Among the clauses of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and entirely consistent with core humanist principles, is the support for the right (and obligation) of self-governance, either directly or through elected representatives. Despite the presence of a large, international consensus for democratic government, much of the world languishes under authoritarian or totalitarian control.

Support for democratic governance lies at the core of the humanist philosophy, and humanists view democratic forms of government as the best means for ensuring self-determination. In many respects, humanists are advocates for democratic reform in much the same way that they are proponents of human rights.

Even in nations where liberal democracy is the accepted form of government, continued reforms may be necessary to ensure fair representation and free and fair elections. Recall that even in the United States, universal suffrage did not exist until the 20th century, and the right to vote was only extended to 18-year-olds in 1971. Liberal democracy is, by historical norms, a very recent phenomenon, and humanity is still in the early stages of this experiment. Thus, democratic systems will continually be refined.

Contemporary issues in democratic societies may include the guarantee of equal voting rights, an educated electorate, election monitoring, campaign finance reform, proportional voting, gerrymandering, or honest presentation of issues by candidates.

Finally, it is not enough simply to have democratic rule, and humanists may find themselves seeking protection for minorities against the tyranny of the majority.


Totalitarianism (or totalitarian rule) is a political system where the state recognizes no limits to its authority and strives to regulate every aspect of public and private life wherever feasible. Totalitarian regimes stay in political power through an all-encompassing propaganda campaign, which is disseminated through the state-controlled mass media, a single party that is often marked by political repression, personality cultism, control over the economy, regulation and restriction of speech, mass surveillance, and widespread use of terror.




Authoritarianism is characterized by highly concentrated, and centralized power maintained by political repression and the exclusion of potential challengers. It uses political parties and mass organizations to mobilize people around the goals of the regime.

Authoritarianism emphasizes arbitrary law rather than the rule of law, it often includes election rigging, political decisions being made by a select group of officials behind closed doors, a bureaucracy that sometimes operates independently of rules, which does not properly supervise elected officials, and fails to serve the concerns of the constituencies they purportedly serve.