Over the course of human history, the greatest conflicts have revolved around government and the right to rule. “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” as the saying goes. Those with advantages in life will always claim they are better suited to lead, and perhaps they are.
But that doesn’t mean they should glide to the position without a fight.
Types of Government
The morphemes –archy and –cracy carry a meaning of “government” or “rule”; –archy is the Latin form, and –cracy is the Greek, and words containing one of these two units refer to a specific type of government. For fun and world-building purposes, I’ve compiled a list of terms.
Government by the Numbers
- Monarchy: [mon– as in mono– (Gr. “one”) + –archy ] One person holds all governing power. This position is typically hereditary, though cultural tradition plays a heavy role too.
- Autocracy: [auto– (Gr. “self”) + –cracy ] One person holds all governing power. Note: while this has the same meaning as monarchy, the sense attached to autocracy is more severe. An autocratic ruler is more likely to be selfish and ruthless, whereas with a monarch, that’s a toss-up.
- Duarchy or Dinarchy. Word origin: [du– (Lat. “two”) or di(n)– (Gr. “two”) + –archy ] Two people hold all governing power between them.
There are additional numeric combinations: pentarchy, hexarchy, heptarchy, and octarchy [penta– (Gr. “five”), hex– (Gr. “six”), hept– (Gr. “seven”), and oct– (Gr. “eight”)], for example. These terms refer to groups of five, six, seven, and eight allied states or governors and, presumably, any of the Greek numerical prefixes would work in this template. Why the Greek prefix gets tied to the Latin suffix is anyone’s guess, though.
(Just kidding. There’s a Greek cognate for –archy, so it’s all good.)
- Oligarchy: [olig– as in oligo- (Gr. “few, little”) + –archy ] A few select persons hold all governing power. This can be a council or a socially superior caste: the Powers That Be have closed ranks.
- Gynarchy or Gynocracy: [gyn– or gyno– (Gr. “female, woman”) + –archy or –cracy ] Women hold all governing power. Yeah, you can probably imagine how common this form of government is. But that’s why we write fantasy novels, right? To explore new territory.
- Hagiocracy or Hagiarchy: [hagio– or hagi– (Gr. “holy, sacred”) + –cracy or –archy ] Holy people hold all governing power. This is a religion-governed state.
- Plutocracy: [from ploutos (Gr. “wealth”) + –cracy ] The wealthy class holds all governing power. So, like, every country in the world. /cynicism
- Democracy: [demo– (Gr. “people”) + –cracy ] The people hold all governing power. Majority rules.
- Mobocracy: [mob– (Lat., short for mobile vulgus, “the movable/inconstant commoners”) + –cracy ] As the name implies, this is when a state is under mob rule. The term dates back to the 18th century, oddly enough. I’d have set it in the 1920s myself.
- Theocracy: [theo– (Gr. “god”) + –cracy ] God holds all governing power, and He invests it in his appointed servant(s) to act as His administrators. This is, like hagiocracy, a religion-governed state.
- Anarchy: [an– (Gr. “not, without, lacking”) + –archy ] No one has governing power. Total chaos reigns supreme, and every man for himself!
- Meritocracy: [merit– (Lat., meritum “praiseworthy”) + –cracy ] Governing power belongs to those who merit it; a system that rewards ability rather than connections. I don’t believe this really exists except in closed circles, but the closed circles themselves imply connections, so… yeah. It’s a nice thought, though.
Additional Government Types
Not all forms of government include the –archy or –cracy suffix, of course. Here are some other lovely, government-related words to keep in mind.
- Republic: [from Lat. res publica “public entity”] Governing power belongs to the people, through elected representatives.
- Feudalism: [the etymology is mangled, but it relates to fief and a bygone meaning of fee “an inherited estate” and likely comes from Germanic/Teutonic roots. So there.] A system in which governing lords control lands and occupants thereof, and in turn pay homage to a higher Power or Powers That Be.
- Nepotism: [from Ital. nepote “nephew”] The practice of showing political, social, or economic favor to family members.
- Cronyism: [crony, from 1600s British academic slang of Gr. khronios “long time/duration” to indicate an old friend] The practice of showing political, social, or economic favor to close friends and associates.
- Triumvirate: [from trium virorum (Lat. “three men”)] Governing power belongs jointly to three individuals. This was a Roman form of government that occurred under Caesars Julius and Augustus; an individual member of a triumvirate is called a triumvir.
Government has, from the beginning of time, been a social necessity. It’s telling to note, however, the number of synonyms that exist for dictator: tyrant, despot, autocrat, oppressor, usurper, fascist, authoritarian, totalitarian, and so forth.
Ultimately, power leads to corruption. Those who govern will always battle the allure of unrighteous dominion—if they don’t embrace it outright, that is.