GOVT Chapter 1 Contours of American Democracy
Resolving Conflicts • Social conflict – disagreement among people in a society over what the society’s priorities should be – is inevitable. Resolving such conflicts is the essence of politics. • Governments decide how conflicts will be resolved so that public order can be maintained. They have power, which is the ability to influence the behavior of others and may involve use of force. • Governments typically also have authority which they can exercise only if their power is legitimate.
Providing Public Services • Public services are essential services that many individuals cannot provide for themselves, such as building and maintaining roads, operating public schools, and preserving national parks. • Public services also include national defense, law enforcement, health and welfare benefits, etc. • One of the most crucial public services that the government is expected to provide is protection from hardship caused by economic recessions and depressions.
Defending the Nation and Its Culture • The U.S. government provides for the common defense and national security with its Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard. • The Constitution gives the national government exclusive power over relations with foreign nations. • Since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in 2001, defending the homeland against future terrorist attacks has become a priority of our government.
Rule by One: Autocracy • In an autocracy, the power and authority of the government are in the hands of a single person. • Autocrats usually obtain their power by inheriting it or by force. • A monarchy is a form of autocracy, ruled by a king, queen, emperor , empress, tsar, or tsarina. The monarch usually acquires power through inheritance and is the highest authority in the government. • The divine right theory held that God gave those of royal birth the unlimited right to govern other men and women.
Rule by One: Autocracy, cont. • A dictatorship is another form of autocracy, in which a single leader rules, although not typically through inheritance. • Dictators hold absolute power and are not accountable to anyone. • A dictatorship can also be totalitarian, which means that a leader seeks to control almost all aspects of social and economic life.
Rule by Many: Democracy • Democracy is a form of government in which the supreme political authority rests with the people. • The government exists only by the consent of the people and reflects the will of the majority. • Direct democracy – the people participate directly in government decision making. • Direct democracy is possible only in small communities in which citizens can meet in a chosen place and decide key issues and policies. • Nowhere in the world does pure direct democracy exist today.
Rule by Many: Democracy, cont. • In a representative democracy, the will of the majority is expressed through groups of individuals elected by the people to act as their representatives. • Our founders preferred to use the term republic, essentially a representative democracy – with one qualification – a republic, by definition has no king or queen; rather, the people are sovereign. • A representative democracy can be led by a monarch.
Rule by Many: Democracy, cont. • There are basically two forms of representative democracy: • In a presidential democracy, the lawmaking and law-enforcing branches of government are separate but equal. • In the United States, Congress is charged with the power to make laws, and the president is charged with the power to carry them out.
Rule by Many: Democracy, cont. • In a parliamentary democracy, the lawmaking and law-enforcing branches of government overlap. • In Britain, the prime minister and the cabinet are members of Parliament, which both enacts the laws and carries them out.
Other Forms of Government • A plutocracy is a government in which the wealthy exercise ruling power. • A meritocracy is a government in which the rulers have earned, or merited, the right to govern because of their special skills or talents. • A theocracy is a government in which there is no separation of church and state. The government rules according to religious precepts. • In Iran, for example, the Koran (Qur’an) serves as the basis for the law.
The British Legacy • In writing the U.S. Constitution, the framers incorporated two basic principles of government that had evolved in England: • Limited government • Representative government
The British Legacy – Limited Government • The Magna Carta provided for a trial by a jury of one’s peers, prohibited the taking of a free man’s life, liberty, or property except through due process of law. • The Magna Carta clearly established the principle of limited government – government on which strict limits are placed, usually by a constitution. • The principle of limited government was expanded in 1628 with the signing of the Petition of Rights – prohibiting the monarch from imprisoning political critics without a jury trial.
The British Legacy – Representative Government • In a representative government, the people elect individuals to make governmental decisions. • This group of representatives is often referred to as a parliament, which is frequently a bicameral (two-house) legislature. • The English parliament consists of the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and provided a model for Americans to follow.
The British Legacy – Political Philosophy • Social-contract theory was developed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries by such philosophers as John Locke and Thomas Hobbes in England and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in France. • Individuals voluntarily agree with one another, in a “social-contract,” to give up some of their freedoms to obtain the benefits of orderly government.
Principles of American Democracy • We can say that American democracy is based on five fundamental principles: • Equality in voting • Individual freedom • Equal protection of the law • Majority rule and minority rights • Voluntary consent to be governed
American Political Values • From its beginnings, America has been defined by a set of ideas, or its political culture – a patterned set of ideas, values, and ways of thinking about government and politics. • The political values outlined in the Declaration of Independence include natural rights (to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness), equality under the law, government by the consent of the governed, and limited government powers.
American Political Values - Liberty • The term liberty refers to a state of being free from external controls or restrictions. • The U.S. Constitution sets forth our civil liberties, including the freedom to practice whatever religion we choose and to be free from any state-imposed religion, and the freedom to speak freely on any topics and issues.
American Political Values - Equality • The goal of equality has always been a central part of American political culture. • Although most Americans believe that all persons should have the opportunity to fulfill their potential, few contend that it is the government’s responsibility to totally eliminate the economic and social differences that lead to unequal opportunities. Did the election of President Barack Obama indicate that we are now the “land of opportunity” and equality?
American Political Values - Property • For Americans, property and the pursuit of happiness are closely related. • Private ownership of wealth-producing property is at the heart of our capitalist economic system. • Capitalism enjoys such widespread support in the United States that we can reasonably call it one of the nation’s fundamental political values.
Political Values in a Multicultural Society • One of the outgrowths of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, however, was an emphasis on multiculturalism, the belief that the many cultures that make up American society should remain distinct and be protected by our laws.
American Political Ideology • Ideology refers to a system of political ideas. • Americans tend to fall into two broad political camps: liberals and conservatives. • Liberal has been used to refer to someone who advocates change, new philosophies, and new ideas. • Conservative has described a person who values past customs and traditions that have proved their value over time.
American Political Ideology - Liberalism • From that time on, the word liberalism became associated with the concept of “big government,” that is, with government intervention to aid economically disadvantaged groups and to promote equality. • Modern liberalism in the United States traces its roots to the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt and its New Deal programs.
American Political Ideology, cont. • Today’s liberals continue to believe that the government has a responsibility to undertake social-welfare programs at the taxpayers’ expense and to assist the poor and the disadvantaged. • Liberals believe that the national government should take steps to ensure that our civil rights and liberties are protected. • Liberals typically believe in the separation of church and state, and generally think that the government should not involve itself in the moral or religious life of the nation.
American Political Ideology - Conservatism • Modern conservatism in this country can also trace its roots to the Roosevelt administration, which gave conservatives a common cause: opposition to the New Deal and to big government. • Today’s conservatives tend to fall into two basic categories: • Economic conservatives – those who seek to minimize government spending and intervention in the economy • Social conservatives – those who seek to incorporate religious and family values into political government
The Traditional Political Spectrum • Moderates – people whose views fall in the middle of the traditional political spectrum. • Many moderates do not belong to either major political party and often describe themselves as independent. • The radical left consists of those who would like significant changes in the political order, usually to promote human equality.
The Traditional Political Spectrum, cont. • The radical right includes reactionaries, those who wish to turn the clock back to some previous era when, for example, there weren’t so many civil rights. • Members of the radical right may advocate the use of violence to achieve their goals.
Ideology and Today’s Electorate • Those who hold strongly to political ideologies are called ideologues and usually fit easily on one side or the other of the political spectrum. • Many Americans, though, do not adhere to a particular political ideology.
The Big Picture • Even the most divisive issues can be and are resolved through the political process. Some of the questions that will be answered in the remaining chapters are: • How does this process work? • Who are the key players?
The Big Picture, cont. • The next chapter will focus on a discussion of how and why the Constitution was created, the type of governing structure it established, and the rights and liberties it guarantees for all Americans. • These topics, covered in Chapters 2 through 5, are necessarily the point of departure for any discussion of our system of government.
Who Governs? • As you read through Chapters 6 through 10, keep the following questions in mind: • How do interest groups influence elections? • How essential are political parties to the electoral process? • To what extent do public opinion and voting behavior play a role in determining who the winners and losers will be? • Why are political campaigns so expensive and what are the implications of high campaign costs for our democracy? • What role do the media, including the Internet, play in fashioning the outcomes of a campaign?
Who Governs? • In Chapter 11 and the remaining chapters, we examine these institutions and the process of government decision making.
Politics on the Web • www.usa.gov • www.thisnation.com • www.newspapers.com • www.cnn.com/POLITICS • www.cdt.org • People-press.org • www.library.yale.edu/socsci • www.4ltrpress.cengage.com/govt