What are (or have been) the most important/significant types of ruling in all European History? And if you could explain them a little bit. Thank you!

Expert Answers
katwood001 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Terms of ruling tend to mean how the leadership and government structure is chosen or obtains power and how much complete power the government has over the structure, economics, and localities of the country.  Europe has roots in all of these systems if you are considering the entire scope of history.  Generally, these terms are split into five groups: Economic Structure, Power Classes, Power Distribution, Power Separation, and Government Control.  Your question hints that you are looking at specifically the Power Classes; however, to avoid confusion, I will list the terms of the other categories below the list of government types.  If you would like further explanation of the other terms or examples feel free to write a reply, and I will elaborate on those categories as well.    

Major types of European Rule: 

  •   Direct Democracy- (Democratic): Under direct democracy, the people (citizens) rule through direct voting on all laws, taxes, and other governmental issues.  Under this system, popular sovereignty is the main means of decision making- The majority rules.  The best example of Direct Democracy can be found in Ancient Greece.  (5th Century BC)  Athens is credited with creating the First Direct Democracy.  Geography made populations smaller, thus making it possible for every citizen to take direct part in the ruling their city-state.  Women and slaves were not part of this governmental structure.  
  • Republic- in a Republic, voters/citizens choose a small group of people through election to represent them and make laws.  The governmental concept of a republic was established by Ancient Rome (4th Century BC) The Roman republic was based on the ideals of a Direct Democracy.  Rome being too large to use the Direct Democracy structure developed the Republic so the will of the people could be part of the government by electing representatives to represent their view and ideas.  
  • Democratic-Republic- A Democratic-Republic is where the power is derived from the citizens but the government is run through representatives.  (In theory, this is the best description of the United States.  Citizens participate in the government through direct election of the President, Governors, Local officials, etc. while also participating in a republic by electing representatives in the Federal and State legislatures.)  However, this term is not generally used due to its corruption by many countries like North Vietnam and The Democratic Republic of the Congo, that are not actually Democratic Republics and do not allow public rule.  Under Modern Terms: A European example of a Democratic Republic would be East Germany from 1949 to 1990, which claimed free direct election and participation by the people through the Senate, but was ultimately a dictatorship.
  • Monarchy: in a monarchy, a ruler such as a King, Czar, Emperor, Pasha, or Kaiser holds power.  Most commonly this power is inherited (Hereditary Monarchy) as is seen in England, Pre-Revolutionary France, Pre-World War I Germany, etc.)  However, some Elective Monarchies exist in history such as the election of Poland's Kings between 1569 and 1795, Visigothic Spain, and Medieval Scandinavia.  France for a time during the medieval period elected their Kings (Capetian Kings) - but it was a somewhat rigged election as the only person on the ballot was the succeeding prince.
  •   Constitutional Monarchy: A Constitutional Monarchy is structurally different from a Traditional Monarchy.  Under a Constitutional Monarchy, the country has a hereditary monarch; however, the governmental power lies in an elected legislature.  The most recognizable Constitutional Monarchy in the world today is that of the British Empire.  This was established through the English Bill of Rights signed by William and Mary of Orange in 1689.  Under this new Government structure, the Monarchs of England have little to no legislative powers.  Instead, laws, taxes, and other governmental decisions are made through Parliament and enforced through the Prime Minister.  Other European constitutional monarchies include Belgium, Denmark, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Spain, and Sweden.
  • Oligarchy: Under an Oligarchy, the power rests with a small group of people, usually the upper class or the wealthy.  This governmental influence is usually passed down through the family, but it is not guaranteed.  The best example of a European Oligarchy is the Russian Federation established in 1991.  Since the end of the Soviet Union, corporations (oil, natural gas, and metals) have largely run the government.
  • Dictatorship: A dictator can come to power either through military action or through election by the people.  Once in power the leader takes full control of the government and keeps that control through military force. In general dictators use totalitarianism controls on the population.  (Total control over the lives of the citizens including marriage, employment, and education.)   The earliest recognizable dictatorship is in the Roman Empire.  However, Hitler's Germany, Mussolini's Italy, and Stalin's Soviet Union have defined the modern interpretation of a dictatorship.  Communism is sometimes misinterpreted as a dictatorship.  This is a fallacious comparison since Communism is an economic philosophy and could exist in any of the government types listed above or below it cannot be declared a type of government by itself.
  • Theocracy: Under a Theocracy, the religious leadership controls the making of laws through religious tradition.  In a theocracy "God" is generally considered the monarch. Theocracies were more widely spread in ancient history; however, a few still exist today.  The Holy See (Vatican City), is ruled by the Pope. Since the Pope is seen as a political leader who determines governmental decisions through the will of God, the Vatican is viewed as the only Theocracy in Modern Europe.

Governments can be further refined by using the other four categories: 

Economic Structure: (Major types)

  • Capitalism: Citizens are free to buy, sell, and trade with minimal to no government controls. 
  • Socialism: The government owns most large industries and decides healthcare, education, and service options.
  • Communism: The government owns all businesses, farms, and industry.  It chooses all education, healthcare, and service options.  (No private ownership of property)

Power Distribution:

  • Unitary: Government power is mostly at the Federal level.  City/Provincial/ State governments have little or no say or influence on laws, taxes, and governmental decisions. (England)
  • Federalism (Federal system): The government’s power is split between the Federal Government and the City/Provincial/State governments.  This is commonly known as "Balance of Power."  (United States)
  • Confederalism (Confederate System): The Local/Provincial/State government has the most power.  The Federal Government is weak.  (European Alliance)

Power Separation:

  • Shared Power System: The powers of the government are split between different groups in order to avoid corruption in the government.  Example: The United States Government is split between the Legislative (Law Making), Judicial (Law Interpreting), and Executive (Law Enforcing) Branches.  
  • Parliamentary: The power of the government is placed in a single body.  The government accepts advice from outside critics and can be checked.
  • Fascism: The power of the government is placed in a single body.  Control is maintained through fear.  Government critics are silenced or imprisoned.  There are no government checks.

Government Control over the Population: 

  • Limited/Constitutional: The government's power is limited due to rules set up through a constitution.  
  • Traditional: The government’s power is held to past actions of the previous rulers or social/religious tradition.
  • Authoritarianism: The ruler demands complete obedience in certain areas of the people's lives.  While there are some decisions that can be made by the citizens, they must take place within the ruler's philosophies, opinions, and beliefs.    
  • Totalitarianism: the government has total control over all aspects of the citizen's lives.  There are no individual choices.  
shmindle | Student

Some significant types of rulings/government:

Absolute monarchy: monarch has absolute power over people (ex: Louis XIV of France)

Anarchy: no government (Spain 1936)

Communism: to put it in simplest terms, a "social system based on collective ownership" (Soviet Union)

Dictatorship: government controlled by person or political entity (Hitler, Germany)

Democracy: government by the people (modern day Germany)

There is room for overlap. For example, Mao Ze Dong led Communist China, but was also referred to as a dictator.