Rule by a Single Person

  • John Morrow


The claim that political authority should be located in the hands of a single person has appeared in a variety of forms. The prevalence of democracy in the modern world should not blind us to the fact that the idea of single-person rule has had a dominant place in the history of Western political thought. Indeed the modern preference for popular government is an exception to a pattern of political thinking that has generally been hostile to democracy. While this hostility has been a common feature of defences of monarchy — that is, rule by a single person who is endowed with the sanctity and trappings of ‘kingship’, it has been shared to some degree by those promoting non-monarchical conceptions of rule by ‘the one’. In particular, proponents of single-person rule share a common belief in the need for a ruler to provide a sense of unity in the state and to give direction to its activities. They also assume that it is possible to identify a person who possesses the distinct and relevant attributes that are necessary to attain these ends. This chapter will discuss ancient, early modern and modern accounts of government by ‘the one’, some of which present defences of monarchy. It will also examine modern, non-monarchical accounts of single-person rule. Some of these theories regard the ruler as the only really significant political actor in the state, but others focus on the need for a supreme ruler within systems where other actors also play important political roles.


Single Person Political Authority Political Thought Royal Family Parliamentary Democracy 
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Copyright information

© John Morrow 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • John Morrow
    • 1
  1. 1.Victoria University of WellingtonNew Zealand

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