The Most Bizarre Governments In History, Ranked
Human beings have been in the business of government for a long time. Since we first developed language, we have been arguing over the correct way to organize the state. Should the government help its citizens, or should it be minimally involved? Should it maintain a standing military, or raise armies when necessary? And just who ought to be in charge of the whole thing?
Throughout human history, societies have had some... creative answers to these questions. Not only are there bizarre agencies within governments that otherwise function, sometimes the whole government is strange. From the needlessly complicated to the downright bizarre, there have been dozens of strange governments attempted, with varying degrees of success.
The governments on this list aren't just historical curiosities, they are maps of human attempts to relate to one another. Some may laugh at them, but they were all, at one time or another, sincere attempts to solve society's problems.
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After a visit to North Korea, the British academic Christopher Hitchens remarked: "North Korea is unique in having a dead man as head of state: Kim Jong-il is the head of the party and the army but the presidency is held in perpetuity by his deceased father, which makes the country a necrocracy or mausolocracy..."
The origins of the current North Korean state are incredibly complicated, but it is true that Kim Il-sung, the first leader of modern North Korea, is the "Eternal President" of the country. Kim Jong-un is the head of the party and the military, but technically not the state. The reason for this is that North Korea is one of the most intensely leader-worship-driven societies in the modern world. Kim Il-sung is literally revered as a god, with shrines in all major buildings, murals depicting his accomplishments, songs praising him, and regularly scheduled mandatory worship.
While this religious totalitarianism is unusual in the modern world, it is not without precedent. The deification of rulers is a tradition dating back to the Ancient Egyptian pharaohs.
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The Taiping Heavenly Kingdom Government Was Led By A Man Who Claimed To Be Christ's Brother
Hong Xiuquan was a provincial schoolteacher in 19th century China who probably wouldn't appear in the history books if a Christian missionary hadn't handed him a copy of the New Testament one day. After reading the book, he decided that dreams he'd had earlier in life featuring a man with a long white beard meant he was the brother of Christ, and his job was to create a Christian government in China.
Hong hit the road and preached a message of Christianity, but also a message of equality for the poor. In fact, Hong's political views are described by experts as "a primitive kind of communism." By promising land to everyone in his army, he recruited vast numbers of peasants very quickly and overwhelmed the unsuspecting Chinese troops.
As might be expected from a man who had never had a civics lesson, Hong set up a short-lived government based on a combination of Christian teachings and his own whims. He imposed restrictions on his followers, forbidding adultery and licentiousness, and brutal punishments if they were violated, including beheadings. However, as he grew more paranoid, Hong retreated to the company of his 60 concubines. He was eventually poisoned, although it's unclear if he was killed or if the death was self-inflicted.
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The town of High Wycombe, England, has a very old-fashioned way of checking for corruption. Traditionally, the mayor is weighed by a town official called the "Macebearer." The macebearer will call out the weight of the mayor, and if this call is followed by "and no more," it means the mayor has not been getting fat on the taxpayers' money. However, if the macebearer calls out "and some more," the crowd boos, and the mayor is accused of embezzlement.
While the tradition dates back to the Middle Ages, these days it's an entirely ceremonial moment. In the old days, the citizens would pelt corpulent mayors with rotten fruit. However, that part of the tradition hasn't survived.
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A full understanding of the Bosnia-Herzegovina government system is beyond the scope of this article. It is perhaps the most complicated governmental system in the world today, and it is mired in the intricate and byzantine strife that came along with the Balkan Wars.
The current system began with the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995. It stipulates that the nation has three presidents: one Bosnian, one Croat, and one Serb. This ethnic division extends to the 15-member House of Peoples, which consists of five Bosnians, five Croats, and five Serbs. This isn't even touching on the Republika Srpska, an almost-autonomous entity state within the country. It is even further compounded by the many nationalist movements and political parties across the small country.
This system is the result of the intense ethnic conflicts that led to war in the Balkans in the '90s. While the violence has calmed down, the tensions still seethe, hence the divided governments.
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The Bavarian Republic Was Run By Writers And Artists For Six Days
As World War I reached its disastrous conclusion for Germany, many revolutions and secessions took place within the country, including the revolution of a province called Bavaria. After a couple of abortive attempts, the various left-wing parties established a Soviet republic on April 6, 1919. At its head was Ernst Toller, an idealistic 26-year-old and future playwright. He was supported by many other artists and writers.
One of his advisors said they only needed a few days to reshape the world. Six days was all they would get. The various ministers under Toller's government ranged from incompetent to downright bizarre. His Commissar of Foreign Affairs sent a telegram to the pope complaining about a stolen bathroom key, which finally prompted Toller to remove him from office. The government accomplished nothing of substance in its time in power, and, on April 13, was deposed by a military coup.
The group of pacifist and anarchist thinkers who had run the government faced brutal consequences, including, in some cases, execution. Toller himself received a fairly light sentence of five years in prison, during which time he wrote some of his best plays, which are still in print today.
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There is an argument to be made that the larger a country is, the more effective its system must be, and that smaller populations can get away with systems that would never fly in nations like Russia or China. If this is true, then the tiny nation of Andorra could use just about any system it likes. Andorra is a co-principality, and has two heads of state, plus a prime minister. However, these two heads of state are not royalty, and they are not democratically elected. At least, not in Andorra.
In the 13th century, Spain and France were at odds over the tiny principality, nestled as it is between the two of them in the Pyrenees. The solution to the constant tug-of-war was devised in 1278, when a Spanish bishop and a French count were named co-princes of the tiny nation. Over the years, this princehood was instead given to the French king, and eventually the French president. Yes, this means Emmanuel Macron is a prince.
However, the day-to-day running of Andorra does not much involve Macron, nor his Spanish counterpart Joan Enric Vives i Sicília, the current Bishop of Urgell. Instead, it is managed by Prime Minister Xavier Espot Zamora, head of the Democrats for Andorra party.