Comparative Politics/Democratic Systems versus Authoritarian Systems
Political scientists have identified two basic types of government system: Democracies and Authoritarian Systems. At its base, a democracy is where the heads of government in a state's are chosen by a vote of the citizens of the state; their votes must be made without coercion and after voters have had the opportunity to hear the candidates. Robert Dahl, a leading scholar on democracy, has provided a framework for when a country is a democracy; these five criteria include:
Effective participation meaning that the people should have an adequate and equal opportunity to have their voices heard in the decision making process, voting equality meaning that all votes should count equally (for instance, Bill Gates's vote is no more important than yours or mine), enlightened understanding which means that the people should have adequate and equal access to information so that they can make the best possible decision, control of the agenda meaning only the people should be able to decide what decisions are debated and voted upon and, finally, the system must be inclusive meaning that all adults in the society, unless incapable, should be authorized to participate in the political process and not precluded therefrom. (Adopted from Dahl, Democracy and Its Critics pg 108-118 and 129-131)
Authoritarian systems are the antithesis of democracy. As opposed to the democratic principles of rule by the people, authoritarian systems are lead by either an individual or a small group of individuals. There are dozens of authoritarian systems, but all share the general characteristic of exclusiveness, which means keeping the vast majority of people out of policy and decision-making processes. Often a government will display multiple forms of authoritarian rule, a short list of these different forms is as follows:
Kleptocracy: A government lead by a leader whose sole objective is to use the state to enrich himself (ex. Saddam Hussein)
Totalitarianism: An authoritarian government where the leader(s) has an all pervasive presence, usually established through secret police agencies, mass repression and surveillance. Another element of totalitarianism is the lack of independent civil society organizations; those that may exist are extensions of the state. Examples of totalitarianism include the USSR (esp. under Stalin), Nazi Germany and North Korea.
Military Junta: A government ran entirely by a group of military officers, this system was common found in South and Central America and can include elements of both totalitarianism and kleptocracy. Myanmar (Burma) is run by a military junta.
Monarchy: The "classical" western authoritarian regime, composed of a single leader whose legitimacy is often religious or tribal. The main difference between this and other authoritarian regimes is the concept of hereditary rule.
Under speculation are anarchic and libertarian systems of government, which are below democracies in terms of government power, with some having no government at all. However, due to lack of real world examples (anarchic Somalia an obvious exception) these are usually discounted.