Chapter One The Foundations of American Government
What is Politics? • Process of resolving conflicts and deciding, as Harold Laswell put it, “who gets what, when, and how” • Struggle over power or influence within organizations or informal groups that can grant or withhold benefits or privileges • Process that regulates conflict within society (conflict is universal, endemic, pervasive) over the distribution of benefits • David Easton = politics is about the authoritative allocation of values for a society
What is Government? • An institution in which decisions are made that resolve conflicts or allocate benefits and privileges • Preeminent institution within society; ultimate authority for making decisions and allocating values • Power to enforce rules that impose order and stability; authority to make and enforce laws considered legitimate (proper, appropriate) • Max Weber = the state (i.e., government) has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence
Why Do We Need Government? • Security • Order • Liberty, Equality, Property • Men/women are not angels • Resources are limited, scarce • Conflict is endemic, universal • All states seek stability, security, prosperity
Types of Government • Totalitarian regime – rule by a small group or an individual dictator; with control over all aspects of life • Authoritarianism – only the government (not social and economic institutions) are fully controlled by the ruler • Oligarchy – rule by a few elites, who make decisions to benefit their own group • Aristocracy – initially rule by the best suited, which meant the wealthy, later it meant titled nobility • Democracy – political power is vested in the people • Direct democracy – when citizens vote directly on laws (e.g., initiatives, referendums, recall)
Discussion Question • What are the advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy?
Formal Characteristics of American Democracy • Consent of the governed • Republican (sovereignty rests in the people) • Representative (people elect decision-makers) • Limited government (constitutionalism) • Universal suffrage • Majority rule/minority protections
What Kind of Democracy Do We Have? • Majoritarianism – the political theory that, in a democracy, the government should do what the majority of the people want • Elite theory – the idea that society is ruled by a small group who exercise power in their self-interest (class theory = dominant class) • Pluralism – a theory that views politics as conflict among interest groups, where decisions are made through bargaining and compromise
Discussion Question • What kind of democracy do you think we we have? • majoritarian? • elite? • pluralistic? • What are the strengths/weaknesses of each theory? • What kind of democracy should we have? • How “democratic” is the U.S.?
What is Political Culture? • Collection of beliefs and attitudes toward government and the political process held by a community or nation • Learned through political socialization • Occurs in many settings, family, schools, etc. • Dominant culture = values, customs, and language established by group or groups that have controlled politics and government • Subcultures = competing sets of values
Fundamental Values of American Political Culture • Liberty, equality, and property • Liberty = greatest freedom of individuals consistent with freedom of others • Equality = all people are of equal worth (formal/legal equality and equal opportunity vs. equality of conditions) • Property = anything that is or may be subject to ownership • Inherent trade-offs, tension between these values • Liberty in tension with equality; equality with property (also liberty with order)
Discussion Questions • How is liberty in tension with equality? • How is liberty in tension with order?
What is Ideology? • Ideology = comprehensive set of beliefs about the nature of people (human nature) and the role of government • Liberalism = advocates government action to improve the welfare of individuals, support for civil rights and tolerance for social change • Conservatism = advocates a limited role for the government in helping individuals and support for traditional values and lifestyles • Most Americans tend to be moderate
What this spectrum leaves out • From left to right • Communism • Democratic Socialism • Fascism • On a line, or in a circle
Discussion Question • How would you identify yourself? • What is your ideological orientation?
Hot Links to Selected Internet Resources: • Book’s Companion Site: http://politicalscience.wadsworth.com/schmidtbrief2004 • Wadsworth’s Political Science Site: http://politicalscience.wadsworth.com • Government Resources on the Web: http://www.lib.umich.edu/govdocs/govweb.html • Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy: http://www.puaf.umd.edu/IPPP