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Distinguish limited from unlimited government, and provide examples of each type of government
Focus Question: What are the characteristics of limited and unlimited government?
In a limited government, the power of the government is limited by laws and regulation, which is often written into a constitution. These laws provide protection of civil liberties against government encroachment.
There are numerous variations of limited governments, including federal republics, constitutional monarchies, and parliamentary democracies.
The United States is considered a federal republic.
Unlimited governments are run by a single person or group, with no checks on power. Absolute monarchies, fascist states and military juntas are all forms of unlimited government.
Present day North Korea (a one-man dictatorship) is a present-day unlimited government.
For more see,
United States History I.13
2008 World map showing countries considered “electoral democracies”
of Systems of Government by Country.
For another listing, see
Government Types from the CIA World Factbook
that defines each type of government as well as identifying the governmental type of every nation in the world.
Interactive lesson plan
about the importance of rights as protection from tyranny
Political poster demanding a Digital Direct Democracy
, the intervening power of the government is limited by laws and regulation, and the government is thus prevented from interfering with civil liberties.
This is often written into a constitution; thus the term "constitutional governmental" is often used. One of the most important characteristics of a limited government is that it does not have authoritarian power. Instead, the government is made up of democratically elected officials that vote on issues or laws.
Limited government is a broad term encompassing numerous types of governments, including parliamentary democracies (Poland), constitutional monarchies (Malaysia, the U.K.), constitutional republics (Uruguay), parliamentary monarchies (Spain) and federal republics (Brazil, Nigeria). The United States is considered a federal republic.
This means that it is a federation of states with a republic government. The term republic derives from the Latin "res publica" which roughly translates to "public affairs," because the Roman Republic was governed by a Senate after overthrowing the king.
The Magna Carta
was one of the first documents which limited the power of government by challenging the King of England's sovereignty.
United States Constitution
is a document which outlines the limits of power. The Constitution was designed to limit the government's role to its most necessary functions by creating a system of checks and balances and by describing the terms of election by the people. The
Bill of Rights
contains a number of constitutional amendments protecting personal freedoms such as the right to free speech, right to trial, and the right to vote.
Standard USG 1.9
which contains links to fundamental documents of limited government.
A chart showing connections between the three branches of government in the United States (
from Wikimedia Commons
means "authoritarian and totalitarian systems" (National Standards for Civics and Government, Center for Civic Education, 1994, p. 91). These systems are usually defined by government systems that are controlled by a small group or single ruler. This group or ruler has supreme control over rights and decision making and can exercise the right to take away personal liberties. Absolute monarchies, theocracies, and military juntas are types of unlimited governments.
A distinction is often made between authoritarian vs. totalitarian forms of unlimited government.
Authoritarian governments are systems where power is concentrated in the hands on one person or a small group.
Totalitarian governments are systems that seek to control every aspect of people's lives.
Nazi Germany under Hitler and Russia under Stalin are historical examples of unlimited governments.
is a theocratic authoritarian government where the Ayatollah is the Supreme Leader whose powers are mostly unchecked.
is a present-day totalitarian state, operating as a one-man dictatorship by Kim Il Sung.
Germany as an Example
Germany, under control of Hitler and the Nazi party, was an example of unlimited government.
, and the ones that follow it, explain how the Nazi party came to power, as well as how it exercised totalitarian control over its people. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has
historical film footage
to exemplify this control.
The Anne Frank Museum has an
entire portion of their website
devoted to teaching tools.
Iran as an Example
For an historical overview, see
World History II.47
Iran is controlled primarily by the Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iran is considered theocratic because nearly every aspect of the political sphere is theoretically based in Islamic, or Sharia, law.
However, the entire government structure is very complex and forms more of a hybrid-style government.
Unlike authoritarian regimes like North Korea or Soviet Russia, Iran has some checks and balances in place.
Just like how the American system of government combines elements from multiple styles of governing, Iran blends together different aspects. Overall, the product is a mostly authoritarian regime in which all decisions go through the Supreme Leader.
Current Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
for a BBC chart showing Iran's complex system of government.
"The Structure of Power in Iran, explains each aspect of the Iranian government in more detail.
has many great articles related to the struggle of women living in Iran today.
two part video, "Inside Iran."
North Korea as an Example
World History II.32
for background on the Korean War
Inside North Korea
from BBC Panorama News on YouTube.
How North Korean Children are Taught to Hate the 'American b*********" at KIndergarten
focuses on the use of schools to promote anti-American indoctrination.
Ask a North Korean
from the Guardian to read about how women are treated in North Korea.
See this time lapse from
through the capital city of Pyongyang.
In present-day North Korea, the dictatorship is supported by government-sponsored propaganda, of which the following monument is an example. This propaganda enhances the image of the "Supreme Leader" by creating a cult of personality, encouraging national pride, and mandating devotion to the state and its leaders.
While propaganda is used by democracies and totalitarian states alike, the discussion of propaganda as a tool for convincing the masses can be useful in educating students on how an unlimited government can come into power unopposed by its citizens.
This lesson plan
has students understand the role of propaganda in the rise of Nazi Germany and fascism throughout Europe in the 1930s.
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