Government is an important element of the state. The exercise of power by the state is mainly executed by the entity of government. The government is different in different countries. The classification of governments is very important. It helps in comparing institutions in different circumstances. Such an exercise helps in identifying common and distinctive element of different forms of government. Comparison aims at understanding the rationale behind institutions, which in turn helps in better understanding of its functions and the philosophy or the idea behind it. A comparison of the executive institution in Britain and U. S. A. for example, tells us about the rationale, their powers and functions.
Comparison between governmental forms helps us to understand the basis of their power. This in turn helps in understanding their powers and functions as also their relation with other institutions of government. It helps us in understanding the similarities and dis-similarities between governments and their working. In either case, the explanations may take into account various factors, e.g., historical conditions for the emergence of a governmental form, the socioeconomic conditions in the society, the linkages with other countries, and so on. Thus, a discussion on the forms of government is not limited to their classification only in terms of constitutional institutions, it also includes the different ways in which the institutions actually work.
Problems of Classification
Any attempt at classification involves working out categories into which governments and their institutions in different countries are listed. There are two ways of doing this. We can take into account the objectives of the state and the government and arrive at broad categories that seem reasonable. The second method is to analyse the existing government, and then see what are the broad categories that emerge from the actual distribution of power and its use. Aristotle’s well-known scheme of classification, where he arrived at three main forms of government on the basis of an analysis of the working of more than 150 constitutions, is a good example of this exercise. Many recent studies in the field of comparative politics have made similar efforts.
When one set of characteristics is selected for classification in preference to some others, the question of bias may arise. Why these categories, and not the others? Such preferences may have their roots in some cultural or ideological bias of the scholar or of the theoretical approach.
Another difficulty of classification is that the terms used have different meanings in different contexts. Institutions may gather different meanings. President of U.S.A., France and India are quite different institutions, though the term that has been used is the same. Bureaucracies in Great Britain and in India are quite different in terms of their powers and functions. Same is true of other terms like the Parliament, the Prime Minister, the Judiciary, and so on. The constitution may provide for an institution based on certain principles and with some expectations. But in their actual working, institutions may take a different shape. There may be difference between theory and practice. No scheme of classification is, therefore, final and static. After the initial classification it always becomes necessary to go into the details of the working of each type of government. There are different levels of such classification of government.