It is interesting that the worst type of government, in the opinion of these same philosophers, is the one that has the quality of tyranny. As in monarchy; in tyranny the ultimate power is invested in a single person. However, the tyrant, as opposed to the monarch, takes the position of ultimate power, not by virtue of his eminent ability to govern, but by force, corrupt dealings, or automatic inheritance without the proper qualifications. Moreover, the tyrant’s aim is not the welfare of the society that he governs, but his own personal aggrandizement.
The tyrant, shares with the monarch, the advantage of the most efficient exercise of power, but that power is turned toward selfish ends. Therefore, while the form of tyranny is most similar to that of monarchy, it is farthest from monarchy in terms of social welfare, and is therefore considered the worst type of government. Historical examples are, King Vena, as describe in Srimad-bhagavatam, to the example of Saddam Hussein in modern times.
If monarchy is the best and tyranny is the worst, the next best and next worst are aristocracy and oligarchy, respectively.
Monarchy and tyranny are both characterized by ultimate power invested in a single person. In the case of monarchy, it has the person best suited to govern, and in the case of tyranny, the most forceful or corrupt, (or corruptible), person.
Alternatively, the ultimate power can be invested in a single class. Analogously, in the case of aristocracy. This class would be comprised of those who are most competent to govern. In the case of oligarchy, of those who have managed somehow or other to seize and retain power. Aristocracy is not as efficient as monarchy, since decisions are made by committee rather than by a single person, but at least the committee consists of the cream of the crop. This form of government was Plato’s description of the ideal Republic.
Conversely, oligarchy is not quite as bad as tyranny, since although the oligarchs are mostly interested in their own welfare, at least they keep each other in check to some degree.
Monarchy and tyranny, aristocracy and oligarchy, together comprise what we may call “government by the few”. This broad form of government is considered to have the following characteristics:
- It is most efficient.
- In the right hands, it is the best.
- In the wrong hands, it is the worst.
In contrast to this broad group, is the opposite approach: democracy, or,
“Government by the many”.
In this form of government, the ultimate power is invested equally in all the people, or more usually in their elected representatives. It is the ultimate form of decision making “by committee”, and therefore it is extremely inefficient; just like the USA government. Nevertheless, this weakness is also its greatest strength; no person or group, ideally, can control the government at the expense of all the others. Even if, as is generally the case in practice, everyone is out for himself, the extreme abuses of tyranny and oligarchy are prevented by the presence of checks and balances by other selfish people and groups, and some semblance of action toward the good of the whole society generally results. Thus, while it is very inefficient, democracy is not completely impotent; and while it is pervaded by, indeed, composed of, numerous special interests, at least the power is widely, and sometimes unpredictably, dispersed.
These notions of ranking can be conveniently summarized as follows: