Democracy and Government

What different forms of governance are there and which one is the best?

There are five main forms of governance; Monarchy, Republic, Democracy, Dictatorship and a Republic. Many of these forms of government, particularly those authoritarian/totalitarian governments are the opposite of democracy. Democracy supports fundamental individual rights and freedoms for all citizens whilst autocracy/totalitarianism suppresses these rights and freedoms. Therefore, the best form of governance that protects human rights is a democracy supported by the rule of law. 

Democratic values determine how governance is managed and where ruling power is decided by the people, for the people. The rule of law ensures those in power are subject to the law and those laws are known and followed thereby providing protection from anarchy, lawlessness, and corruption.

The Five Main Forms of Governance

There are many different types of governments around the world today, but only five form the basic characteristics of rule. Each one has elements that can be found in various government systems, from autocracy to democracy.

1. Monarchy

In an absolute monarchy, the monarch holds supreme autocratic authority. State power is held by a single family that inherits rule from one generation to the next.

In recent times, the majority of monarchical governments have transitioned to constitutional monarchies, where the head of state only performs ceremonial roles with limited state powers. The people elect members of a parliament to make laws and run the country.

Examples of this type of rule include Great Britain, Denmark and Japan.

2. Republic

A Republic is a government system without a monarch. Republics can be authoritarian (totalitarian) or democratic.

In a democratic republic, laws are made by representatives chosen by the people. Republics usually comply with a constitution, and/or a bill of rights that specifically protects the rights of the minority from the will of majority.

Examples include Argentina, Bolivia, the Czech Republic, France, Brazil and the United States of America.

3. Democracy

A Democracy is a government system where the people determine the law of the land. The law holds supreme power under rules set out in a written constitution, underpinned by the rule of law. Laws are made through the parliament, which consists of chosen representatives elected by the people, working for the people.  Universal suffrage is conducted regularly by secret ballot.

Democracy supports human rights and fundamental freedoms with power limited through checks and balances (such as the separation of power between the legislature, executive and judiciary). Decisions are made transparently and regularly scrutinised by the people and media organisations. Successful democracies educate their citizens in recognising their civic rights and responsibilities, promoting a culture of lawfulness.

 Click here to learn more about democracy in Australia.

4. Dictatorship

A Dictatorship is where a single person has absolute authority to rule the state. An authoritarian form of government where one person makes the law and controls how the law is enforced, usually through brutal means.

This tyrannical regime often includes military organisation and backing, unfair elections (if any) and multiple human rights violation. A dictator seizes control of the state by force or through an election process that is often corrupt.

Dictators are not held accountable for their actions, such as with freedom on the press, separation of powers or through regular elections.

Examples include Burundi, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and North Korea.

5. Communism

Communism is a government system of social organisation based on a particular ideology of a single party or group of people who run the state.

A common vision which collectively serves the interests of the community. All property is owned by the community and citizens are given jobs or life duties. Private ownership is extremely limited or banned altogether, enabling the ruling party to control all resources int he society.

Opposition or dissent is not tolerated.

The people do not elect party members into power. The party elects itself and usually remains in power for many years.

Examples include China, Cuba and Vietnam.

Democracy versus Autocracy

Democracy supports fundamental individual rights and freedoms for all citizens whilst autocracy/totalitarianism suppresses these rights and freedoms. 

Once an autocrat takes hold of a society, they are very hard to remove as they change the rules! Australian governance has a system of checks and balances that provide vital mechanisms, designed to stop one group from gaining power over another. A healthy civic society is well educated about the dangers and actively participates in maintaining democratic processes.

Democracy:   Demos People    Kratos Rule

The concept of democracy originated in Ancient Greece as far back as the middle of the 5th century BCE. People strived for rulers to recognise their choices in how they wanted to live their lives and not be controlled by arbitrary power.

Democracy recognises and supports fundamental individual rights, personal freedoms, and the rule of law creating equality and a better quality of life for citizens. It provides the people with the power to participate in decision-making through their elected representatives.

The law holds supreme power under rules set out in a written constitution, underpinned by the rule of law.

A successful democracy has many different elements to ensure human rights and freedoms are respected and those in power do not exercise excessive control. These include:

  • All people are considered equal before the law and can only be punished by, and in accordance with, the law. Under the rule of law no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention or deprived of their liberty except on grounds, and in accordance with, procedures that are established by law.
  • The law-making process follows parliamentary rules and procedures and are made in an open and transparent way. A bicameral parliament is particularly effective as it provides two levels of scrutiny between multiple political parties, ensuring all government decisions pass through one of the required checks and balances before being passed as law.
  • Citizens have the freedom to vote for representatives in the parliament. Universal suffrage is conducted through regular elections, which must remain free, honest, and fair. Citizens should not be prevented from exercising their right to vote and is an important responsibility. This vital component of a democratic society provides opportunities for the people to decide who will exercise political power on their behalf, therefore keeping those in power accountable. Citizens also have the opportunity to be nominated and become an elected representative themselves.
  • Checks and balances – authorities are publicly scrutinised and held accountable through mechanisms to limit power. This separation of powers is between the legislature (a parliamentary body that makes and changes the law), senior government executive (actions the law), and an independent judiciary (interprets the law and administers justice).
  • Transparency is maintained through regular scrutiny by the people and media organisations. An effective democracy allows society to access information from a variety of multimedia sources. Well informed citizens can make decisions and act accordingly to help them live a safe and healthy life. Governments that control media content and outlets, do not allow citizens to be adequately informed about what is going on around them. Freedom of the press, freedom of association, and freedom of speech are important rights exercised within a democratic society. These rights support government accountability and help to maintain trust for citizens living in a democracy. When members of society lose confidence in the government’s decision-making capabilities, trust becomes severely eroded.
  • Successful democracies keep citizens informed in knowing and understanding the law, to know their rights in accessing the law, and to recognise their civic responsibilities in abiding by the law. Education supports and maintains civic virtue, resulting in a well developed culture of lawfulness.

Democratic societies operate under principles of the rule of law to deliver fundamental freedoms and protect human rights.




Governance based on rule by law, or rule by man
Regimes that rule by law have complete power and are not accountable to the people

Those in power impose a set of beliefs on the people who must conform. Individual freedom of thought or
action is not tolerated. The governing authority has absolute control and demands complete submission.


An oppressive system of government that demands obedience from the people. Absolute power is held over the lives of citizens and enforced through police terror, indoctrination, and persecution to maintain total control.

A totalitarian government claims to always work in the best interests of the people; however, it controls all aspects of individual life through coercion and repression. The state glorifies its aims and continually justifies government actions to avoid scrutiny from the people. All aspects of society are also controlled, such as business, housing, religion, education, and personal life. Examples of a totalitarian rule include dictatorship, communism and fascism.

Dictatorship (autocracy)

This type of rule involves a single person, called a dictator who has absolute power over the people. One person is in control of all policies and decisions, including how the law of the land is made and enforced. Accountability does not exist as the people have no say and individual rights are severely restricted, or violently curbed. Free speech is banned and individual rights are severely restricted, or violently curbed. Elections are non-existent, or highly compromised.

Dictatorships are tyrannical and oppressive regimes. Military backing is used to force, threaten and supress the peoples’ freedom. Competitors and opponents of the regime are quickly and brutally dealt with to keep the dictator in power. Controlling media organisations and releasing propaganda material in mass communication is an effective tool that is used to deceive the people. A dictator goes to great effort to hide what is happening beyond the country’s borders from the people.

Facism is a form of government, usually headed by a dictator involoving total government control of political, economic, cultural, religios, and social activites.  Some industries may be owned by individuals but are managed under complete government control.

This form of government involves enforced patriotism, warlike policies and extreme discrimination against minority groups.


An oligarchy occurs when only a few extremely wealthy and privileged people hold power. Rulers are selected from a small class of elites who exercise control to benefit personal gain to the detriment of the rest of society. All decisions are made to ehance personal family wealth and influence with no accountability to the people. Oligarchies often persecute minority groups, but reward their own elite class in order to remain in power. This causes a lack of diversity and can stagnate the economic growth of the country creating a great divide in wealth distribution among the people, often leading to rebellion.

Authoritarian rule does not protect individual freedoms and human rights.


Communism involves a social organisation or political party that controls all economic aspects in the country.
Characterised by the rule of a single party which controls all activity, including what food crops are grown, goods
manufactured, to whom they are sold, and at what prices. Ownership of private property is replaced with public ownership and communal control. Some personal freedom of individuals is allowed, including where they can travel and how they spend their money. However, this is limited and restrictions are introduced with little notice. True communism aims to create a society without conflicts and dissent. The need for rules or justice exists only in administerial processes.

The creation of laws is deemed unnecessary as control of the people occurs through party rule.



Anarchy:  State of Chaos

Anarchy is a situation of lawlessness caused by the absence, or non-recognition of traditional forms of authority. An environment of panic and chaos, resulting in fear and distrust takes hold when weak and ineffective authority exists.

Anarchy can also result when a ruling authority exercises arbitrary control over a society, causing individual freedoms to be eroded away. Citizens who feel their safety and security is at risk, can lose confidence in all authority. Confusion and anxiety in these situations can lead to uprisings in communities.

How do you know when a state has descended into anarchy?

  • The laws of the land, or ruler, are ignored.
  • The authorities have no influence or effect; therefore, there is no law enforcement or courts and crime goes unpunished.
  • Crime and destruction of property increases, businesses cease to operate.
  • Citizens are not held responsible for their actions. Without law enforcement, there are no consequences for their behaviour, or justice provided to those who are victims of crime.
  • The safety of an individual is violated.
  • Any system or form of government, or constitution is ignored.

Imagine if a state of lawlessness existed in Australia. At first, we might enjoy not needing to follow expectations of the rules and laws in our community. However, think about the effects and consequences that would occur as a result from living in a lawless society. Imagine how your daily life would be impacted, as well as that of your family and friends. This image might give you some idea on what to expect in a lawless society.

Click on these images to access resources you can use in the classroom to help your students understand the difference between these concepts.



A supreme power, or authority that is responsible for decision-making and law-making to manage the state, such as maintaining law and order for its people.

How to Become a Country in 4 Steps

This student activity provides a fun way to explain the four main elements that are required for a country to be internationally recognised as a sovereign state.
These elements are:

  • Defined territories and borders
  • Sovereign rights and responsibilities
  • Law-making authority
  • Having a citizenry 

The population includes citizens that live in the territory and follow the rules and laws of the land, which are created by the government.

In a democracy, the sovereign state authority is controlled by the citizens who independently elect their own government. The power of the government is held by its citizens

The Rule of Law as the ultimate protector of good governance and human rights

Magna Carta’s Influence 

The best form of goverance is supported by the rule of law. At its most basic level, the rule of law is the concept that both the government and citizens know the law and obey it.

In 1215 when England was governed under a monarchy by King John, the Magna Carta was sealed.

The Magna Carta established the rule of law and the idea that all citizens, including those in power, should be fairly and equally ruled by the law. The Magna Carta ensured the King is no longer above the law, that we are ruled by the law and the law alone, a qualified Independent Judiciary, confidence in Fair Process and the law is known by all

Many of the principles and values gained from the Magna Carta have been incorporated into the foundations of governance for the most successful democratic countries around the world today, including Australia. Follow the timeline to discover when Magna Carta arrived on our shores and formed the foundations for Australian society.



STUDENT ACTIVITY PAGE: Different Forms of Government

 An activity page for a more advanced look into the different forms of government. These tasks cater to different ability levels with support in researching information links included.

This resource provides opportunities for students to investigate what is currently happening in the world and discover the impacts of social media and the way governments around the world manage or control how their societies communicate.




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