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A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems. However, this is a very simplified view of a much more complex system of categories involving the questions of who should have authority and what the government's influence on its people and economy should be.
Anthropologists generally recognize four kinds of political systems, two of which are uncentralized and two of which are centralized.
- Uncentralized systems
- Band society
- Small family group, no larger than an extended family or clan; it has been defined as consisting of no more than 30 to 50 individuals.
- A band can cease to exist if only a small group walks out.
- Generally larger, consisting of many families. Tribes have more social institutions, such as a chief or elders.
- More permanent than bands. Many tribes are sub-divided into bands.
- Band society
- Centralized governments
- More complex than a tribe or a band society, and less complex than a state or a civilization
- Characterized by pervasive inequality and centralization of authority.
- A single lineage/family of the elite class becomes the ruling elite of the chiefdom
- Complex chiefdoms have two or even three tiers of political hierarchy.
- "An autonomous political unit comprising a number of villages or communities under the permanent control of a paramount chief"
- Sovereign state
- A sovereign state is a state with a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states.
- Supranational political systems
- Supranational political systems are created by independent nations to reach a common goal or gain strength from forming an alliance.
- Empires are widespread states or communities under a single rule. They are characterized by the rulers desire for unanimous religious affiliation or posing as threat for other empires in times of war.* Empires often made considerable progress in ways of democratic structures, creating and building city infrastructures, and maintaining civility within the diverse communities. Because of the intricate organization of the empires, they were often able to hold a large majority of power on a universal level.*
- Leagues are international organizations composed of states coming together for a single common purpose.* In this way leagues are different from empires, as they only seek to fulfill a single goal. Often leagues are formed on the brink of a military or economic downfall. Meetings and hearings are conducted in a neutral location with representatives of all involved nations present.
The sociological interest in political systems is figuring out who holds the power in the relationship of the government and its people and how the government’s power is used. There are three types of political systems that sociologists consider.
- In authoritarian governments, the people have no power or representation and it is characterized by absolute or blind obedience to [formal] authority, as against individual freedom and related to the expectation of unquestioning obedience. The elite leaders handle all economic, military, and foreign relations. Dictatorships are examples of authoritarianism.
- Totalitarianism is the most extreme form of authoritarianism because it controls all aspects of life including communication between citizens, censors the media, and threatens by means of terror.
- A monarchy is a government controlled by a king or queen determined by a predisposed line of sovereignty. In other words, it can be seen as an undivided rule or absolute sovereignty by a single person. In the modern world there are two types of monarchies, absolute monarchies and constitutional monarchies. An absolute monarchy works like a dictatorship in that the king has complete rule over his country. A constitutional monarchy gives the royal family limited powers and usually works in accordance with an elected body of officials. Social revolutions of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century overthrew the majority of existing monarchies in favor of a more democratic governments and the rise of the middle class.
- A democracy is a form of government in which the citizens create and vote for laws directly, or indirectly via representatives (democratic republic). The idea of democracy stems back from ancient Greece and the profound works of ancient academics. However, the presence of democracy does not always mean citizen’s wishes will be equally represented. For example, in many democratic countries immigrants, and racial and ethnic minorities do not receive the same rights as the majority citizens.
- Ming dynasty
- Political structure
- Tractatus Politicus
- Voting system
- Haviland, W.A. (2003). Anthropology: Tenth Edition. Wadsworth:Belmont, CA.
- Almond, Gabriel A., et al. Comparative Politics Today: A World View (Seventh Edition). 2000. ISBN 0-316-03497-5.
- Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. The Real World An Introduction to Sociology. 3rd ed. New York City: W W Norton & Co, 2012. Print.
- "political system". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
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- For further resources on political theory and the mechanics of political system design, see the Governance and Social Development Resource Centre's topic guide on political systems