On the Forms of Government

1. The supreme authority usually produces different forms or government, according as it is found in the possession of a single man, of a council consisting of a few, or of one including all.

2. And the forms of government are either regular or irregular. The former are found where the supreme authority is so concentrated in a single entity, that, from a single will, it is conveyed to every part and concern of the state, without division and separation. Where this is not found, the form of government will be irregular.

3. Of the regular state there are three forms: first, when the supreme authority is in the hands of one man, and is called monarchy; second, when the supreme authority is in the hands of a council composed of selected citizens only, and is called aristocracy; third, when the supreme authority is in the hands of a council composed of all the heads of households, and is called democracy. In the first the possessor of power is called a monarch, in the second the nobles, in the third the people.

4. In all these forms the power is indeed the same. But monarchy has this conspicuous advantage over the other forms, that there deliberation and decision, that is, the actual exercise of government, do not demand the naming of times and places, but can take place anywhere and at any time, so that the monarch has always the power immediately to perform acts of government. But for a decision of nobles and people, who are not one natural person, they must come together at a fixed place and time, and there deliberate and decide in regard to public affairs. For otherwise the will of senate and people, which results from the unanimous opinions of a majority, cannot be learned.

5. But, as with other rights, so also with the supreme authority, it happens in one place to be well administered, in another ill and unwisely. Hence some states are called healthy, others unhealthy and corrupt. Yet it is unnecessary to invent special forms, or species, of state, in view of such maladies. As for the maladies, however, which afflict states, some are connected with persons, others with the state itself. Hence some are called personal defects, others constitutional.

6. Personal defects in a monarchy are these: if he who occupies the throne is devoid of the arts of reigning, and unconcerned, or insufficiently concerned, for the state, and prostitutes it to be rent asunder by the ambition or avarice of unworthy ministers; or if he is dreaded for his cruelty and proneness to anger; if, even without necessity, he delights in exposing the state to danger; if by extravagance or unwise largesses he dissipates the resources gathered to meet the expenses of the state; if he unreasonably accumulates money extorted from the citizens; if he is insulting and unjust, or has any other faults by which one gains the name of a bad prince.

7. Personal defects in an aristocracy are these: if by intrigue and base arts a way into the senate is open to wicked or incompetent men, while their betters are excluded; if the nobles are divided by factions; if they try to abuse the commons as if slaves, and to increase their private patrimony by appropriating the possessions of the state.

8. Personal defects in a democracy are these: if incompetent and turbulent men are in the habit of defending their opinions turbulently and rudely; if great talents, not dangerous to the state, are suppressed; if, because of fickleness, laws are made and unmade at random, and things approved are soon without reason disapproved; if low-bred and incompetent men are set over the administration of affairs.

9. Personal defects applying to any kind of state are: if those upon whom the administration is incumbent perform their duty negligently or basely; and if citizens, who have no distinction left them but that of obedience, champ the bit.

10. But it is a constitutional defect when the laws or institutions of a state are not adapted to the genius of the people or of the country; or where these dispose the citizens to internal discord, or to incur the righteous indignation of their neighbors; or if they make the citizens incapable of performing the functions necessary to the preservation of the state; for example, if, owing to the laws, they can only lapse into an unwarlike sloth, or be unfitted to endure peace; or if the fundamental laws are so ordered that, because of them, public affairs cannot be transacted except slowly or with difficulty.

11. To such unhealthy states many apply special names also, calling a defective monarchy tyranny, a defective government of the few, oligarchy, a defective popular government, ochlocracy. Yet it frequently happens that many men in using these terms do not express so much a malady of the state, as their own feeling or displeasure with the present regime, or the rulers. For, if a man dislikes a king or a monarchy, he commonly calls even a lawful and good prince tyrant or despot, especially when he enforces the laws strictly. So too the man who grieves at his exclusion from the senate, while thinking himself in no way inferior to the other senators, contemptuously and enviously calls them oligarchs, that is, a few persons who, though in no way superior to the rest, still exercise authority over their equals or betters, not without arrogance. Finally, haughty men, and those who dislike popular equality, seeing that in a democracy all have equal right to vote on a public question, whereas in every state the common people is the most numerous, call that an ochlocracy, that is, a state where the common herd is in power, and no privilege is left to uncommon men, such as they reckon themselves.

12. An irregular state is one in which that union, in which the essence of the community consists, is not so perfectly found, and that not by reason of a malady or defect inherent in the administration, but under such conditions that that form of government has by public law or custom been established as legitimate. But, since the varieties of aberration from a standard can be infinite, it is also impossible to establish certain definite species of irregular forms of government. The character, however, of such a form can be plainly understood from one or two examples. For instance, if in a republic the senate and people should both have an equal authority to carry on public business, neither being responsible to the other. Or, if in a kingdom the power of the nobles should so increase that henceforth they are subordinate to the king only as inferior colleagues.

13. We speak of systems of states where several perfect states are so connected by some special bond, that their several powers can be regarded as substantially the powers of one state. And systems arise chiefly in two ways; by a common king, or by a treaty.

14. A system arises through a common king, when several separate kingdoms have one and the same king as the result of an agreement, or by virtue of a marriage, an inheritance, or a victory, with the reservation, however, that they do not form one kingdom, but are separately administered by their common king according to the fundamental laws of each kingdom.

15. Another species of system appears when several neighboring states are connected by perpetual treaty in such a way that certain functions of the supreme authority, having especially to do with defense against outsiders, are to be exercised only with the consent of all, while the liberty and independence of the several states in other matters remains intact.

Next | Previous | Text Version | Contents