Wednesday, 17 August 2011

What is the best form of government in modern times?

Again, apologies for my endless slackitude. I blame a caucasian upper-middle class upbringing.
Also I do have a good excuse, because today I climbed mountains and got lost in the bush with a friend. I kid you not.

So, as you may have inferred from the title, in this post I would like to question modern forms of government. Ironically, "what is the best form of government in modern times?" might not be the best question to ask, for the simple reason that it begs the question of "what is the best?"

For me, the answer is stability, security and freedom. Obviously you can't have a perfect 10 out of 10 for all three however since security and stability often gets in the way of our freedoms. An example of this is laws that condemn murder as a crime; being able to kill someone is a freedom, but only by taking away that freedom can we ensure the security (in this case safety) of citizens' lives. I would happily give up that freedom as would most people. But the line has to be drawn somewhere, unless of course you want to be thrown in prison for thinking the country could be running a tinsy bit better than what it currently is.

So it's more like a triangle diagram. Unfortunately it is quite possible to be quite lacking in all three categories, as citizens of certain african or south american nations would attest.

So what are our options?

Of the forms of governments tried we have:

Autocracy: one person has absolute power. presumably can be as stable, secure and free as you like but historically, autocracies tend to be high on security and low on everything else. Absolute monarchies are a more stable version of autocracies, since the ruling monarch generally tries not to stuff things up too much so that when their offspring grow up they can handle the state's affairs without too much grief.

Notable Autocracies: pretty much every medieval nation. Also I would consider "communist" Russia under Stalin an autocracy since Stalin had absolute power. Oh and Nazi Germany was an autocracy (after Hitler got elected of curse).

Representation: Where the people get to vote for politicians/parties who "represent" their interests, the politician/parties who gets the most votes gets to call all the shots and wields executive power until next election. I would also include "constitutional monarchies" under the representation banner too. I mean technically the Queen of England has some power but in reality, we all know who calls the shots. Historically, republics, tend to have a nice balance of

Notable Republics: Every western nation that calls itself a "democracy". Ancient Rome was a republic for a time.

Oligarchy: Wikipedia has a whole list of governments and puts oligarchy underneath the autocracy banner. I beg to differ. If a state is not being run by one person (autocracy) or by everyone (democracy) then it must be being run by a few people. There is a latin (and greek) term for this: oligarchia. Historically oligarchies also tend to have a good balance of freedom, security and stability. Coincidentally, oligachies of history have primarily consisted of old men making the big decisions. Maybe old people aren't so bad after all. Well except for the lackthereof when it comes to technological progress...

Notable oligarchies: Ancient Sparta, Aborigines before white settlement, pretty much all hunter-gatherer societies.

AAAAAAAAND that's it. Honestly, that's all that's really been tried.

"But what about democracy? Why did you leave that out?" I hear you ask.
Well, I left democracy out because that was a list of governments that humans have actually tried. We have never tried democracy. Ancient Athens came pretty close, but a democracy is where everyone votes on decisons of the state and in Ancient Athens only a few people got to vote. If you were a woman or a slave or a prisoner, then you didn't get the vote. What do we call a system of government where a few people make the decisions? An oligarchy.

While oligarchys are usually pretty good when it comes to internal security, stability and freedom, oligarchies have alwasy been burdened with the fact that nothing ever really changes. Technological progress stagnates. I don;t know about you, but a world without innovation seems not only boring but potentially dangerous. We as a species need to adapt and technology is our best tool for society to adapt.

So what are we left with?
Historically, autocracies are pretty good at stability and security, but lack the freedom of republics. But since, no modern day republic allows people the freedom to kill each other, I am happy to sacrifice a little security to gain a little liberty.

So out of what has been tried and tested, I am quite content with things the way they are in my humble oceanic nation.

As for what hasn't been tried yet... I'll leave that to next blog post...


  1. Wasn't it Plato who said that no city-state can funciton once it hits like 10,000 citizens or something?

    While 10,000 might be lowballing in the wake of our communication and media technologies, size seems to me to matter: Would ANY form of centralized government work in an area as big as Russia?

    The other thing is, I guess, that just because a form of government works best right this second in this particular society, does not mean it's going to translate across time (in the same place) and place (across different places).

    I don't know.
    I vote for cryptocracy - where you get rules and laws from somewhere but you don't know where. Hell, why not?

  2. i'm pretty sure the USA was a republic before France.

  3. USA doesn't count because it wasn't part of the "Western" world back then, it was a colonial backwater :P.

  4. Anarchism - hellz yeah. But, seriously, not anarchism in the sense that everyone runs wild and destroys everything, but in the sense that we don't need a centralized government/or whatever type of institution to dictate to us laws and such. If there were a few basic and agreed upon 'norms' like, you can do whatever you want to do as long as it doesn't directly or to some extent indirectly harm other people, then I think society might flourish. But then again, education and understanding for the population would be essential for that type of society to exist, and last.

  5. Good thing you found a way out of those bushes : P When it comes to the governments: Churchill once said "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." I personally think that the representation is probably the most efficient 'flavour' of democracy itself. The problem is, it's very easy to spoil. The best would probably be electing politicians to be our representatives, but at the same time: make it a kind of an 'honour' without any salaries or whatever you call it. Then again, an additional 'unit' should keep an eye on them to prevent any form of corruption or lobbying. I guess that would work well, yet it's still very utopian.

  6. I think once in the voting stage of the competition, American Idol could be counted as a true Democracy.

  7. Really interesting post. I think the USA is headed towards a Theocracy, actually.

  8. My vote is for a representative government, it's not perfect, but the least objectionable

  9. Soooo. When you said you climbed mountains and got lost in a bush, I immediately thought "he got laid, OMG CONGRATULATIONS KID!"

    ...I wonder what that says about my state of mind. *sighs*

    Very informative post. Sadly, I tend to associate "republic" with "republicans;" as in "conservative gay-haters" rather than "Julius Caesar."