Types of State – Classification, characteristics and examples

We explain what the types of State are according to their territorial organization, political organization or government system.

state types
The State is the set of institutions that govern a territory in a sovereign manner.

What are the types of state?

When we speak of the State, we refer to the set of bureaucratic institutions that formally order, regulate and administer life in society, through the monopoly of force (or violence), within the framework of an established territory. In other words, it is the presence of a recognizable state that makes a country a country.

We should not, however, confuse the State with other concepts related to politics, such as “country”, “nation” or “government”. State is called only the set of institutions that govern a territory in a sovereign manner and whose authority is respected by its population.

However, in colloquial or informal contexts it is possible that all these terms appear as synonyms. It is especially important not to confuse state and government, since the former is durable, while governments pass.

Now, the States are not all the same, and they can be given according to different forms that allow their classification. When we speak here of “forms”, we refer to its internal organization: its model of territorial organization, its model of political organization or even its system of government. Depending on the criteria we choose, we will have one or other forms of State, as follows:

  • According to its territorial organization, we can distinguish between unitary states, regionalized states, federal states, dependent states and confederations or unions.
  • According to your political organization, we can differentiate between parliamentary republics, presidential republics, semi-presidential republics, one-party republics, and parliamentary and absolute monarchies.
  • According to your system of governmentWe can talk about democracies, autocracies and dictatorships.

We will see each of these categories separately below.

Types of State according to their territorial organization

Taking into consideration the way in which its territory is organized, we can differentiate between:

  • Unitary states, in which there is a single and central government, located in the capital of the country, which governs everything in a homogeneous way. Even so, this type of State can be centralist, in which the single government is rigid and total, or it can be decentralized, in which there is a certain margin of regional autonomy granted by the central authority. For example: Colombia, Peru, New Zealand.
  • Regionalized states, which are former decentralized unitary states that gradually ceded greater and greater sovereignty to their regions or provinces, until they recognized a political statute of autonomy, thus calling themselves “autonomous regions”. For example: Spain, Italy or Serbia.
  • Federal states or federations, which consist of the union of states of lesser rank, which cede to a centralized government (called federal) an important quota of its authority and its political functions, but retain a good part of its autonomy and its legal provisions. Therefore, in these States there are two instances of law: local or regional, and federal or common. For example: Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Russia.
  • Dependent states, which lack full autonomy and sovereignty over their territories, as they have been granted (or taken away) by a larger and more powerful State. In these cases, the States operate as satellites of the principal, abiding by its laws and obtaining certain benefits in return. For example: Puerto Rico, the Cook Islands, the Republic of Palau.
  • Confederate states or confederations, which are groupings of independent states remotely similar to federations, with the exception that they retain a significant margin of autonomy and sovereignty, to the point that they could separate from the confederation simply by wishing to do so. As long as they are part of it, however, they enjoy common policies with the other States and respond as a political and territorial unit.

Types of State according to their political organization

Taking into consideration the way in which they are organized politically, we can first distinguish between republics and monarchies.

Republics are political systems in which public power is distributed among institutions that make up three different branches, autonomous and in charge of maintaining an internal balance: the executive (the government), the legislative (the assembly or congress) and the judicial (justice).

For its part, that monarchies are political systems in which political power rests with a monarch or life councilor, either totally or partially.

In turn, there are different types of republics and monarchies:

  • Presidential republics, those in which the branch of the executive power falls on a democratically elected president, in charge of directing the country politically, and whose powers are delimited by the other two public powers. This is the case in countries such as Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil or the Philippines.
  • Semi-presidential republics, those in which the figure of the president in charge of the executive is shared with a prime minister, often appointed by him, but who responds to the parliamentary chamber. Thus, the head of government is shared and does not fall entirely on the president. This is the case in countries such as Senegal, Haiti, Poland, France, Russia or Taiwan.
  • Parliamentary republicsThose in which the executive power does not fall on a president, but on a prime minister elected from the parties that make up the parliament. This means that the population indirectly votes for their prime minister, but also that the executive power and the leadership of the State submit to a greater extent to the legislative power and to debate among the country’s political forces. This is the case in countries like Germany, Croatia, Israel or India.
  • One-party republicsThose in which the entire government is in the hands of the same and only political party. These republics are not usually democratic and the government structure is usually the same as the State, that is, the State and the government are one and the same thing. This is the case of Cuba, China, Vietnam, Eritrea or North Korea.
  • Constitutional monarchies, Those in which the King or Monarch is in charge of the Head of Government, that is, of the executive power in full, but his power is always subject and restricted, so that his authority is not absolute or above the law. In fact, the legislative and judicial powers exist and are autonomous. It is considered an intermediate step in history between the absolute monarchy and the parliamentary one. This was the case in countries such as post-revolutionary France or Japan at the beginning of the 20th century.
  • Parliamentary monarchies, similar to the constitutional ones, with the exception that the King or Monarch occupies rather a ceremonial role, and the executive power falls instead in the hands of a Prime Minister elected among the parties that make up the parliament, although at the same time endorsed by the King. This is the case of Great Britain, Japan, Sweden, Belgium or Malaysia.
  • Absolute monarchies, those in which political power and sovereignty fall entirely on the figure of the King or Monarch, without the existence of public powers or laws that may limit or contradict it. That is, the King is the absolute political authority in executive, legislative and / or judicial matters, although it is also possible that there are public institutions in charge of each of these branches (a parliament, for example, and some courts), but his power it can never contradict or exceed that of the king. This is the case in Qatar, Oman, Swaziland or Saudi Arabia.

Types of State according to their system of government

Finally, judging according to the government system they have (democratic or not), we can distinguish between:

  • Democracies, in which sovereignty resides in the popular will, that is, in the decision of the majorities, who exercise their right to vote to decide or influence matters of public importance. In addition, today, in order to be a democracy, a country must respect universal human rights and respect the rule of law (that is, the rule of law).
  • Dictatorships, undemocratic forms of government, in which a small group wields political power at will and through force, making political and social change impossible, and often bloody imposing an established order, regardless of human rights or rule of law. the law, nor anything other than the interests of the group in power.
  • Autocracies, forms of government more or less intermediate between democracy and dictatorship, in which a democratic facade is maintained but the institutions of a democracy are undermined, penetrated and manipulated at will by the powerful sectors of society. These types of regimes tend to quickly degenerate into dictatorships.