A form of government (also referred to as a system of government) is a social institution composed of various people, institutions and their relations in regard to the governance (or government) of a state. Different forms of government have different types of political systems.
A wide range of different forms of government have been proposed or used in practice. (See List of forms of government). The study of such forms is called civics or comparative government.
Categorising forms of government in this way gives a general idea of the power structure of the governance of a country. However, the picture is more complicated than this, as every country’s system is unique, and in practice many represent a hybrid of different forms of government. For example, a system generally seen as a representative democracy (for instance Canada and the United States) may in fact also include include measures providing for a degree of direct democracy in the form of referenda, for deliberative democracy in the form of the extensive processes required for constitutional change, and investigating committees and commissions (which may not be led by representatives).
A further complication is that a number of political systems originate as socio-economic movements and are then carried into governments by specific parties naming themselves after those movements. Experience with those movements in power, and the strong ties they may have to particular forms of governmental control, can cause them to be considered as forms of government in themselves. Some examples are as follows:
- Perhaps the most widely cited example of such a phenomenon is the communist movement. This is an example of where the resulting political systems may diverge from the original socio-economic ideologies from which they developed. This may mean that adherents of the ideologies are actually opposed to the political systems commonly associated with them. For example, activists describing themselves as Trotskyists or communists are often opposed to the communist states of the 20th century.
Islam as a political movement is also often included on a list of movements that have deep implications for the form of government. Indeed, many nations in the Islamic World use the term Islamic in the name of the state. However, these governments in practice exploit a range of different mechanisms of power (for example debt and appeals to nationalism). This means that there is no single form of government that could be described as “Islamic” government. Islam as a political movement is therefore better seen as a loose grouping of related political practices rather than a single, coherent political movement.
- The basic principles of many other popular movements have deep implications for the form of government those movements support and would introduce if they came to power. For example, bioregional democracy is a pillar of green politics.
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