Comparing Forms of Government

How should political and economic power be distributed in a society?

2.1 Introduction

In September 2012, delegates representing the 193 members of the United Nations met in New York City for the 67th session of the UN General Assembly. The majority of these nations’ governments are categorized as democracies. The governments of a few nations are monarchies. Fewer yet are dictatorships.

Among the members of the United Nations are countries with vastly different populations, forms of government, and economic systems. Consider, for example, the differences between two of the newest members: Switzerland and South Sudan. Switzerland joined the United Nations in 2002, and South Sudan joined in 2011. However, other than UN membership, Switzerland and South Sudan have little in common.

Switzerland existed as an independent nation in Central Europe for more than 350 years before joining the United Nations. Eight million Swiss live in a prosperous nation with a thriving market economy. With a literacy rate of 99 percent, the Swiss are among the world’s best-educated people. They also enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living.

In contrast, South Sudan became an independent state several days before joining the United Nations in 2011. Prior to its independence, South Sudan was part of Sudan, a landlocked African country with a history of political instability and civil wars. Since Sudan gained independence from British rule in 1956, the people of southern Sudan sparsely won positions in their government. After years of war and discontent, South Sudan finally gained independence. Today, South Sudan is an impoverished nation with a traditional economy. About a quarter of adults in South Sudan can read, and living standards are low.

The people of Switzerland and South Sudan do have one thing in common. When facing the question of who should have power to rule their nations, both answered, “the people.” For the Swiss, this decision was made in 1848, when they adopted a constitution that created a democratic government. The South Sudanese, however, only recently decided to build a democracy. Whether this endeavor will be successful in this troubled country remains to be seen.

Next Section: 2.2 (The Origins and Evolution of Government)