Civics Today: Citizenship, Economics, & You © 2007
Comparing Systems of Government
No two governments are exactly alike. In an authoritarian government only a few people have power. A monarch is a hereditary ruler, such as a king or queen. Until the 1600s most kings and queens were absolute monarchs. Other authoritarian governments have dictators, those who take control by force. In many cases, dictators impose totalitarian rule on their people. During the twentieth century, the number of democracies grew. The United States, Mexico, and the Philippines have a presidential system of government. Great Britain and most other democracies have a parliamentary system.
Some of Great Britain's rulers were absolute monarchs. Beginning in 1215, however, there began a movement toward curbing the monarch's authority. Today the monarch plays a largely symbolic and ceremonial role. The Parliament is a legislative body, divided into two houses. The majority political party in the House of Commons chooses one of its members as the prime minister. In recent years, Parliament has transferred some power to local elected assemblies in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
China has the world's largest population. Because of its size, China has great power. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, China has been the last major Communist state. Mao Zedong founded the People's Republic of China in 1949, after defeating Chinese Nationalist forces. The government seized farmland and redistributed it among the peasants. Collective farms were created and workers were assigned to various jobs. The government took a hard line against individualism. Since Mao's death in 1976, the Communist Party has loosened central control and permitted some degree of free enterprise. Although the United States has recognized the government of China, tensions still exist over human rights.