Ahaha, I’m glad you liked the primer! I haven’t abandoned it — in fact, prompted by your ask I went and had a look at the next section, which I started drafting, and it has… so many headings with so little under them. So it’s a bit of a way off! But you’ve prompted me to resume plugging away at it. 🙂

Also if you have any specific things you want to know about or questions you want to ask, please do! 🙂 I am full of useless knowledge and opinions on political systems.

Oh, awesome! I look forward to the expansion 😀

I did have a couple questions in mind actually! I don’t know if they’ll fit in with the section you are writing, but perhaps they will at least prompt some stuff.

Namely, right now I am curious about systems of government which mix elements of different systems- like having a monarch with limited power balanced against a council or senate, for instance. It seems that history still seems to categorize these sorts of setups under one name, for the most part? (But then again I don’t often hear, say, The UK’s government summed up under a single label…) I’m also not sure if having higher offices appointed by very different means than local governments (ie, meritocracy and appointments by the ruler on top, and more of a republic at local levels) would be too confusing for readers to easily grasp, or unrealistic in function.

I’m also curious about how these arrangements tend to come about, whether the power of any monarch or absolute ruler is ever given up or has allowed limitations simply of their own volition as reformation, or if historically this is only done when they are pressured to due to unrest, overthrow, etc.

Thanks again for any insights you can provide! 🙂

Sorry in advance for the essay, and for telling you things you probably already know.

So what you’re talking about with “mixed” models can generally be defined as a constitutional monarchy – there’s a monarch, but the monarch has agreed to honour a constitution (written or unwritten), and recognise the rights and/or supremacy of a representative body. Most government systems these days are some combination of the more black-and-white analytical categories we talk about – this comes about basically as a result of path dependence. Basically, the cost of changing the institution wholesale is too great, so successive reformers tinker around the edges, with the occasional disruptive change, and we end up where we’ve ended up.

Off the top of my extremely Anglocentric head (I did have a good think about it) I’m not aware of any monarchs who have completely voluntarily handed over power to the people because they thought it was the right thing to do. There are, however, many who have read the signs and cooperated in the reduction of their power and prerogative, probably arising from a combination of conviction and pragmatism.

The signs are, generally, the shifting of economic power from the aristocracy (who have a pretty good deal under an absolute monarchy) to the middle classes/merchant class/bourgeoisie, who have a rubbish deal under absolute monarchy but are now rich enough to buy lots of guns and horse. As per part 1, once economic power gets out of step with political power, something has to give.

Generally, if you look at Europe, and, to the extent I’m aware of (and to the extent that this process wasn’t interrupted or distorted by European colonialism) in Asia, there are two paths monarchies tend to go down once the people start getting Ideas About Freedom.

1. The monarch (and the upper class generally) reads the signs, agrees to respect the rights of a representative body of the people, and accepts a more limited role for itself. The end point of this is some sort of constitutional monarchy, as in England, most of north-Western Europe, Japan, Thailand, etc. Powers of the monarch vary in constitutional monarchies, but they tend to ratchet (i.e. they either stay the same or decrease).

2. The monarch (and upper class generally) does not read the signs, and vigorously resists the prospect of losing any of their power. And then you end up with France, the USA, Greece, Russia, China etc. They skip straight over the constitutional monarchy and go to some form of rule by the people, often with a detour via extreme bloodshed.

A good example of this which is solidly in my Anglocentric brain is the Glorious Revolution of 1688, where King James II of England was stubbornly not reading the signs, annoying everybody by being terrible at politics, and refusing to recognise the rights and powers of Parliament (despite the fact that his father was beheaded for doing literally the exact same thing). Parliament forced James II into exile, and invited Mary Stuart, James II’s daughter, and her husband William of Orange, to rule instead. They agreed to the doctrine of Parliamentary sovereignty and became rules of England, and nobody really missed James II at all (except, tragically, some highland Scots).

Re: the confusingness issue, my view is that it’s good to keep the institutions as simple as possible, and only change from the sort of comfortable archetypes (absolute monarchy, oligarchy, parliamentary democracy etc) where it is necessary for the story. But the College of Cardinals was electing the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor was selected by the electors, and a lot of merchants’ guilds (and pirate ships) etc chose leaders by ballot long before most nations had figured out functioning democracy, so as long as you-the-writer understand how the situation came about, it’s probably fine. 

Just a note though — election, meritocracy and appointment by leader are three different concepts: election is selection by ballot, meritocracy is selection of the “best” based on some rule (e.g. score on an entrance exam) and patronage is selection by the leader based on whatever rule the leader cares to use. 🙂

Hope there’s something useful in that (long, long) response! Sorry I blah’ed on for so long. I got going. *G* Let me know if you’d like any other info~.