WHEREVER you may be on this globe you have something in common with all mankind—you are subject to a government. You may or may not agree with your government’s policies, but you will probably admit that government is necessary.
But why? Why have governments been an essential part of man’s way of life for thousands of years? What different kinds of government are there? Of what benefit are they to you as an individual—even when you might disagree with them?
Especially when man originally decided to live in cities, some form of political rule became necessary. City life had to be governed for the benefit of all. In fact, our word “politics” is derived from the Greek word for “city,” polis, and the adjective politikos, “of a citizen.” Of course, the need for some form of government was recognized by societies older than the ancient Greek city-states. Thousands of years ago, Sumer, Egypt, Israel, and Babylon were organized under various forms of rulership.—Exodus 18:13-27.
However, it is perhaps in ancient Greece, often called the cradle of democracy, that political philosophy began to be more clearly expressed and new ideas presented. Philosophers, such as Plato and Aristotle, argued the virtues of different political systems. Aristotle’s viewpoint was that politics is the science of collective happiness. He believed that the function of the state is to organize a society for the greatest happiness of the greatest number. That basic idea is evident to some degree in most governments inasmuch as they provide essential facilities for the benefit of all citizens: roads, education, sewerage systems, police, and judiciary—to name just a few.
For thousands of years man has experimented with just about every conceivable form of government and political philosophy—from monarchies (now mainly replaced by republics) to different types of democracy, (ostensibly, rule by the people), and a variety of oligarchies and dictatorships. (For a definition of terms, see box on page 4.) Since 1917 we have seen the rise of communism, fascism, and national socialism (the Nazi party in Germany).
“The Age of Competing Ideologies”
Twentieth-century experience shows that the art of governing is being severely tested. As Professor Burns wrote in his book Ideas in Conflict: “In all probability, historians of the future will look back upon the twentieth century as one of the most crucial in the records of mankind. They will doubtless invent neat characterizations for it, calling it perhaps the Age of World Conflict, the Age of Revolution and Counter-revolution, the Age of Competing Ideologies, or, more simply, the Age of Agony.”
But it must be admitted that no one system has produced a government that satisfies every citizen. Is that alone sufficient to say that the political systems have failed? Not necessarily. Many people have such a selfish or narrow motivation that only their own particular philosophy would ever satisfy them. And that, then, might displease the majority. So how can we really test to see if any form of government or political philosophy is the real and complete answer to mankind’s needs?
Jesus Christ laid down a rule that we can also apply to politics: “Every good tree produces fine fruit, but every rotten tree produces worthless fruit . . . Really, then, by their fruits you will recognize those men.” (Matthew 7:17-20) Let us apply that rule to the political systems of our 20th century with a view to tracing the most beneficial form of rulership for all mankind.
[Box on page 4]
Politics—Its Different Forms
The following definitions are taken from The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language and Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (1981 editions).
Anarchy: Absence of any form of political authority; a Utopian society made up of individuals who have no government and who enjoy complete freedom.
Aristocracy: Government by the nobility or by a privileged minority or upper class.
Autocracy: Government by one person having unlimited power; despotism.
Capitalism: (From “capital,” any form of material wealth) An economic system characterized by freedom of competition in the market, without state control, with increasing concentration of private and corporate ownership of production and distribution means.
Communism: A social system characterized by the absence of classes and by common ownership of the means of production and subsistence.
Democracy: Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.
Fascism: A system of government that advocates or exercises a dictatorship, typically through the merging of state and business leadership, together with an ideology of belligerent nationalism.
Feudalism: A political and economic system based on land held by a vassal on condition of homage and service to a lord.
Monarchy: Government by a monarch or sovereign, such as a king or an emperor.
Nazism: National Socialism. The policy of state control of the economy, racist nationalism, and national expansion as personified in Hitler’s National Socialism in Germany (1933-45).
Oligarchy: Government by the few, especially by a small faction of persons or families.
Plutocracy: Government by the wealthy.
Republic: A government having a chief of state who is not a monarch and who in modern times is usually a president.
Socialism: A social system in which the producers possess both political power and the means of producing and distributing goods. In Marxist-Leninist theory, socialism is the material base for communism and the intermediate stage between capitalism and communism.
Theocracy: Government by a god regarded as the ruling power or by priests or officials claiming divine sanction.
Totalitarianism: (a) Centralized control by an autocratic authority; (b) the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority.