Main Page Table of Contents Contact & Donate Rules of Quotation Printable Version Theory Chronology
MECHANICS OF HISTORY  -  laws to understand the histtory

A new classification of political systems presented here is an answer for one question that obsessed me since 1986 (as I recall):
“Why 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?)”
The answer came after Autumn of Nations (1989) when I found that there are strong analogies between XVIIIth century Great Britain and Rome in IVth century BC.

There are only three political systems: feudal, populistic, and democratic

Natural route of evolution for a political 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 state 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 to 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 including 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 them 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 from cities. But there are still many poor peasants, and poor people living in cities who are very susceptible to populistic ideologies, and often becomes political clients of strongest group of political interests (GPI) like: rich plantation owners, rich traders, religious fanatics or government bureaucracy. In consequence the ruling group could easily dominate the rest of community using ideologies, money, some administrative means (tools) or terror.

Some important characteristics of populistic system include:

  • 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 and emotions.

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, Florence, Genua, 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 (1868-1948)
  • and many XXth century dictatorships, and quasi-democratic countries like India (1947-1998) or Mexico (1822-1997)

Short definition of democratic system

Democratic system usually emerges when most of 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 there 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 examples here).

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 controlled.

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 voting 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 income
  • 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 every country 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 political systems

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 versa).
  • 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 democratic system.
  • 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 USSR.
  • The “higher” is the country political system, the greater ability to expansion has that country. As a rule of thumb we can expect that feudal country could conquer lands with population from 0.5 to 1 times its population, populistic country could conquer lands with population from 3 to 4 times its population, and democratic country could conquer lands with population from 30 to 40 times its population. Then the country’s political system is starting to decompose. As you can see populistic system ability to expansion about 6 times exceeds feudal system ability to expansion, and democratic system ability to expansion 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 mistakes.
  • 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 outright idiots are always a margin.
Similar argumentation we can use when comparing the efficiency of feudal system, and populistic system.

Differences 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 democratic systerm.

First, and most important:
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 abuses.

The best illustration 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:

  1. Government could have a special (usually secret) funds to buy votes in parliament
  2. Voting districts could be intentionally constructed, so the ruling group (GPI) will always win
  3. Different social classes could have very different voting rights
  4. Political opposition have no real opportunity to control votes counting during elections
  5. Opposition politicians or journalists are continuously killed or terrorized
  6. Opposition politicians are blocked from public functions by the government using the administrative means
  7. Opposition politicians are forced to emigrate
  8. Parliament have no real control over the government finances
  9. 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
  10. Government have financial control over all important mass-media
  11. Government control all paper plants, and printing houses, and thus could threat the free press
  12. 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
  13. Government could control (position "our people" here) most courts, so courts will be not really independent, and courts' verdicts will be always against political opposition.
  14. Discussion in parliament focuses on abstractive ideas like: "honor", "national proud" or "imponderabilies", not on real problems like a country budget
  15. 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
  16. Political parties have their own paramilitary organizations
  17. Parliament is permanently threaten by political demonstrations organized by some political party or politicians
  18. Parliament is permanently threaten with army or paramilitary organizations
  19. 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)
  20. There is an extended political censorship

Important note:

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

Political strength of a single human or institution

The useful tool that helps understand 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 strength when they are offering capital, labour-workers get some strength when they sell 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 resources.

Political strength is higher when demand for the “things” that a man offers is high, and is lower when that demand is low. So, sometimes merchants or capital-owners could have a great political strength, but another time labour workers or government administrators 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.

Remember - 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 alliances.

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 about current economic situation, and historical processes, we can estimate future strength of each GPI that will be present on the political scene of particular country.

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 land-owners.

But I have seen countries that became democratic when there was a little more than 30% of city-dwellers, and countries 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).

Stylistic corrections, December 2005
Slawomir Dzieniszewski

Main Page Table of Contents Contact with Author Rules of Quotation Theory Chronology Printable Version
MECHANICS OF HISTORY  -  laws to understand the histtory