Politics in Minutes (2016)

Government by the few

Some institutions of government evolve from practical necessity, rather than from political theory. This is also true of government itself. For most of history, ‘government’ meant the rule of a single monarch or ruling aristocracy – not much different from a patriarchal tribal leader. ‘Monarchy’ literally means ‘rule by one individual’ but has developed into the idea of a ruling king or queen. Similarly, ‘tyrant’ and ‘dictator’ were originally neutral descriptions of single leaders, but have taken on a negative, pejorative meaning. The modern connotation of these terms reflects a changing perception of the desirability of an absolute ruler, and only a handful of absolute monarchies exist today in Brunei, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Swaziland, the UAE and Vatican City. However, even democracies show a need for a single figurehead. Several countries retain a royal family in a system of constitutional monarchy, where the monarch’s role is largely ceremonial and symbolic. And even in republics, the idea of a single leader lingers in the election of a president or head of state.