1. POLS101 Week 5 Part 1 L15
Governments, Systems and Regimes
Mr. Siyabonga Nxumalo
NxumaloS2@ukzn.ac.za 033 260 5309
NAB Room 336A
Consultation times: Mon:10h30-12h00, Wed:11h30-13h00
Required Reading: Heywood, Chapter 12, 4th edition: What is Politics?
2. 1. Classifying political systems.
• The classification of political systems aids
understanding by helping to highlight similarities
and differences between otherwise shapeless
collections of facts. Regimes have been classified
on a variety of bases. ‘Classical’ typologies,
stemming from Aristotle, concentrated on
constitutional arrangements and institutional
structures (Who rules? Who benefits from rule?)
• The ‘three worlds’ approach highlighted material
and ideological differences between the systems
found in ‘first world’ capitalist, ‘second world’
communist and ‘third world’ developing states.
• It also helps us to evaluate the effectiveness or
success of different political systems.
3. 2. Criteria which affect classification:
No system of classification relies on just one single factor – a variety of
political, economic and cultural factors come into play:
• Who rules?
• How is compliance achieved?
• Is government power centralized or fragmented?
• How is government power acquired and transferred?
• What is the balance between the state and the individual?
• What is the level of material development?
• How is economic life organized?
• How stable is a regime?
4. 3. Regimes of the modern world.
A. Western polyarchies
• Broadly equivalent to regimes classified as ‘liberal democracies’.
• Polyarchy means “rule by many”.
• The term was used by Robert A. Dahl to describe a form of government in which
power is invested in multiple people - a political system in which power is dispersed
e.g multiparty government, interest groups, individuals etc,
• High tolerance of opposition, which can check the arbitrary inclinations of
government. This is manifest in a competitive party system, institutionally protected
• Opportunities for participating in politics should be sufficiently widespread to
guarantee a reliable level of popular responsiveness.
• Some western polyarchies are biased in favour of centralization and majority rule,
and others tend towards fragmentation and pluralism.
5. 3. Regimes of the modern world (cont…)
B. New democracies
• Refers to democracies which emerged after the third wave of democratization in
1974 (Huntington, 1991).
• Overthrow of right wing dictatorships in Spain, Greece, and Portugal.
• The process of democratic transition has been both complex and difficult,
highlighting the fact that liberal democracy may not be the ‘default position’ for
Problems faced by postcommunist regimes:
• The lack of a civic culture built around participation, bargaining and consensus can
produce a weak, fragmented party system (e.g. Russia).
• The transition from central planning to laissez-faire capitalism unleashed deep
securities due to the initial growth in unemployment and inflation.
6. 3. Regimes of the modern world (cont…)
C. East Asian regimes
• Are oriented more around economic rather than political goals.
• Support for ‘strong’ government.
• Confucian emphasis on loyalty, discipline and duty. This reduces the scope for
assimilation of ideas like human rights and individualism but focus on the good
of the community / society as a whole.
Confucianism rests upon the belief that human beings are fundamentally good,
and teachable, improvable, and perfectible through personal and communal
endeavor, especially self-cultivation and self-creation. Confucian thought focuses
on the cultivation of virtue in a morally organised world.
7. 3. Regimes of the modern world (cont…)
D. Islamic regimes
• Political Islam aims at the construction of a theocracy in which political and other
affairs are structured according to ‘higher’ religious principles. Nevertheless,
political. Theocracy is a country / government that is ruled by religious leader/s.
• Islam has assumed clearly contrasting forms, ranging from fundamentalist to
• The fundamentalist version of Islam is most commonly associated with Iran. The
Iranian system of government is a complex mix of theocracy and democracy. All
legislation is ratified by the Council for the Protection of the Constitution, which
ensures conformity to Islamic principles.
• Muslims themselves have often objected to the classification of any Islamic regime
as ‘fundamentalist’, because this perpetuates long-established western prejudices
8. 3. Regimes of the modern world (cont…)
E. Military regimes
• The key feature of a military regime is that the leading posts in the
government are filled on the basis of the person’s position within the military
chain of command.
Differences between military regimes:
• Junta regimes: characterized by rivalry between the services and between
leading figures, the consequence being that formal positions of power tend to
change hands relatively frequently.
• Military-backed personalized dictatorship: a single individual gains pre-
eminence within the junta or regime, often being bolstered by a cult of
personality (see p. 302) designed to manufacture charismatic authority.