
parliament, we can call "swamp" (term taken from French
history) that have no strong political backbone, and always votes in
an opportunistic way. Usually according to the wishes of the power that
is the strongest at the moment
- Government have financial control over all important
- Government control all paper plants, and printing houses,
and thus could threat the free press
- Large groups of peoples could be financial-dependent from
local oligarchs (it is the "political clientelism"), so they will
always vote according to the wishes of their patrons
- Government could control (position "our people" here) most
courts, so courts will be not really independent, and courts' verdicts
be always against political opposition.
- Discussion in parliament focuses on abstractive ideas like:
"honor", "national proud" or "imponderabilies", not on real problems
like a country budget
- All political life (i.e. for example political comments in
mass-media, political alliances, political programs of major parties,
etc.) are strongly saturated with ideology
- Political parties have their own paramilitary organizations
- Parliament is permanently threaten by political
demonstrations organized by some political party or politicians
- Parliament is permanently threaten with army or
- Major political parties hates each other so much that can't
cooperate at all
(its a consequence of great role of ideologies in political life)
- There is an extended political censorship
When populistic system changes to democratic
system, there is often (especially in times of economic crisis) a few
years long "intermediary period" when is hard to say if that particular
country is yet a democracy or is still populistic.
Example: Spain is democracy since more or less 1976 but in
1979 an unit of Guardia Civil (Spanish gandarmerie) tried to
take a rule over the country (as I said before coup d’etat is nearly
impossible in a democratic country).
And now is time to present some tables
and chronologicaly ordered maps
strength of a single human or institution
The useful tool that helps
historical processes is a political strength of a man
(human). Every person that is involved in some market (or market-like)
transaction with other member of the community, gets some political
strength. The useful tool that helps understand historical processes is
a political strength of a man (human).
Capital-owners get some political
they are offering capital, labour-workers get some strength when they
they work, consumers get some strength when they are buying goods,
shop-owners when they are selling goods, traders when they make
transactions, managers when they manage the factories or corporations,
and government bureaucrats when they administrate the country’s
Political strength is higher when
for the “things” that a man offers is high, and is lower when that
is low. So, sometimes merchants or capital-owners could have a great
political strength, but another time labour workers or government
will have greater political strength.
When someone is not involved in
market transactions of any kind, he (or she) have no political strength.
Therefore, poor peasants that consumes most of the food produced on
their farms have a very low political strenght. Similarly, women before
XX century had very low political strength, because they were
overloaded by household work, and had almost no contact with market.
- political strength is only a theoreticall construct (like ex. energy
in physics) that helps to understand internal distribution of political
power in human communities (like country) and the pattern of political
Groups of Political Interests (GPI)
When a group of people have common political
interests, they form Group of Political Interests (GPI).
Because groups of political interests could be very variable, and
sometimes are only
temporary alliances, I don’t use here a term social class.
Using the concept of political strength, and having a basic knowledge
current economic situation, and historical processes, we can estimate
strength of each GPI that will be present on the political scene of
As you can see now, the political system is
not really a function of urbanization of the country, but rather a
function of percentage of citizens involved in market exchange.
However cities are high organized systems,
where people are involved in many market transactions, and even the
poorest city-dwellers have to buy food, and some other goods. In
consequence, differences in political strength between the rich, and
the poor city-dwellers are not so great, and could be neutralized by
the mass character of organizations that represents political interests
of poor people. So cities "helps" higher political systems.
On the other hand, farmers could be easily
pushed down to the status of peasants (which not sell anything on the
market) in the time of crisis, and then easily dominated by the great
But I have seen countries that became
democratic when there was a little more than 30% of city-dwellers, and
that became democratic when they have over 70% of city-dwellers
(average is about 50% of city-dwellers for democratic system and about
30% of city-dwellers for the populistic system).
corrections, December 2005