POLSC101 Study Guide

Site: Saylor Academy
Course: POLSC101: Introduction to Political Science
Book: POLSC101 Study Guide
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Date: Tuesday, January 31, 2023, 7:21 PM


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Study Guide Structure

In this study guide, the sections in each unit (1a., 1b., etc.) are the learning outcomes of that unit. 

Beneath each learning outcome are:

  • questions for you to answer independently;
  • a brief summary of the learning outcome topic; and
  • and resources related to the learning outcome. 

At the end of each unit, there is also a list of suggested vocabulary words.


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Through reviewing and completing the study guide, you should gain a deeper understanding of each learning outcome in the course and be better prepared for the final exam!

Unit 1: Foundational Concepts of Politics

1a. Situate the academic discipline of political science within the broader field of social science

Political science is one of several interrelated academic disciplinary fields that explores and attempts to explain various aspects of human behavior and human relations.

  • The social sciences include political science, anthropology, sociology, economics, history, psychology, cognitive science, behavioral science, and organizational behavior.
  • Each of the social sciences connects with other disciplines within the social sciences.
  • Give an example of how politics, economics, and social issues interplayed and influenced the US presidential election campaigns of the leading candidates in 2016.
  • Refer back to Introduction to Political Science to refresh your understanding of how closely related and overlapping yet distinct the various disciplinary fields of the social sciences actually are. Why is it important to study political science even if one is not necessarily interested in becoming a politician or government official?

Political science is often thought of as the science explaining who gets what, where, when, and how. In other words, it is the study of power among individuals in communities and the world. Because power also can be exercised in the economic sphere, between persons, and even within an individual, a complete study of power must refer not only to political science's principles and understandings but also to several other social science fields such as economics, history, sociology, and psychology. Could a political candidate seeking office, for example, run an effective campaign without considering how individual voters develop political preferences and make decisions? It would be difficult to understand how political actors gain their positions of prominence without paying attention to the other social science fields.

The field of political science itself includes several subfields, each dealing with a different aspect of political decision-making and public life.

  • The main subfields of political science in the United States are comparative politics, international politics, American politics, political theory, political behavior, public administration, and public policy.
  • Each country or geographical region of the world has its own distinct subfield focusing on the politics of its own country or region. For example, Latin American politics includes the study of political power and political decision-making in the countries of Central and South America as well as the overlapping study of politics among Hispanic Americans and immigrants from Central and South America who migrated to the US for work, as refugees, as students, or as family members of persons already in the US.
  • Why might Canadian political scientists study both Canadian and American politics?

Consider what the academic world would be like if no one studied political science. Could the other social sciences adequately explain power relations and the acquisition, distribution, and wielding of power if we had no field called "political science"? Do we really need to study power and politics in an academic setting, or is it enough to use other fields such as history and economics to explain power relations between individuals and communities?


1b. Define politics, power, authority, and legitimacy

Politics and power are integrally related, yet each represents a distinct concept.

  • Politics is the study of who gets or exercises power and how they do this.
  • Politics takes place at many levels, from very local levels such as in a family or a neighborhood all the way up to the global level, as with international politics – the political interactions of countries, geographical regions, and international actors such as global alliances.
  • Give an example of how politics may explain interactions and power dynamics in a family.
  • How politics is involved in trade relations and alliances between countries?

The concept of political power involves two basic contrasting forms of power: that coming from groups of people acting collectively to exert influence and that coming from an individual, group, or governmental organization or body attempting to force the people under its influence or in other parts of the world to accept its authority or follow its directions. In what ways does this double meaning of power shape the ways people feel about politics and government?

Authority and legitimacy are mutually connected yet different concepts. Both relate to considerations of power and the use of power to achieve goals in organized societies.

  • When an individual or group accepts that another individual or group has power over them, the party exercising the power is said to have authority.
  • Legitimacy signifies that the person or body holding power over others is doing so in a way that is fitting and appropriate.
  • Can you think of an example of a political leader who has authority over his or her community members but not legitimacy? How can a political leader lack legitimacy while still wielding authority? What leads to the sense that a politician is illegitimately exercising power?

To better understand the nuances of authority and legitimacy, review the comments on these two concepts in Government and Politics.


1c. Analyze the debate over political science as a "scientific" discipline

The principles of scientific research require that hypotheses are developed and tested and that a logically connected set or series of hypotheses are used to construct a scientific theory to explain phenomena in the world.

  • When political scientists develop theories of power relations and the wielding of power among individuals, groups, nations, and international actors, they make testable hypotheses against which they compare relevant evidence collected objectively or logically determined, depending on whether they examine real-world events or explore concepts more philosophically.
  • When is it appropriate to question the scientific validity of a political theory or hypothesis? Why might the public not trust theories developed from public opinion polls on the one hand or from logically developed, philosophical thinking on the other? Is it possible for political science to be truly scientific and rigorous? Does the fluidity of social relationships and human relations make it difficult or impossible to test political theories adequately?
  • Consider again the views of the authors of Research in Political Science. Are the authors convincing in their argument that political scientists can develop theories as rigorously testable as the theories of "hard scientists" (biologists, chemists, physicists), often based on the observable behavior of physical objects and objectively measurable phenomena?

To test political hypotheses and develop political theories, "operationalizing variables" is necessary – that is, defining changeable elements in measurable ways, where operations can be conducted (like varying the amount of one element expected to affect another phenomenon).

  • If a variable cannot be operationalized, it is not possible to test it in a hypothesis.
  • Both qualitative and quantitative methods can be used to test hypotheses in political science.
  • When is it appropriate to use qualitative means to test political science hypotheses rather than quantitative methods based on hard data? Is it equally scientific to use qualitative methods of research to investigate power relations and political phenomena, or is qualitative research never as conclusive or rigorous as quantitative research based on measurable data and statistics?
  • Why is statistical analysis important in verifying hypotheses in political science about election behavior and voting? What are the limitations of using only quantitative research methods in developing theories of voting behavior? Review An Insider View on the Relevance of Political Scientists to Government as you develop your answers.

Many contend that public policy must be based on well-tested scientific hypotheses and theories with sufficient evidence before laws are enacted and public programs funded with tax-payers' dollars are implemented. Others say that because political science is less rigorous than physical sciences like biology and chemistry, political theories that are less easily tested also can provide the grounds for making political decisions and developing public policies. Should public policy only be based on objective, testable hypotheses, or can more general collectively approved goals (such as equity, fairness, income equality, or liberty) shape decisions and action by politicians?


1d. Explain the concepts of constitutionalism and political representation

Constitutionalism is the belief that a formal written or unwritten constitution should serve as the framework of government for those living under a political authority.

  • A constitution is a basic framework of organizing principles for government and outlines power relationships between governing authorities and the people to be governed.
  • In a constitutional form of government, the constitution may be one document or a set of documents or oral agreements made over a period of time.
  • The laws of a country must be developed in accordance with the country's constitution in order to be accorded legitimacy by the people of that country. When a country has a constitution, all laws and legal decisions (judgments on the application and enforceability of laws) should align with the constitution. If a law is enacted that conflicts with the constitution, the constitution should take priority and the law must be annulled.
  • Many political scientists contend that a constitutional form of government provides greater stability for political decision-making and transitions of power than governments either lacking or only loosely following a formal constitution. Countries undergoing radical political change in short periods of time may have constitutions that are not very long lasting or influential on political leaders. The US has one of the longest-standing constitutions in the world as the US Constitution was developed and approved at the end of the 18th century and is still in force today.
  • Review Constitutionalism to see if you think it is beneficial for the US to be guided strictly by a constitution in developing laws, even at the state level, or whether it is acceptable to follow the constitution less strictly, with interpretations based more on current social, economic, and political conditions than on strict constitutional provisions and principles.

Political representation, in contrast to constitutionalism, maintains that following public opinion and the voice of large groups of citizens expressing their political opinions is more useful and appropriate than following constitutional provisions.

  • Political representation can be achieved by selecting legislative representatives at the local, state, and national levels of government through regular elections.
  • Political representation also can be more informally expressed through large groups of citizens and residents in a political community participating in protests, marches, demonstrations; contacting governmental officials via social media, email, mail, or phone; and writing articles, blogs, and editorials in news media.
  • Give an example of how social media influenced the US presidential campaign of 2016.

To develop your view on whether political representation is more advantageous in building a vibrant democracy than strictly following a written constitution, read Constitutionalism and Representation in Politics. Does the situation in question (such as supporting or disapproving abortion rights, allowing or prohibiting homosexual marriage, or allowing or barring immigrants from entering a country) have more to do with strictly following constitutional guidelines or with taking public opinion into account in determining which political course of action to take?


1e. Illustrate the rational-legal, charismatic, and traditional forms of legitimacy

According to Max Weber, the German sociologist who developed an influential theory of political power in the early 1900s, the rational-legal form of legitimacy builds government legitimacy through a bureaucracy efficiently performing various functions of government through an interconnected series of legally based decisions and laws.

  • The rational-legal system of government requires members of a political community to agree to abide by a constitutional framework and laws in accordance with the constitution.
  • In a rational-legal system, the governmental office carries the weight of authority, not the individual person who occupies an official position.
  • Review Government and Politics to refresh your understanding of how the rational-legal approach to government contrasts with the charismatic and traditional forms of legitimacy. Is Weber's picture of the sources of legitimacy of governing authority convincing? Can governmental leaders gain legitimacy in any other way?

Can you think of a country with a rational-legal system of government, where a carefully constructed hierarchical network of bureaucratic officials fulfills government functions in efficient business-like ways? Cite a president who deferred in decision-making to a government bureaucracy. Does the rational-legal system of government make top political leaders weak?

Charismatic legitimacy stems from leaders' gaining power and legitimacy by specific personality traits and the ability to charm and convince people to follow them – they have charisma.

  • Charismatic leaders rule by their own unique perspective and not necessarily by strictly interpreting laws or constitutions.
  • Following a charismatic leader may be dangerous, as those kinds of leaders usually assume an out-of-proportion significance and sway over the populace and may be less easily deposed.

Identify some of the risks and benefits for citizens in a country where a charismatic leader assumes political control. Consider such cases as Nazi Germany under Hitler, Uganda under Idi Amin, and Syria under Bashar al-Assad on the one hand and the United States under John F. Kennedy, South Africa under Nelson Mandela, and Burma under Aung San Suu Kyi on the other as you reflect on the possible disadvantages and advantages of charismatic leadership.

In some societies, the assumptions, customs, and practices surrounding political leadership are followed as a matter of tradition. The people follow them almost unquestioningly because "this is what always has been done". Legitimacy is granted to persons who assume authority in government according to the "old way of doing things".

  • In a traditional society, religious and community leaders who inherit their positions are the ones most likely to assume political control. Such societies are typically hierarchically organized, with political power and authority distributed from the top down.
  • A traditionally governed society is generally slow to change, and political decisions, while not necessarily made democratically, are often adhered to because those governed are used to following the traditional leaders and have accepted this form of rule for generations.
  • Why might a traditionally governed society suddenly change and shift to a new form of governmental legitimacy when subjected to outside influences such as exposure to global media or international trade or included in international political alliances?

Consider Weber's three-category depiction of political legitimacy. Was he accurate in describing conditions in the 19th century but perhaps not today? Does Weber's framework of legitimacy require adjustments to adequately explain political phenomena and authority today?


1f. Compare and contrast smart power, soft power, and hard power

Hard power is the type of power achieved and enforced through the use of force, primarily military force or police force.

  • Through most of history, hard power was used as the primary means of persuasion to get adversaries of a government to toe the line or to submit to governmental control.
  • Diplomacy and persuasion – softer power – also was used over the centuries to convince adversaries within or outside of a political constituency to follow the political leaders' direction.
  • During the Cold War, hard power based on military might was predominant in both the United States and the Soviet Union. As conditions changed in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc crumbled in the late 1980s and early 1990s, soft power became more significant in political decision-making internationally.

Soft power is power stemming from persuasive attraction, not military measures, to accomplish one's goals. Soft power comes from the influence of culture and ethical beliefs and values – in other words, "co-option" – rather than coercive force or direct payments aimed at influencing an adversary. See From Crusader to Exemplar: Bush, Obama, and the Reinvigoration of America's Soft Power.

  • The concept of soft power was developed by Joseph Nye, an American political scientist, near the end of the Cold War period, after the potential use of nuclear technology had made military action directly between the United States and the Soviet Union less desirable but proxy wars in third-world countries were still creating significant losses of life and property.
  • Military officials and police forces typically rely on the threat or actual use of physical force to get their adversaries to behave in ways they want, although many military and police officials would say this is a last-resort method after trying softer means of persuasion.
  • Under what circumstances, if any, is it appropriate for military or security forces to use force to stop a crowd of angry protestors? What other means could be used to shape the behavior of large groups of people unhappy with government decisions or political leadership?

When is it appropriate to use military force to threaten a belligerent opponent and when is soft power (diplomacy, persuasion, and promises of cultural benefits – the proverbial carrot, not the stick) more appropriate? Cite specific recent situations where political leaders have used either hard power or soft power to shape the behavior of other nations.

Smart power refers to the power to achieve desired outcomes from the behavior of another country, region, or adversary by diplomatic or persuasive measures combined with force, such as sanctions, threats, or the actual use of military force or police force, depending on circumstances.

  • Not having experienced either the pluses or minuses of relying on soft power versus hard power, it may be hard for a people to recognize the benefits of blending these two principal forms (soft and hard power) to create a system of government where smart power is the norm.
  • Is it possible to run a country without using a combination of hard power and soft power?

See Section IV of From Crusader to Exemplar to discover why President Obama believed smart power was preferable to a strict use of either hard power or soft power.

Considering that many peace activists believe no use of coercive force is appropriate, how should terrorists be dealt with? Is it ever possible to completely outlaw and prevent the use of coercive physical force or punishment in a society?


Unit 1 Vocabulary

  • Political science
  • Social science
  • Economics
  • History
  • Sociology
  • Scientific knowledge
  • Hypothesis
  • Power
  • Legitimacy
  • Authority
  • Coercion
  • Diplomacy
  • Soft power
  • Hard power
  • Smart power
  • Rational-legal legitimacy
  • Charismatic leadership
  • Traditional legitimacy
  • Constitution
  • Constitutionalism
  • Representation
  • Republic
  • Democracy

Unit 2: Participation

2a. Analyze the concept of political culture

Political culture is tied closely to the people belonging to a nation or the subgroups within a nation. It reflects their political ideologies, beliefs, attitudes, values, and norms.

  • Each country has its own political culture and subcultures, shaped and refined by the heroes, folklore, customs, traditions, and unique characteristics and experiences of the people.
  • Political culture connects citizens with each other and helps define their attitudes toward and relationships with their government and their political leaders. A common political culture can facilitate political consensus and decision-making among a people.
  • Different geographical areas and population sectors may have their own political subcultures. Characteristics such as ethnicity, economic status, and gender coupled with historical experiences all influence the development of a political culture and the formation of subcultures.

American political culture includes high regard for individual achievement, free enterprise, egalitarianism, liberty, justice, and the rule of law.

  • Americans also highly value democratic principles and practices and the positive aspects of capitalism. They take pride in their nation and value patriotism itself.
  • How has the large geographical size of America and its variety of resources shaped the American value of individualism? Refer to American Political Culture to review the elements that make up American political culture and how a uniquely American combination of political attitudes, beliefs, and values developed over time.

Political culture varies across the different groups of people who live in a country.

  • In the United States many subcultures exist. Which subcultures can be defined by ethnicity or class? Do Native Americans, African-Americans, Hispanic Americans, and immigrants represent individual subcultures? What evidence can you present as you consider these questions?
  • The values and beliefs of people in diverse subcultures influence their political preferences and voting patterns. Review American Political Culture to learn more about the subcultures that exist in America and where they developed from.
  • Not all Americans share the same political views or feelings about the importance of the federal government compared to their own state government. How did these differences of allegiance to the federal government develop? To what extent did the American Civil War play a role in shaping the American attitudes toward the proper role of the federal government?

The general consensus of Americans is that America is a democracy composed of a plurality of cultures, all of whose members have the right to express their voice through representative government. How and why was this view challenged in the 2016 presidential election campaign? What caused a breakdown in consensus over the value of diversity in America?

A political culture develops gradually and can remain stable and influential for a long time, but political cultures do change.

  • Events such as wars, natural catastrophes, periods of prosperity, and growing interactions with other countries and cultures can shift political cultures in new and sometimes unexpected directions. For example, during America's Great Depression of the late 1920s and early 1930s, countless Americans suddenly lost their jobs and their life savings. As a result, many people's attitudes changed about the necessary and appropriate role of government in their lives.
  • Under the leadership of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the federal government enacted legislation to get America back on its feet through measures collectively known as "The New Deal". Rather than expecting individuals to pull themselves up by themselves, government leaders developed socialistic policies to help the people solve basic economic and welfare issues.
  • Why was The New Deal so well received by Americans, whose political culture typically valued individual achievement over government intervention? Was this shift in attitude only temporary or did it lead to lasting changes in the role of government in people's lives? Provide evidence for your answers to these questions by citing examples of welfare programs to help impoverished Americans during and after the Great Depression.
  • In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, what changes in American political culture resulted from large-scale moves by manufacturing companies to countries where wages were lower and workers lacked the rights and protections American workers enjoyed? Which grassroots political movements developed during this time period to address widespread American dissatisfaction over job loss? Political Culture and Socialization will help you respond to these questions.

How has the American attitude toward the protection of individual rights changed with the increase in terrorist attacks in the United States and in other parts of the world since 2001? Does this represent a change in political culture, or is the change likely to be only temporary? Explain why you believe as you do, in terms of the temporary or permanent nature of increasing government control over society in the US and other places over the past 15 years.

Each country has its own unique political culture and subcultures.

  • The political culture of many Asian countries, for example, differs quite significantly from American political culture. Could the more community-oriented perspective of Asian cultures help explain China's long history of Communist governments in the 20th and 21st centuries?
  • Both Chinese culture and Japanese culture place a higher value on the community than on the individual. Why doesn't Japan's political culture mirror China's in terms of a high regard for Communism, considering that both countries are East Asian? What historical factors may have shaped Japan's political culture to make it similar to or different from China's?
  • The culture of Scandinavian and other northern European countries generally values secularism, but religious political parties do exist. Freedom of expression among individuals also is valued. For what reasons would such countries tend to avoid stigmatizing persons belonging to particular religious identity groups, such as Muslims, even if some members of those communities are viewed as endangering the secular nature of northern Europe?


2b. Illustrate the political socialization process

Learning about the politics and political culture of one's society is called political socialization. Political culture is composed of many attitudes, values, and beliefs, and each child in a society develops his or her attitudes and values about politics from a variety of sources.

  • A child first learns about politics from experiences within the family. What parents think and do regarding local police, government offices, and elections influence their children's political ideas, values, and behavior – in other words, their children's political culture.
  • Children also learn their political culture and political behavior gradually by interacting with others at school and in their peer group and from the media.
  • The process of political socialization involves responding to, rejecting, and/or adopting others' attitudes, values, and beliefs and practices concerning political life and government.
  • How might an African child raised in a small rural village develop views and attitudes different from those of an urban child? Consider Political Socialization when answering this question.

Political socialization is an ongoing process that occurs throughout a person's lifetime.

  • Children in the US traditionally had positive views of government authorities, responding to their parents' training about police officers as helpful members of society. This may be changing.
  • When people receive new information that conflicts with their previously held attitudes about political offices and figures (as when President Clinton was investigated for his involvement with legislative intern Monika Lewinsky), their views may change regarding key offices or figures in politics. This is true for children as well as adults.
  • People are often said to get their political party attitudes and affiliations from their parents. Can you think of times in recent US history when the younger generation deliberately rejected their parents' attitudes and feelings about politics and government? Why did this occur?

How do you suppose recent media coverage of violence by some police against members of ethnic minority communities affected the views of children and adults towards police officers? Do the views of children and their parents depend more on their own particular family background or from broader community attitudes? Explain your thinking about these questions.

Political Culture and Socialization in the Information Age notes that media coverage of President Clinton's impeachment hearings negatively affected children, leading fewer children to want to be president. Should children be exposed to adult news coverage, especially when scandals are reported and investigated? Is it healthy for children to develop a mixture of positive and negative attitudes toward government figures, or should children be encouraged to look at the brighter side of political life?


2c. Discuss the role and importance of public opinion in influencing government decisions

Public opinion is important in a representational democracy where the people's preferences, interests, and choices are seen as sources of governmental decision-making and programs.

  • During election campaigns, political opinion polls are taken frequently and can be highly influential in shaping voter behavior.
  • Not all voters or persons living in a community are equally well informed.
  • Read the section on public opinion and democracy in Public Opinion to consider the positive as well as negative effects that people's opinions can have on governmental outcomes in a democracy. Why did the original framers of the US Constitution decide to have people vote for representatives who could make decisions for them rather than to have people vote directly on every issue, such as happens in a referendum?
  • Is representational democracy really very democratic, if representatives are not obliged to follow public opinion in making their decisions in state or national government?

Even in the earliest days of the American republic, the framers of the Constitution were wary of giving too much control to the general population in determining courses of action by government. Many worried that an uneducated public would make poor decisions. Protections against rule by an angry mob or a group of influential but uninformed citizens were thus written into the US plan of government. What are some of the protections the framers of the Constitution incorporated to prevent factions from unduly shaping the course of political decisions? Were these protective measures sufficient, or should the Constitution be updated to include additional measures to protect the general population and the country itself from undesirable influences of those holding extreme views or of those who are misinformed or poorly educated?

Polls are taken by gathering the views of a relatively small number of people known as a representative sample.

  • Methods of statistical sampling and analysis are used to extrapolate from poll results to draw broader conclusions about the political preferences and likely political behavior of the populace.
  • If a public opinion poll is not conducted by rules for good scientific sampling and analysis, the conclusions drawn by the polling company or individuals may be misleading or inaccurate.
  • Every public opinion poll has a so-called "margin of error", which means that polling results are not 100% accurate but can be off by a few percentage points. This often makes it very difficult to accurately call an election before all the voting results are in.
  • Consider the US presidential election of 2016. Why were so many voters surprised by the outcome of the election, and what did public opinion polling have to do with this surprise?

Public opinion polls are often considered necessary in general debates on politics and political decision-making in democratic societies. Because the public is considered as the source of initiatives taken by government officials representing the general population, polls are thought of as valuable means to identify public preferences and choices. However, not all agree that polls are very useful, considering their margins of error. Additionally, the very idea that public opinion should inform the decisions made in Congress and other legislative bodies is disputed by some, who believe that only those citizens who are politically well informed should be listened to.


2d. Assess the role of mass media in politics

Different forms of media influence the political socialization of both children and adults.

  • News obtained through the Internet and print sources and by radio and television, for example, strongly influences people's attitudes toward public policies and programs, political parties, candidates for election, and the character and behavior of elected and appointed officials.
  • Beginning with the election of Warren Harding in 1920, the broadcast media have made it increasingly easy for Americans to gain information – albeit not always objectively presented – about political actors. This has shaped elections and the people's acceptance or rejection of public policies. See Media Influence on Law and Government for a discussion of how radio grew to be more influential in US political life.
  • When did television become a greater influence than radio in affecting American knowledge about politics and American attitudes about government leaders and programs? Review Media Influence on Law and Government as you craft an answer.

Entertainment media also plays a powerful role in shaping political attitudes and values.

  • Television programs and movies, for example, can directly and indirectly shape public views on government, political action, and even how citizens themselves can and should interact with their political leaders.
  • Can you think of a particular movie about war that shaped your own feelings and attitudes about government and politics? What made this movie so influential for you?
  • Should entertainment media (television series, movies, cartoons, comics, etc.) rightfully be used to shape political views and attitudes, or should entertainment stay out of politics?

In recent years, social media and the more widespread use of the Internet have become especially powerful tools in shaping public opinion.

  • Some governments try to regulate or censor people's access to social media and the Internet, believing these are dangerous influences that can destabilize government authority. Read Media Influence on Laws and Government to learn more about the ways some governments restrict public access to media in order to control political outcomes.
  • Think of how influential Twitter and Facebook were in the 2016 US presidential election campaigns of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. What made these forms of social media particularly powerful in building communities of followers for the two leading presidential candidates and in influencing voting behavior? Was it correct for the unimpeded use of social media to have had such strong effects on the presidential election?
  • Thinking back to Unit 1's treatment of the theories of constitutionalism and representational politics, is social media's ability to sway public opinion and influence elections good or bad? Does social media threaten individual constitutional rights in America, or is it a good way for the general public to express diverse opinions and gather support for particular courses of action?

Media comes in many forms: as news media, entertainment media, and social media, for example. Many of these types of media directly affect people's attitudes and values, and some argue that certain forms of media should be regulated so that no one infringes on others' rights. Will democratic societies benefit from or be disadvantaged by the continued growth of social media? On what does your answer (and the outcome of media influence) depend?


2e. Explain the influence of interest groups within the political process

In a democratic society, individuals express their opinions not only as singular members of society but through groups known as "interest groups". By participating in a group whose members share the same values or goals regarding political action or outcomes, an individual can often achieve more than by working alone. Interest groups in democracies are often numerous and very visible, especially as diversity increases by immigration or social change.

  • Interest groups form around particular bases of support, for example, according to economic status and interests, social status or characteristics, and particular ideologies or belief systems, or in support of or opposed to specific policies and actions of political leaders.
  • Read The Interest Group System to learn more about various types of interest groups in democratic societies, or even in non-democratic ones, and how these groups can shape political outcomes.
  • Economic interest groups include businesses, trade unions, and professional organizations.
  • Societal interest groups form around common attributes such as ethnicity, gender, or age.
  • Ideological interest groups reflect specific political orientations and outlooks, such as reactionary, conservative, liberal, libertarian, or radical. Some argue that these interest groups are actually public interest groups, acting on behalf of segments of the population who seek policies laws that benefit them. See The Interest Group System.
  • Public interest groups aim to benefit segments of the population or to serve the broader social good. For example, public interest groups may focus on supporting family issues, defending human rights, or protecting the environment. Their actions may be controversial or widely accepted depending on who supports them and the nature of their goals and behavior.

Interest groups have the potential to be both helpful and harmful to democratic processes.

  • Lumen Learning considers the capacity of interest groups to perform useful functions as well as their potential threat to democracy in Interest Groups and the Political System. A key disadvantage of interest groups is that politically powerful groups with sizable resources, such as big businesses and corporations, can press government actors to make decisions beneficial to business that do not necessarily serve the best interests of the broader population.
  • Interest group strength depends on assets, goals, allies, visibility in the decision-making arena, adaptability to changing conditions, and reputation as spread by the media.
  • Because a democratic society is composed of a variety of groups and members, it is a natural arena for interest groups, whose influence can benefit the members of particular interest groups in their interactions with politicians and government decision-making bodies.
  • Lobbyists are persons who represent or work for specific interest groups, interacting with legislative representatives at the local, state, or national levels of government to persuade officials to make decisions favoring the people whose interests the lobbyists represent. Lobbyists get their name from having stood in the lobby, or outer hallway near the legislative chamber, of Congress to talk with political leaders and figures coming in and out of legislative sessions.

"Iron triangles" are closely connected interest groups, political officials, and government bureaucrats working together to pass specific legislation or secure particular policy outcomes.

  • The influence of an interest group in getting political and governmental actors to make policies favoring its members can be so strong and the relationships between interest groups, politicians, and bureaucrats so tight that others advocating for alternative policies or courses of action may have virtually no chance of succeeding.
  • According to Lumen Learning, iron triangles may be thought of as "subgovernments", for they work in such a close way as to influence political decision-making without actually being a recognized, democratically elected or appointed part of the government itself.
  • Iron triangles may be beneficial in their ability to bring laws and public policies smoothly and quickly to fruition or they may be detrimental in their obstructing others (opponents or alternative voices) from having equal access to government and political leaders. For example, large businesses, due to their vast financial resources, often reach top-level decision-makers in government more easily than ordinary people can.
  • American Political Culture points out certain benefits of iron triangles, where interest groups can provide information and statistics to government bureaucrats and political decision-makers, who in turn can then enact laws and make policies to better serve the interest group's members. An example of an effective iron triangle, according to this reading, is the connection between the American Association for Retired People (AARP, a membership organization spanning America), the House Subcommittee on Aging (one of many subcommittees of Congressional Representatives), and the Social Security Administration (which distributes retirement benefits to millions of Americans).
  • When the US Constitution was written and the Founding Fathers debated how to frame the document so Americans would be fairly represented and could have a voice in government decision-making, James Madison wrote of the dangers of factions in Federalist No. 10 (one of the Federalist Papers, discussed in Interest Groups and the Political System). Madison feared that a pluralist democracy could fall under the influence of dangerous "factions", where certain components of the population would exert undue sway over governmental decision-making by working in concert with each other.

Lumen points out that Madison's factions were not exactly the same as interest groups today, though similarities exist. Interest groups in the currently very diverse US population may pose far less danger than Madison's dreaded hypothetical factions. Was Madison right in warning about the negative influence that groups within the population could have on government decisions? Or do the positives outweigh the negatives concerning interest groups?

Political action groups, or PACs, are interest groups that form around specific political candidates, parties, or issues in electoral campaigns.

  • The main goal of PACs is to get that person elected who will best serve the interests of the people or the elements, businesses, or organizations working together in the PAC.
  • Legislation passed in the United States to limit the influence of PACs has been only somewhat successful, as PACs have found ways of getting around election-contribution limits and have continued to make PACs instrumental in pushing the election of specific candidates.
  • Because PACs can gather enormous financial resources and influence political campaigns with their assets, political campaigning has become increasingly expensive in the US. Some argue that US politics, particularly in electoral races for the president, senators, and representatives at the national level, has pushed political office out of reach for regular citizens.

Should people with significant financial resources be allowed to form PACs to shape the outcome of elections if they can raise sufficient funds? Is it preferable for US laws to limit campaign financing by PACs while enabling ordinary Americans to contribute to a general election fund through the voluntary contribution check-off box on federal income tax returns?


2f. Identify the role of political parties

Political Parties defines political parties as "enduring organizations under whose labels candidates seek and hold elective offices". The history of political parties in America shows that parties have had both positive and negative effects on American political life and government operations.

  • Although political parties were not defined in the US Constitution, they quickly came to play a major role in American political life.
  • The Preamble of Political Parties states that political parties in the United States initially formed around charismatic figures like Thomas Jefferson and John Adams when only male landowners could vote. Later, with voting extended to a larger share of the population (though women and African-Americans were still excluded), parties developed around specific public values and beliefs.
  • When waves of immigrants came to the United States, political parties became authoritarian machines persuading large numbers of immigrants to support particular candidates, parties, and politicians in return for favors such as jobs distributed by the parties and help obtaining citizenship, socializing the immigrants into American political life.
  • The Democratic and Republican parties became the two main political parties more than150 years ago in the decade before the Civil War. They have remained the two main parties in power because of their ability to adapt to changes in the political and social life of Americans and to changing economic times. However, the influence of the parties themselves in determining the outcome of elections has become less significant as parties have become more "candidate centered" (see "Candidate-Centered Politics" in the link above). This change began in the late 1960s with efforts first by the Democratic Party and then the Republican Party to include more ordinary Americans in the candidate-nominating process through the use of primaries that would select the candidates for the general election.

Do you think that new political parties are likely to emerge in the next few years which will differ significantly from the Democratic and Republican parties, or will these two longstanding parties reform? Explain your position, based on your observations of recent American elections.

In democratic countries where elections are regularly held, political parties typically bring together persons with common interests, affiliations, or allegiances with the goal of electing candidates to enact legislation and make policies and programs that party members support.

  • A. Having a slate (or "ticket") of party candidates often makes voting easier for those voters unfamiliar with politics or specific candidates' backgrounds. By preferring one party over another, one can simply choose to vote a "straight ticket" (that is, all candidates offered by one political party), as Political Parties suggests.
  • The major roles of political parties in the US are: 1) to run candidates for office, 2) to balance political views and actions in government by preventing a complete take-over by one set of political actors (that is, checking party power), 3) to keep the public informed about important issues and policies, and 4) to help organize how to propose and enact laws and policies reflecting party priorities and public interest.
  • Political systems in democracies often have multiple parties competing for positions in the government. In the US a two-party system developed early on. See Political Parties to learn why the US party system developed in this way.
  • Although the Democratic and Republican parties have been the two major US parties for a century and a half, recent elections, and especially the presidential election of 2016, have shown people's allegiances to traditional parties to be weakening. Candidates are now more influential than specific parties in affecting voter support and electoral outcomes.

Because democratic pluralism includes many voices interacting in the political sphere to raise issues, propose laws and enact legislation, make policies, and implement programs reflecting public sentiments and views, rigid party structures or even parties themselves theoretically are unnecessary. Do the advantages of US political parties outweigh their disadvantages? Will political parties in America continue to exist? Could more loosely formed and fluid political interest groups, grassroots movements, and/or independent candidates replace party politics?


2g. Compare and contrast two-party and multi-party systems

Most democratic political party systems include a variety of parties, each fielding candidates or lists of candidates to be elected to political office so that their party's agenda ("party platform") can be approved and implemented.

  • According to Political Parties, three types of political party systems exist: (1) single, or dominant, party systems, (2) two-party systems, and (3) multi-party systems.
  • In single-party, or dominant party, systems, no real political competition exists, as the party in power dominates the political scene and permits no other party to influence legislation or policy.
  • Countries with authoritarian rulers tend to have a single-party system, if they have political parties at all. Consider, for example, the dominance of the Ba'ath Party in Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Although Saddam's regime was called the Ba'athist Regime, indicating that other parties existed, none of the other parties was allowed to operate legally. Members of other parties, such as the Kurdish parties, the Assyrian Democratic Movement, and the Iraqi Communist Party, frequently were imprisoned, tortured, disappeared, and/or murdered. Ba'ath Party leaders tried to completely eliminate any political opposition. Under such circumstances, can it be said that a party system even exists?

Two-party systems are less common than multi-party systems and commonly result from "winner-takes-all" voting. With a plurality of votes, even if less than the majority of votes cast, all benefits in terms of winning electors (as in the case of a US presidential election) or winning an entire district goes to the candidate with the most votes.

  • Because the US relies on a simple-plurality voting system in many local elections as well as state and national elections for legislative representatives, two parties tend to dominate the political scene. (See The Two-Party System for the connection between simple-plurality voting and two-party systems.)
  • In a two-party system, two parties dominate politics and take turns serving in the majority, depending on election results. One party is typically more conservative than the other – sometimes extremely so – holding to traditional values and favoring the interests of business more than the interests of individual ordinary persons. The other party generally has a more change-oriented or "progressive" ideology, tending to support the rights and interests of the individual person.
  • Usually, each of the two dominant parties in a two-party system spans a broad range of attitudes, preferences, and views under the party's basic ideological umbrella.
  • Other parties may exist in a two-party system but rarely succeed at getting candidates elected to office. As the above reading notes, two-party systems tend to be more stable than multi-party systems but often are more centrist, ignoring more-divergent views on public policies and laws held by persons not belonging to either of the two main parties.

For at least 160 years, candidates have been elected to US political offices through a two-party system. At least 5 party systems defined by specific time periods and party combinations and policies have existed in US history. The end point of the 5th Party System, which began in 1933 with the New Deal Coalition, is open to debate. Some analysts claim the 5th system ended in the mid-1960s, early-1980s, or mid-1990s – or in fact, continues today.

Many countries in Western Europe have a range of parties competing for seats in the legislature and the opportunity to lead the government.

  • In many multi-party systems, two parties dominate and other smaller parties hold a lesser share of legislative seats and power, as Political Parties notes.
  • Coalitions of smaller parties sometimes balance one or both of the two main parties in a multi-party system. As the above source notes, this is true for the United Kingdom, Norway, Australia, Ireland, India, Pakistan, Canada, and the People's Republic of Bangladesh.
  • More typically, several parties are active in the legislature of a multi-party system and no one or two parties dominate. Smaller parties often join together in coalitions to form a government (set of ministers and prime minister) in order to carry out government functions and the laws, policies, and programs enacted by the legislature.
  • In What If We Really Did Have a Multiparty Democracy?, the author asks what would happen if the US had a multi-party system instead of the current two-party system. Read his short article and decide if it would be preferable to shift away from the two-party system in the US. Would such a move help Americans work together more effectively across party lines?


2h. Compare the electoral system of the U.S. to a proportional representation system

The electoral system used in most elections in the United States is based on simple plurality voting, using a first-past-the-post or winner-takes-all rule. This method is also used in Canada, the United Kingdom, and India's lower house of parliament, according to Campaigns and Elections.

  • When elections are held in simple plurality systems, the person with the greatest number of votes wins, even if they do not have a majority of votes.
  • With the winner-takes-all rule for voting (also known as the "first-past-the-post" voting rule, with the metaphor being that of a horse race), the person with the highest number of votes – in other words, the plurality – among all the candidates running reaps all the benefits of winning. For example, in an election district with 5 candidates running for Congressional Representative, the candidate with the largest number of votes wins the race even if another comes in close.
  • Majority voting, where the greatest number of votes (more than half) wins, is typically used in US legislative and judicial decision-making and the assignment of administrative rules to public programs and policies. However, candidates themselves are elected through plurality voting. Do you agree that majority rule is a good way for making decisions? Is it very democratic or only partially so, or does this depend on the circumstances and the composition of the population in a polity?
  • In the US Electoral College system used to determine presidential election results, each state has a certain number of electors based on the state's population. When votes are cast for president, the candidate with the greatest number of popular (public) votes in a state wins all the electors for the entire state. This means that in presidential elections the popular vote may not match how states are won by particular candidates, as the number of electors varies across states.

In a winner-take-all electoral system, small parties and independent candidates often have a very difficult time winning seats, or in the case of a presidential election, winning states and the electors voting for them in the month after the election. Read Campaigns and Elections to see how such voting methods work and the differences between the US electoral system and that of other countries with other voting rules.

In a proportional representation system, candidates are elected to positions (such as legislative seats) based on the proportion of votes they get in an election.

  • This means that a proportional representation system is more conducive to active involvement by multiple parties, not just two, in winning legislative seats and having a say in the government.
  • In a proportional representation system, several parties typically occupy seats in the legislature, or parliament, and coalitions of parties often form to gain the upper hand when decisions are taken through majority voting. These coalitions may be fixed or fluid, depending on the country, the nature of the parties themselves, and the types of decisions taken.
  • Varieties of proportional representation systems exist, but the most common is the list system where each party presents a list of candidates for election in a district where multiple members will be elected to political office. The seats are divided up according to the proportion of votes each party list receives from the electorate. Often, several parties are represented in the legislature when proportional representation is used as the basis for electing candidates to office.
  • Many countries in Western Europe use proportional representation to elect legislative representatives. Public policies in Europe thus may more closely match public priorities than in the US, where often only two parties actively determine policy and shape public outcomes.

If you could rewrite the US Constitution to better reflect the diversity of American interests and groups, would you change the voting method used to elect presidents by allowing for a voting method that does not lead to winner-take-all election results in an Electoral College? What type of system would you recommend? Would you keep, reform, or do away completely with the Electoral College? Why did the Founding Fathers believe it important to insulate the election of the president from the popular vote? Is this a fundamental flaw in American democracy?


2i. Analyze global trends in voter turnout and political participation

Voter turnout refers to the percentage of eligible voters or registered voters who actually voted in an election.

  • In many countries, voter turnout is significantly higher than in the US.
  • Some countries require by law that all eligible voters take part in voting when elections are held. Fines and other penalties can be levied on those who do not vote but are eligible to vote.
  • When voter turnout is low, the candidates elected into office cannot be said to have had a mandate – or strong public request – to be elected to power. Ensuring that the candidates chosen for political office accurately reflect voter preferences can be accomplished only when a large proportion of the voting population actually votes.
  • The authors of Voter Turnout since 1945 utilize data on 170 independent countries, 1,256 parliamentary elections, and 412 presidential elections. They focus on parliamentary elections, asking why turnout differs from country to country and how to increase voter turnout so that elections lead to political officials whose views and preferences better match the electorate's.

Interestingly, Voter Turnout since 1945 showed more significant increases in voter turnout over time in some African and other developing countries than in developed Western countries. Why do you suppose this was the case? Is it surprising that strong voting behavior is not purely in the realm of developed Western democracies but sometimes appears in countries where dictatorships and authoritarian governments have given way to more democratic systems?

Two possible trends for future democratic development globally include: 1) the greater spread of democratic practices, such as voting in elections, to countries that traditionally have been less democratic, and 2) the deepening of democracy in countries where elections already are standard practice but certain population segments have been excluded from or have participated less actively in elections and public decision-making.

  • Methods of registering voters (and determining registration rules) can have a direct impact on rates of voter turnout and consequently on whose voices are represented in government.
  • To include minorities in political processes, elections, and political positions, political scientists examine factors impeding minorities from voting and taking part in the electoral process.
  • Why is it important for minority voices to be included in elections, legislatures and presidencies? Does rule by majority necessarily exclude people in smaller subgroups in the political community? What are some ways to help all people in a democratic country to take part in elections?

Voting cannot take place in a democracy without candidates, but candidates are not always very representative of the people living in the democracy. How can voters be encouraged to vote for candidates they view as different from themselves? Does it matter that voter turnout is often very low, even in some developed democratic countries like the US? Can we really say that a country is run democratically when only a small proportion of eligible voters actually register to vote and take part in elections by voting for the candidates of their choice? How can elections be improved so that all people living in a country make use of their power to vote?


Unit 2 Vocabulary

  • Political culture
  • Political socialization
  • Public opinion
  • Mass media
  • Interest groups
  • Political process
  • Political parties
  • Two-party political system
  • Multi-party political system
  • Electoral system
  • Electoral College
  • Winner-takes-all electoral system
  • Proportional representation electoral system
  • Voter turnout
  • Political participation

Unit 3: Ideologies

3a. Compare and contrast direct and indirect democracy, illiberal democracy, authoritarianism, and fascism

Direct democracy exists when each person eligible to vote is able to vote directly on proposed laws and policies.

  • Direct democracy is the most complete way for people to express their views and preferences on what the collective body (government) will do for the people in a country, region, or locality.
  • Direct democracy is only workable when the size of the population is quite small. Otherwise, it is very difficult to consider the views of all people, except through voting on referenda, which involves individuals' voting directly on issues and proposed courses of action.
  • In a direct democracy, each person has a direct voice, with no need for representatives.
  • Massachusetts and a few other New England states in the US have what are known as Town Meetings where local people directly express their preferences in public decision-making.

Most localities in the United States do not operate by direct democracy because of the sheer cumbersomeness of having so many people voice their views and take part in decision-making. Would it be better for most local government decisions to be taken through direct decision-making, that is, by direct democracy? Could the Town Meeting model serve as a general means by which all Americans could express their perspectives and preferences in a public forum?

Indirect democracy exists when people vote for representatives to make decisions on their behalf in a government decision-making body. Consider The Moral Foundations of Politics: Democracy and Majority Rule. Is Shapiro's discussion of the value of making decisions by majority rule convincing?

  • In an indirect democracy, the representatives ideally will make decisions that are in the best interest of the people who voted them into office or of those who live in the district the representatives represent, whether or not those constituents voted for them.
  • Representatives in an indirect democracy do not always actually vote exactly as the people who elected them would have voted. Generally speaking, representatives are expected to follow their own conscience and use the knowledge they have while carefully taking the views of their constituents into account, making decisions that will benefit the people they represent.
  • The US primarily functions as an indirect democracy since most governmental decisions are taken by persons elected to represent the people of a particular geographical area. The people themselves do not take part directly in governmental decision-making except on referenda.

Read sections 4.1 and 4.2 of Types of Government: A Republic or a Democracy? to compare direct and indirect democracy. Which do you think is more suitable for decision-making on public issues at the local level? Which could be more beneficial at the national level? What makes the difference in deciding whether representational democracy or direct democracy is sufficiently democratic?

An illiberal democracy has the outward form of democracy in that elections take place, but these elections are not fully free and/or fair, due to various obstacles.

  • A democracy may be considered illiberal when no competition between candidates for political office exists. That is, if key political offices are not filled by competitive elections but are basically awarded to the members of one particular party, then an illiberal democracy exists.
  • An illiberal democracy also exists when a political leader or political officials control the course of elections and no valid competition is allowed, such as when opposition party candidates are prevented from fulfilling the requirements for standing as candidates or when eligible voters likely to support opposition candidates are disqualified from voting.
  • Can you think of any countries which started out as democracies but shifted into illiberal democracies? Why did this change happen?

Authoritarianism is an ideology by which one autocratic ruler seizes or maintains power. No competition exists, and the ruler forces his or her decisions upon the people, regardless of what the people actually want.

  • Authoritarian governments are distinct from totalitarian ones, according to Types of Government: A Republic or a Democracy?, in that government control of all aspects of life is not quite as extensive under authoritarian rule as it is under totalitarian rule.
  • Furthermore, authoritarian rulers may be more corrupt than totalitarian leaders. Why do you suppose this could be the case?
  • In an authoritarian government, opposition candidates and their supporters are typically prevented from speaking or holding meetings. They are often harassed and are frequently charged with crimes, subjected to unfair investigations and trials, jailed, and sometimes even disappeared, tortured, physically attacked, or killed.
  • To understand how democracies may turn into violent authoritarian states, consider the case of Germany in the 1930s. The German president, Paul von Hindenburg, named Adolf Hitler, the leader of the National Socialist (Nazi) Party, as German Chancellor, which paved the way for Hitler's taking complete control of the German government even though he had not won a majority of votes and was not elected to this position by the people. Hitler then proceeded to expand German control beyond its borders by violent means, and all semblances of democracy were eliminated. World War II and the Holocaust in which millions of people were killed were the direct results of this usurping of power.

What are some of the tools available to members of a democracy that can help prevent take-overs by authoritarian rulers? Are there any foolproof methods to stop a dictator from taking over a democracy?

Fascism is a political ideology where law and order are taken to the extreme in support of the leadership of a particular person or group seeking to control all aspects of public life, particularly economically and politically.

  • In a fascist society, a rigid bureaucracy is implanted and society is strictly regulated to enable the political leadership to enforce all of its decisions, often through military means, regardless of the will of the people.
  • During the Second World War, Benito Mussolini became the fascist leader of Italy, restructuring Italian political institutions to benefit himself and his expansionist goals. His alliance with Hitler magnified the destruction Europe experienced in World War II.
  • To help clarify your views on the differences between fascism and Nazism, consider this definition of fascism, which describes a fascist regime as "[a] political regime, having totalitarian aspirations, ideologically based on a relationship between business and the centralized government, business-and-government control of the market place, repression of criticism or opposition, a leader cult, and the exaltation of the state and/or religion above individual rights". National Socialism will prove invaluable in helping you distinguish between Nazism and fascism.

Why would a fascist leader like Mussolini choose to ally himself with a leader like Hitler who, while racist, was not an overt supporter of fascist ideology?


3b. Compare and contrast democratic socialism and democratic capitalism

Democratic socialism blends democratic practices with socialist economic goals.

  • In countries where democratic socialism is the ruling ideology, the state provides for the general welfare of the people, such as medical care, housing, and employment.
  • Many countries in Northern Europe have strong democratic socialist parties. Under the leadership of these parties, the countries of Scandinavia (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland) have had more welfare-oriented policies and programs for much of the 20th century and part of the 21st century than have many other democracies. The 20th-century Swedish welfare state is a prime example of the national implementation of democratic socialist goals.
  • Read Democratic Socialism to familiarize yourself with the claims made for the benefits of a democratic socialist form of government. What are the advantages of how democratic socialism is practiced?

Democratic capitalism is the ideology underlying government systems where democratic elections are held and democratic practices are followed but capitalism serves as the main model for the economic system.

  • Under democratic capitalism, while the government may regulate certain aspects of corporate activity, the free market principle is generally seen as most beneficial to economic prosperity.
  • Democratic capitalism is the model by which the United States has nominally run since the early 1800s, when the Industrial Revolution was well underway in Europe and in the young United States. Do you think this is still a fitting model for government in the US today?
  • Review the main elements of democratic capitalism as a philosophy and practical model for economic and political governance by reading Capitalism in the US.

Many would say that capitalism and democracy are inherently contradictory. In a capitalist system, the owners of the means of production control the capital, or resources, to produce wealth and thus will manipulate the political system and the economy to ensure that the wealthiest continue to profit the most. ("The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.") Ultimately, this conflicts with the norms of democracy, where each person should have an equal voice in government, the same protections of rights, and the same guarantees for benefiting from government decisions. Would you agree with this analysis? Why or why not?

While democratic socialism and democratic capitalism are both based on democratic political institutions, their orientation toward economic structures is quite different.

  • What are some of the advantages of democratic socialism over democratic capitalism?
  • In what ways could a democratic capitalist model be said to be more successful than a democratic socialist model, given widely-ranging economic levels among the people in a country?
  • During the decolonization of Africa in the 1960s, some newly independent African countries followed democratic socialist models while others adopted democratic capitalist models as their basis for reforms. Which models have proven most effective at serving the public interest?
  • Look again at Democratic Socialism and Capitalism in the US to consider the positive and negative sides of each of these two forms of democratic ideology, democratic socialism and democratic capitalism. Which do you consider a more promising model for America in the 21st century?


3c. Critique the political and economic frameworks of socialism, Marxism, and communism

A basic political tenet of socialism is that the members of society benefit most when the government acts on behalf of the people and takes on the role of redistributor of wealth.

  • In a socialist state, economic competition is controlled to the extent necessary to ensure that all members of the community have their basic needs met. Decisions regarding health, education, housing, and transportation, for example, are made collectively on behalf of the citizens of a community, taking into account their needs and desires and subjugating individual profit motives.
  • Politically, socialism promotes the view that government is a beneficial instrument for the people, working for the collective good, and that government, therefore, has the right to take on a large role in determining public outcomes.
  • Economically, in a socialist form of government, key industries such as steel, utilities, transportation networks, etc. are owned by the government and managed in such a way as to benefit the people – that is, they are not conceived of as private property but are publicly owned.

Countries where socialism has been practiced have no one uniform way of interpreting how socialism should operate. Variations of socialism range from the democratic socialist models of government in the post-World War II period in Scandinavia to the socialist form of government in Zimbabwe (quite repressive under Robert Mugabe) to the widespread socialist union activities in the United States of the mid- to late-1800s, many of which were put down violently by the American National Guard when socialist actions conflicted with the goals of the owners of corporations and industry. Why has socialism taken on such different forms in practice, when the basic theory of socialism is fairly straightforward?

Marxism is a specific ideology involving a socialist form of government proposed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in the mid-1800s in Europe.

  • Marxism proposed that private capital would disappear and a communist state eventually would result, through a combination of violent and nonviolent means for political and economic societal transformation.
  • Marx and Engels proposed a progression of stages through which society was expected to evolve over time, passing from a capitalist form of economic system to a utilitarian, utopian, communist form where private property no longer was needed or desired and all social needs were met by the state.
  • Read The Marxist Critique of Capitalism to clarify the differences between democratic socialism and Marxism.

How has Marxism affected countries around the globe, and why does it still appeal to many people today?

Communism entails government ownership of all key industries in a country and the creation of a regimented, hierarchical decision-making apparatus to determine and implement all public programs.

  • Communism, while basically aimed at collectively organizing society to eliminate private ownership, has never existed in pure form. No society claiming to be communist has succeeded in achieving the goals of classless productivity and the administration of all public needs through carefully orchestrated government organs.
  • In Marxist thinking, communism is expected to evolve naturally as a final stage in the evolution of capitalist society into a newer form where public interests and needs are efficiently met by the state.
  • In practice, communist countries have turned into authoritarian if not totalitarian states where little freedom of thought or action by the common masses is possible and an elite cadre of political leaders directs all key decisions. Whereas Marx and Engels anticipated a positive final result from the evolution and revolution necessary to the production of a communist society, in essence, communist countries have denied personal freedoms to their citizens that other more democratic forms of government typically allow.
  • See The Communist Economic System for a discussion of the benefits and disadvantages of communist political and economic regimes.

Consider the case of Cuba, where many Cubans praised Fidel Castro after his death in 2016 and maintain that he was a great socialist or communist leader. Why do you think the appeal of communism has not fully died out, even though no society yet has been able to achieve the ideal of creating a classless society where poverty is eliminated and all members can participate equally in governance?


3d. Identify the key principles of classical conservatism and classical liberalism

Classical conservatism maintains that all decisions carried out by a government should be based on historical precedent, respect for traditions and customs, and done in the interest of providing for and preserving structural stability for the country.

  • Classical conservatives believe in a hierarchical structure for society, thinking that this will best ensure the stability of the country.
  • Read Conservatism to familiarize yourself with some of the basic principles of classical conservatism. Does it seem to you that the most basic needs of people living in a nation can best be met through a classical conservative form of governance? Or, will a conservative stance be more inclined to serve the interests of those who control the country's wealth?
  • Classical conservatives are quite varied when considered over various time periods and across countries and cultures because what is considered to be traditional in one country is quite distinct from the traditional in another country. Therefore, classical conservatism refers more to the tendency to believe in the primacy of preserving societal traditions and structures than in any one set of political practices.

Classical conservatism is seen as favoring wealthy, well-educated groups without giving adequate consideration to the diversity of a community, the presence of minorities and their potentially different interests from those in power, and the need for progress in society. Would it be more difficult for the political leaders of a country with a highly diverse population to maintain a classical conservative stance than for the leaders of a country with a fairly homogenous population? Do conservative principles lend themselves more effectively to supporting societies with little ethnic diversity?

Classical liberalism values freedom and democracy in particular.

  • Above all, a belief in democratic processes to solve political problems and ensure the public good underscores the broader belief system of classical liberalism.
  • In classical liberalism, government is seen as having a limited role. One key purpose of government is to defend citizens against foreign invaders.
  • Another classical liberal position on government is that the government should take measures to protect its citizens by providing for the needs that cannot be met individually or through private enterprise. For example, public schools and hospitals are considered appropriate government-supported projects from a classical liberal perspective.
  • Classical liberalism focuses on the individual and emphasizes the value of individual rights and freedoms. Read Classical Liberalism for a more detailed description of classical liberalism.

Review Liberalism and Conservatism to discover more about the differences between classical liberalism and classical conservatism.


3e. Illustrate the defining features of modern U.S. conservatives and modern U.S. liberals

Political conservatives in the US today maintain that the economy is best left to regulate itself with as little government intervention as possible.

  • American conservatism in many ways can be considered both a political and an economic ideology whose policies aim to preserve the wealth of those in the highest-income brackets.
  • US conservatives believe that change in a society is not beneficial. Therefore, according to conservative ideology, the status quo should be maintained or changed only gradually so as not to undermine the capitalist system that underlies the economy.
  • Political conservatives often believe more strongly in the realist view of politics, supporting military strength and seeing international relations in terms of how best to benefit their own country and political party.
  • Read American Conservatism for a better understanding of how modern conservative thought and action in the US resemble and differ from classic conservatism.

US liberals today support an interventionist model of government, where government welfare programs are seen as necessary for the benefit of the people. An active government regulating many aspects of public life is viewed as good by modern US liberals.

  • Modern US liberals maintain that the individual rights and freedoms enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution must be upheld and protected, especially rights to freedom of expression, thought, belief, and association. Defending the rights of all persons to be treated as equals is a basic norm. For this reason, supporting the rights of minorities is a key part of modern liberal thought and action. Additionally, modern liberals see the role of government as that of protecting people's rights. Securing benefits for all through active government intervention is viewed as positive and necessary.
  • US liberals today most often belong to the Democratic Party or may be political independents or followers or alternative parties. For example, some liberals support the Green Party, which advocates for environmental causes.
  • Liberals in the US generally believe that international relations should emphasize the use of soft power and smart power rather than hard power. Cooperation with other nations is viewed as more desirable than combat and adversarial competition in the international realm.
  • See American Liberalism for a discussion of the elements of modern liberalism and how modern American liberalism differs from classical liberalism.


3f. Explain the growth of Islamism as a political ideology

The origins and growth of Islam over the centuries have been tied integrally with politics.

  • At its inception in the 7th century, Islam was both a political and religious ideology.
  • Disagreements over who was the rightful heir of the Prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam, in the early development of Islam as a religion led to splits among Muslim communities and the formation of different denominations, including the Sunni and Shi'ite Muslim denominations that exist today.
  • In the days of the Ottoman Empire, when Turkey increased its spread of control over the Middle East and North Africa, Islam became deeply embedded with the political life of the regions conquered by the Ottoman Turks.
  • Watch The Evolution of Political Islam to become more aware of how Islam grew as a political force in the world over the centuries.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, Islam developed and spread rapidly.

  • The growth of global trade, travel, and the spread of Western culture worldwide in the post-World War II period has prompted a reaction by some conservative Muslims to establish a greater linkage between politics and religion.
  • At the same time, not all Muslims are politically active or ostensibly concerned about the blending of religion and politics to create a state based on Sharia (strict Islamic) law.
  • Political Islam, or Islamism, includes the belief that all necessary means should be used to convert non-believers and to dismantle secular culture and society. In part, this appears to be a defensive reaction to globalization and the rapid spread of Western values and culture.
  • Read Islamism for a thorough review of the ways this term has been used over time and to better understand why increasing numbers of terrorists over the past several decades have taken Islamic beliefs in new and violent directions to pursue very undemocratic goals.

Is it realistic to expect that all the adherents of a particular religion will have the same view about politics and political interventions? Should all Muslims be expected to refrain from injecting their religious beliefs and values into democratic political life? What would happen if members of other religions were asked to keep a strict separation of their religious perspectives from their political actions? Is this already done in the US with the principle of separating church and state? How effective can this separation be, in practice?


3g. Define feminism and describe its permutations over time

Historically, the term "feminism" most often has been used to define the belief that women are individuals with rights and privileges equal to those of men. Many variations of feminist thought exist, and the field of feminist theory is in constant flux.

  • The word "feminism" was first used in 1837 by a Frenchman, Charles Fourier, who was a Utopian Socialist and a philosopher.
  • The "First Wave" of feminist theory began in the mid-19th century and continued into the early 20th century, focusing on the quest for women to gain suffrage rights, property rights, and basic marriage rights. Economic and sexual rights, control over reproduction, and contract rights also were advocated at various times during this period.
  • A "Second Wave" of feminist theory and practice began in the early 1960s. Second-wave feminists focused on links between cultural expectations and practices and women's participation in politics. They advocated the need for heightening women's political participation and involvement in the workforce in more equitable ways.
  • The "Third Wave" of feminism came to the fore in the 1990s in the US as a reaction to the backlash against Second Wave feminism and entrenched attitudes about sexuality. Highlighting women's sexuality and gender issues, Third Wave feminism is considered post-structuralist and more personally transformative than earlier waves of feminist thought and practice.
  • See Feminism for a full discussion of the origin and development of feminist thought and action.

Many Native American tribes are matriarchal, based on matrilineal hierarchies of authority, where women are seen as the origin of ancestral tribal lines. Many Native American societies historically have recognized women as equal to men in their rights and their claims for respect from others, although gender roles often have differed. In most Native American societies, an intermediate, or third, and sometimes fourth and fifth, gender also was recognized, sharing female and male qualities. Persons of this intermediate/other gender often were accorded special status and revered as healers and shamans. Does this mean that all Native Americans traditionally have been feminists? Why or why not?

Feminism is not just for women. Furthermore, feminists have sometimes teamed up with those working for equal rights for other groups, forming alliances to push for the equality of all.

  • Feminism also has been embraced by men who believe that women and men are equally important and deserve the same respect and protection of their rights.
  • Men as well as women can call themselves feminists when they espouse the belief that women should have the same opportunities and chances in life as men and that women have equal rights with men.
  • In the mid-1800s with the growth of the Abolitionist movement in the United States, many people supportive of civil rights for persons of all colors and ethnic backgrounds also supported women's rights. For example, Frederick Douglass, the African-American orator who advocated ending slavery and recognizing the rights of blacks in America, cooperated to some extent with Susan B. Anthony and other American feminists.

Do you think the alliance of Abolitionists and feminists in the mid-1800s in the US was simply a strategic move, or was there a natural affinity between persons working for equal rights for different groups? Are coalitions supporting the rights of a broad spectrum of persons more effective than groups working for one particular minority at a time?


3h. Analyze the roots of environmentalism and the contemporary issues facing the movement

Environmentalism entails believing that it is necessary to actively protect the natural world and that humans ultimately are not free to do whatever they want with nature or to disregard their impact on the planet.

  • Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring, published in 1962, is viewed by many as the catalyst that started the modern environmental movement. Her book examined the widespread use of the chemical pesticide DDT in America and its detrimental effects on animal life, particularly birds.
  • Organic farming, the whole foods movement, and sustainable agriculture are among the efforts of environmentalists to counteract the negative effects of chemically dependent agribusiness. Efforts to encourage the consumption of plant-based foods instead of animal foods are another aspect of this effort to reduce the human load on the natural world and to increase the amount of food available to all people.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency was founded in 1970 by an Executive Order issued by President Richard M. Nixon in response to public concern that the US government was not doing enough to monitor and act upon damaging effects to the environment such as air pollution.
  • Read Environmentalism to familiarize yourself with the history of this movement and its impact today.

When has it been necessary for the government to take action through fines and penalties when large companies hurt the environment through their practices? Can corporations be trusted to monitor and adjust the ways they affect the environment themselves?

Military uses of chemical and other weapons also have led to responses by environmentalists seeking to protect both humans and the natural environment.

  • During the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 1970s, the defoliation of large swaths of East Asia by the US military's use of the chemical defoliant Agent Orange and subsequent illness experienced by soldiers and birth defects among their children led to efforts to ban the use of hazardous chemicals in warfare.
  • The long-term effects of many chemical weapons and their potential to extend far beyond the immediate area and time of attack make them particularly lethal sources of environmental damage. Consequently, they have been subjected to international efforts by environmentalists and others to prohibit their development and use.
  • International agreements on chemical weapons, such as the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1997, have been made partially in response to concerns that the use of chemical warfare poses dangerous risks not only to victims of chemical attacks but to everyone.

Is the manufacture and use of chemical and biological weapons sufficiently dangerous to warrant regulation by international bodies and international action such as wars to stop countries from developing and using them? Or do you think that individual nations themselves should have the right to decide whether and when to stop making and using chemical weapons?

Climate change is arguably the most significant problem occupying the attention of environmentalists today.

  • Droughts are evidence of shifts in the ecosphere due to imbalances in the amount of rainfall caused by human interference with natural ecosystems.
  • Increases in the flooding of coastal areas due to a rise in the level of the oceans are further evidence of climate change.
  • Rising sea level and warming of the oceans is having a detrimental effect on sea life, including the food sources of other sea creatures as well as animals and humans on the land.
  • Environmentalists maintain that threats to the environment and changes in the world's climates can be tackled effectively only through global strategies and planning.

See What the US Can Learn from Germany's Stunning Environmental Movement to find out more about measures taken in a European country to conserve natural resources and protect the environment that could benefit the US and other countries as well. Why do you suppose Germany has been a front runner in the drive to protect the environment and find renewable sources of energy?


3i. Situate key political ideologies on the political spectrum

To most people, the political spectrum is viewed as a continuum ranging from the left to the right. The political left is generally viewed as including Democrats (in the United States), social democrats, socialists, Marxists, communists, and other followers of leftist thought, ranging from the mildest of left-oriented adherents to the most extreme, in that order.

  • Anarchists are sometimes considered to be at the very extreme end of the political left, although because they believe in no government at all, many analysts would not even place them on the left-right spectrum.
  • Feminists are sometimes placed on the left side of the political spectrum. Depending on the specific version of feminist thought in question, feminists may be aligned with any of the above left-oriented political ideologies.
  • Radical feminists probably align most closely with communists or other radical leftists in terms of their political perspectives and position on the political continuum.

According to the traditional notion of the political spectrum, the political right is generally viewed as consisting of Republicans (in the United States), conservatives, libertarians, neo-fascists, members of the "alt-right", racists, skinheads, and neo-Nazis.

  • Isolationists would be considered on the political right although their exact placement on the spectrum is of some controversy.
  • Anti-immigrant parties and their followers are typically grouped most closely with the alt-right, racists, skinheads, and neo-Nazis. In many countries, persons who are anti-immigrant may be found in any of the groups on the political right, including in mainstream parties.
  • A recently proposed alternative version of the political spectrum scraps the notion of leftist and rightist political orientations to propose another means of ordering and conceptualizing political parties and their adherents in a more circular fashion.

Read The Traditional Political Spectrum to refresh your knowledge of where various ideologies are placed in relation to each other. Do you believe it is helpful for political scientists to define spectra of political beliefs and practices? Does this contribute to our understanding of political ideologies, or is it misleading, considering that most ideologies overlap to some extent with others?


Unit 3 Vocabulary

  • Political ideology
  • Direct democracy
  • Indirect democracy
  • Liberal democracy
  • Illiberal democracy
  • Fascism
  • Authoritarianism
  • Dictatorship
  • Tyranny
  • Autocrat
  • Monarch
  • Democratic socialism
  • Democratic capitalism
  • Marxism
  • Communism
  • Classical conservatism
  • Classical liberalism
  • Islamism
  • Feminism
  • Environmentalism

Unit 4: The State

4a. Discuss the concept of a "state"

A state is a geographically defined area having some degree of sovereignty to decide its own course of action with regard to the individuals living within its boundaries and with respect to other states external to its borders.

  • Functions of the State notes that a state is conceptualized as either a neutral body separate from society or the partisan instrument of a particular group within a society.
  • A state is an organized group of people under the jurisdiction of a specific governmental structure and leadership.
  • Theories of the state are tied with various political ideologies. For example, classic conservatism envisions the role of the state to be different from that seen by classic liberalism as the proper role of the state.

States may be fully sovereign or under the ultimate authority of another state.

  • Each of the 50 states of the United States has its own form of government and a certain degree of sovereignty but is simultaneously bound together to the other states of the United States in ways that prevent it from having the same degree of absolute autonomy that a fully sovereign state (that is, an independent country) has.
  • Anarchists believe that no state should have power over the individuals living in it and that states are inherently immoral.
  • The pluralist view of states is that the state is a neutral body regulating and connecting diverse individuals and groups whose interests may conflict with one another.


4b. Compare and contrast state, nation, and nation-state

A state is a polity (an organized group of individuals) living in a particular territorial area with its own form of government.

  • Characteristics of the State maintains that the state is "an organized political community acting under a government". The same source asserts that states "differ in sovereignty, governance, geography, and interests".
  • In a state operating according to the rule of law, no one person can rule and even the government itself is subjected to rules.
  • Civil society in a state consists of all those persons living under the jurisdiction of the state, collectively viewed as separate from the state itself, from the family, and from the market.

A nation can be a group of people having a common ethnic identity or melded identity, or it can be thought of as synonymous with "state".

  • Nations are groups of people who have specific cultural identities.
  • Consider the ways that Nation-States discusses the concepts of nation and the related term "nation-state". According to this article, some envision the nation as coming first, before the formation of a state. Unless a group of people has a common cultural identity, it is impossible for them to create a political entity with a structural form of governance under whose jurisdiction they will reside.
  • When people talk of the American nation, to what are they referring? Is there any such thing as a "nation" of Americans in a cultural sense, or is it impossible for a single "nation" of culturally similar people to exist in a geographical area where pluralism abounds and so many different ethnic groups are present?

A nation-state conveys the notion that there is a country whose borders enclose a group of people having a common sense of nationhood – perhaps a common ethnic identity but more often a sense that together, they share universal values and goals and are committed to working in a cooperative way to keep their nation-state intact and moving forward.

  • The notion of the nation-state was not always present. Before 1648 and the Treaty of Westphalia, which ended thirty years of warfare among several nations in Europe, the concept of nation-state did not exist.
  • As explained in Nation-States, the predominance of nation-states increased in the 19th century. The unification of German feudal lands and of territories within Italy in the latter part of the 19th century were significant events leading to the firmer establishment of national boundaries between countries in Western Europe.
  • In many cases, nationalists, or persons acting together out of a sense of common nationhood or cultural affinity, worked actively to promote the idea that a specific governmental jurisdiction and territory should be aligned with their own ethnic group. Such nationalists were instrumental in building the nation-state system.

Is it beneficial for persons of the same cultural identity to have a state of their own, or is this not always necessary? What are the variables that determine whether a group of people with a common sense of identity will be able to achieve the goal of having their own geographical territory within which they can live and which they can govern together for their mutual benefit? Would it be better for all national groups/ethnic groups in the world to have their own territorial state over which they would have authority, or is this impossible and perhaps even a recipe for disaster? Explain.


4c. Describe the origins of the nation-state

The first use of the term "nation-state" may have been in the early 1880s with Ernest Renan's publication of his book, Qu'est-ce qu'une nation? ("What is a nation?").

  • Prior to the mid- to late-1800s, the concept of nation was in a formative stage in Europe. Persons sharing the same cultural and ethnic origins or sense of identity did not yet necessarily believe that a political jurisdiction was necessary to define and align with their group.
  • When a formal state apparatus and structure coincides with a group of people in a particular geographical area sharing the same cultural identity or ethnicity, a nation-state can form.
  • Few nation-states in the world are ethnically homogenous, meaning that there is rarely a nation that perfectly lines up with a state.

In what sense can it be considered natural that persons sharing the same ethnic identity would want to have their own geographical area to govern and in which they would live? Is it important for all peoples to have a specific location on the planet that they can call their own, in a sense? Does the notion of having a homeland with a particular political character make it necessary for all peoples to have their own specific country or state? Is this practical or even possible, considering the great diversity of ethnic groups in the world?


4d. Explain the functions of the state

The purpose of the state is to organize and carry out the main functions needed for maintaining a cohesive society capable of sustaining (if not flourishing) and defending itself.


4e. Assess the future of the state as a political institution

Many have argued that the system of global governance based on individual state identities and sovereignties is coming to an eventual end.


4f. Define and explain the concepts of sovereignty and globalization in relation to the state

The notion of sovereignty refers to the authority to carry out one's own missions without regard for the needs and wishes of other states and their populations.

  • Sovereignty is limited only insofar as it is understood and agreed upon that because abridging the rights of other states may lead to undesirable consequences for one's own state, states should respect the boundaries of other states and generally not interfere with the practices of governments of other states inside the other states' own borders.
  • With increasing globalization and greater awareness of and support for human rights worldwide, notions of absolute sovereignty are giving way to the view that states do have responsibilities for the people in other states, especially their own citizens.

In an era of globalization, the role of the state becomes increasingly ill-defined and in some cases outright superfluous in the global push for interconnectivity.

Unit 4 Vocabulary

  • State
  • Nation
  • Nation-state
  • Nationalism
  • Political institution
  • Sovereignty
  • Globalization

Unit 5: Political Institutions

5a. Identify the primary responsibilities of the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government

The legislative branch of government proposes and enacts the laws by which the polity will be run.

The executive branch of government carries out the laws decided upon in a polity, developing additional rules and procedures by which the policies and programs enacted by the legislative branch may be further detailed and carried out (or "executed").

The judicial branch enforces the laws and upholds the constitution of the polity, seeking to clarify necessary interpretations of laws and constitutional provisions and to conduct investigations through legal procedures of cases in which laws have been broken and/or constitutional provisions have failed to have been upheld.

See the discussion in Legislatures for an overview of the three branches that are typically found in democratic systems of government.


5b. Compare and contrast federal and unitary government systems

In a federal system of government, individual sub-units of the larger country or governed area are viewed as components with distinct powers of their own but only inasmuch as they fit into the federal structure, where a national (federal) government holds ultimate authority over them.

Confederations are more loosely structured systems where the members of the confederation retain certain key rights to decide their own affairs but subjugate themselves to the larger entity and cede certain rights to the confederated body.

A unitary system of government may have multiple sub-units (geographical areas) included under its jurisdiction, but the central government has ultimate authority and the sub-units are to some extent replicas of the central governing body's organs and stature.

Legislatures also provides a look at the differences between unitary and federal systems of government. Which type of government seems most like to be able to act effectively to solve social and economic problems? Which might be more effective in dealing with national crises such as natural catastrophes or terrorist attacks?


5c. Illustrate the key differences between legislatures and parliaments

A legislature is composed of elected officials, each representing a particular jurisdiction defined geographically.

A parliament may be composed of elected officials as well as appointed or hereditary officials or members. Review Parliaments to gain a fuller understanding of the ways parliamentary systems of government differ from democratic systems based on legislatures.


5d. Compare and contrast the executive branch of presidential and parliamentary systems

In a presidential system of government, the president most often is the top-level official leading the construction of policies and the decisions of state.

In a parliamentary system of government, the source of key governing power is the parliament itself, and the head of the government most often is a prime minister.

Not all presidential systems include many powers for the president. In some countries, presidents are chiefly ceremonial, and a prime minister controls most of the executive power. In the United States, however, the president plays many roles, including some of prime importance to the execution of laws and the leadership of the state. Read The President's Many Roles to examine more closely the ways that the US president shapes domestic public policies and conducts foreign policy as well.


5e. Identify the main features of administrative and bureaucratic systems

Administrative systems are structures defined to carry out the laws made in the legislative branch and the policies defined by the executive branch.

Administrative rules and procedures are developed within the organs of the administration. These rules and procedures must be in line with the policies, programs, and laws developed and enacted in other parts of the government (e.g. the legislative branch and in the office of the executive leader of the government, whether that is the president or the prime minister or a coalition of governing officials).

A bureaucratic system is a particular type of administrative system, where a carefully structured array of hierarchically ordered offices creates a network of persons whose responsibilities are to execute the specific laws and policies of a legislature and executive administrative leader.


5f. Discuss the structure and organization of judicial institutions

The structure of judicial institutions in a government is defined in broadest terms by the constitution itself, or in the case of a lack of a formal constitution, by the traditional rules and practices of the society for monitoring and ensuring compliance with the laws.

Judicial institutions are organized differently in each country, based on the requirements set forth in the constitution and in the basic plans for governance of that country.

  • A system of courts at the national level and any sub-levels (states, provinces, governorates, etc.) makes up the judicial branch of government.
  • Police forces and civil security forces (such as a national guard) also are considered part of the judicial institutions of a country. They also are involved with enforcing the laws made by the legislative branch and executed by the executive branch.


Unit 5 Vocabulary

  • Branches of government
  • Legislative
  • Executive
  • Judicial
  • Federal system of government
  • Federation
  • Confederation
  • Unitary system of government
  • Legislature
  • Parliament
  • Presidential system of government
  • Parliamentary system of government
  • Administrative system
  • Bureaucratic system
  • Judicial institutions

Unit 6: International Politics

6a. Explain the impact of the Peace of Westphalia on the contemporary international system

The Peace of Westphalia was the peace treaty of 1648 that ended the Thirty Years War fought by a number of nations in the Holy Roman Empire (in what is now Germany and other parts of northern Europe).

  • The Thirty Years War had been fought primarily over religion, and the agreement made to conclude the war was designed to guarantee that the religion of persons living in each territory would follow that of the territory's ruler, with no interference from persons or authorities living in neighboring territories.
  • Because the Peace of Westphalia created boundaries between certain territorial jurisdictions, it is considered to have begun the system of setting boundaries around nation-states and granting the rulers sovereignty over their own people.
  • This differed from the previous situation where no national boundaries were recognized and borders between lands controlled by various monarchs were frequently shifting, depending on the conquests of war.
  • The system of nation-states upon which the United Nations system eventually was built was a key outcome of the Peace of Westphalia.

Review Functions of the State, which discusses the importance of the Peace of Westphalia. Can you see how this agreement, made over 350 years ago, was instrumental in starting the system of nation-states where sovereignty was considered a prime element? In what ways has the international system changed since the beginning of nation-states in the mid-1600s?


6b. Compare and contrast the realist, liberal, and constructivist theories of international relations

The realist theory of international relations maintains that each country is ultimately most interested in itself and that as a result, warfare between countries is inevitable. Read Modern Foreign Policy: Collective Military Force to gain a better understanding of realist thought and why it is so labeled.

The liberal theory of international relations takes as its key point the view that nations interacting with each other through trade relations and peaceful communications and cooperation is the natural outgrowth of the nation-state system and also the most desirable outcome. In what ways does the liberal theory of internationalism reflect idealist aspirations? Again, refer to the above source to clarify your understanding.

The constructivist theory of international relations states that no specific outcome of interactions among nation-states is predetermined or "natural", and that the ways in which nations interact has more to do with the vision of reality and goals for the nations held by the leaders and populations of those nations. In this sense, culture, human-made institutions, and social structures shape the ways that nations interact. Review Theories of International Relations to get a better understanding of the differences between constructivism, realism, and liberalism when it comes to conceptualizing international relations.


6c. Analyze the features of key intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations, the European Union, and NATO

Intergovernmental organizations are organized bodies whose members are individual nation-states. Theories of International Relations delineates a number of international organizations and structures, as well as multinational bodies such as corporations and international civil society organizations or non-governmental organizations, all of which play a part in determining the outcomes of interactions among states and peoples globally.

The United Nations Charter was written in 1944-45, adopted in June 1945 by the five principal warring nations involved in World War II, and came into force in October 1945. The charter formed the basis for the entire United Nations system that developed in the post-World War II period and into the 21st century.

The European Union is the most recent incarnation of an attempt at international cooperation in Europe, which began, in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At that time, Robert Schumann, the German Chancellor, and Jean Monnet, a French diplomat and political economist, formed a peaceful, economically based alliance to encourage peaceful relations and economic development for their two countries after World War II ended and the Nazi regime was defeated. Theories of International Relations goes into more detail about how this organization came about and evolved over time.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, also known as the North Atlantic Alliance, was an outgrowth of the early Cold War period following the end of World War II.

  • Established in 1949 by the United States and its European allies from World War II, coupled with Canada, NATO was set up primarily as an intergovernmental military organization. Its primary purpose was to mutually protect its members, who vowed to take military action to stop any aggression against any one of their member states, at a time when the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union was first developing.
  • In response to NATO, countries of Central and Eastern Europe under the influence of the Soviet Union (USSR) formed the Warsaw Pact. This occurred in 1955 after NATO incorporated West Germany into its alliance.
  • Whereas the agreed-upon mission of NATO at its inception was to protect the other countries belonging to NATO from intrusion or attack by outside forces – specifically the Soviet Union and its allies – the mission of NATO began to change with the First Gulf War in 1991. In that war, NATO airplanes were used to protect the Kurds in northern Iraq from attacks by Saddam Hussein's military. This was the first time NATO aircraft acted outside of the traditional borders of Europe.
  • With the war in Bosnia that occurred in 1995 and the attacks on Sarajevo, the multiethnic-though-predominantly-Muslim, capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO began using military force by bombing Serb targets to stop Serbian aggression. NATO again acted forcefully in 1999 by bombing Serbs from Yugoslavia who were attacking ethnic Albanians in Kosovo, a province of Albania that is now an independent country, during the war in Kosovo that lasted from 1995 to 1999.


6d. Assess the value of diplomacy in international cooperation

Diplomacy involves the engagement of representatives of countries, typically appointed to their positions by the heads of state of their countries, to carry out communications, decision-making, and formal protocols with the representatives of the leaders of other states. Watch Diplomacy Is... to understand more about how diplomats from various countries work together to achieve their objectives in an increasingly complex world of international actors.

The primary challenge for diplomats is to represent their country in positive ways in international settings while still retaining their national perspective and supporting the fundamental interests of the leaders and people of their own nation-state.


6e. Explain the origins and influence of international law

The concept of international law consists of a compilation of international treaties, bilateral agreements between countries, customary practice, and assertions, agreements, and collective aspirations made by international bodies such as the United Nations and other regional treaty systems. The History of Public International Law will give you a sense of the difficulty of trying to establish order and a form of the rule of law in what essentially is an anarchic environment. Additionally, Sources and Practice of International Law will help you better understand where international law comes from.

The question of how influential international law is depends very much on the actors and situations in focus.


6f. Discuss the nature, conduct, and purpose of war

War is essentially the violent expression of conflict between adversarial partners engaged in competition, disagreement, or disharmonious activities.

War may be conducted in limited ways or globally, internally or externally to a nation, and over short or protracted periods of time.

The conduct of war often involves regularly stationed armed combatants known as militaries.

Warfare also can be waged between persons of limited resources and with little formal structure, such as the members of gangs and tribes or the adherents of a terroristic sect.

The purpose of war is to attain the goals of a warring party through the use of force. The use of force also may include threats to use weapons neither side would like to see deployed, such as nuclear arsenals. This relates to the principle of deterrence and lies behind the current worldwide policy concerning nuclear weapons.


6g. Illustrate the defining features of terrorism

The nature of terrorism is to frighten people to such an extent that the people will be obliged to follow the demands of those committing acts of terror or to succumb to their code of behavior and/or rule.

  • In the late-20 th and early-21st centuries, many terrorist attacks around the world have been identified as associated with Islamist movements or with persons inspired by Islamist groups or extreme fundamentalist thought.
  • The use of terrorist tactics, while in existence for millennia, increased significantly in the late-20th century worldwide. Hobbes versus Locke: Redefining the War on Terror takes a military perspective to consider philosophical perspectives on war and how best to address increasing incidences of terrorism in the world.
  • In the 20 th and 21st centuries, some of the prime perpetrators of terroristic violence have been supporters of extreme versions or perversions of Islamist thought. The attacks in September 2001 on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, for example, were conducted by Islamist militants who hijacked airliners in a coordinated set of terrorist attacks that killed over 3,000 people in one day.
  • The Islamic State (also known as ISIL, ISIS, or Daesh), for example, is responsible for the execution, kidnapping, sexual enslavement, and torture of many thousands of Yezidis and Christians in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East. These attacks escalated with the massacre of Yezidis in Sinjar, a district of Nineveh Governorate in northern Iraq, in August 2014.
  • Boko Haram, another extreme Islamist sect active in Africa, kidnapped hundreds of schoolgirls in northern Nigeria in an attempt to intimidate Christians, stop girls from going to school, and terrorize the population in the African region where this violent sect operates.

Is there something inherently violent in some religious ideologies that leads to terrorist attacks, or is the prevalence of attacks by purported members of certain religious ideologies more closely attributed to other factors such as widespread disenchantment with Western values, disruption of traditional social patterns through globalization, or economic imbalances in the world?

The sources of terrorism and perpetrators of terrorist acts come from a broad range of motives and ideologies. No one religion or ethnic group is solely responsible for committing terrorist attacks.

  • Not all terrorist attacks are conducted by Muslims, although many often unjustly see Muslims as the prime suspects in terrorist attacks when they do occur.
  • Terrorist attacks also include terroristic measures conducted by non-Muslims, such as the attacks by US federal and Texas State law enforcement agents and US military in Waco, Texas against members of the Branch Davidian sect of Seventh-day Adventists in 1993, the attacks carried out in the Oklahoma City bombing of the Federal Building in 1995, the 1985 bombing in Philadelphia by the municipal police of a house occupied by members of an alternative radical group called MOVE, attacks by armed citizens against schools and students, and attacks against black churches in America by white American racists. The motivation for some of these acts is tied to political ideologies or may be considered political in nature. In this sense, at least some of these attacks may be viewed as examples of political terrorism.
  • Terrorism also is a label that may be aptly applied to cases where the government of a country experiences internal insurrections and attacks its own citizens. For example, the Turkish government's attacks on Kurdish citizens throughout Turkey, particularly journalists, political officials and leaders, and organizers of protests against violence by the Turkish government, and against Kurdish villages in southeastern Turkey, as recently as 2016, can be viewed as terroristic.

Methods for dealing effectively with terrorism are very hard to come by since the nature of terrorism is to widely spread terror among people and to disrupt the normal pattern of their lives.

Because the level of terrorist activities in the world appears to be increasing, additional resources by governments, universities, and corporations are now being dedicated to stopping the growth of terrorist movements, preventing the spread and influence of terrorist media and thought, and counteracting the message of terrorists.


6h. Analyze the debate over the "clash of civilizations" and "democratic peace" theories in international politics

The term "clash of civilizations" connotes an inevitability of conflict between cultures that are vastly different from each other.

  • The notion of a "clash of civilizations" was proposed in 1993 in a Foreign Affairs journal article by political scientist Samuel B. Huntington.
  • Although Huntington's article attracted worldwide attention and has often been cited as the origin of the term, "clash of civilizations", Bernard Lewis previously wrote of a very similar notion. In 1990, the Orientalist (East Asian specialist) wrote of "The Roots of Muslim Rage", personifying the West and Islam as though they were two bulwarks of divergent thought heading for a collision, like Edward Said, the famed Orientalist, wrote in "The Clash of Ignorance", an October 2001 article in the liberal journal The Nation. Said himself found both of these debates – Lewis' and Huntington's – to be improperly nuanced caricatures, as they failed to disassemble the complexity of worlds represented by "the West" and "Islam".
  • The Norwegian social scientist Johan Galtung also proposed a similar schema about clashing worldviews and behaviors. In 1992 Galtung published an article, "The Emerging Civilizations", that predicted the coming clash of seven or eight world systems. As Samuel Huntington pointed out in footnote 3 to his own article in 1993, "Quite independently, Johan Galtung developed an analysis that closely parallels mine on the salience to world politics of the seven or eight major civilizations and their core states". Huntington goes on to say that Galtung's "regional-cultural groupings" are "dominated by hegemons: the United States, European Union, Japan, China, Russia, and an 'Islamic Core.'"
  • Read Critique of "Clash of Civilizations" to analyze whether the authors of the above articles on supposedly clashing civilizations actually followed the principles of conducting good social science. In what ways did Huntington, Lewis, and Galtung succeed at making or failed to provide convincing arguments backed up by solid evidence, even if all three essentially were making predictions of future behavior?

Could it be that this "clash of civilizations" article of Samuel Huntington's, published in 1993, itself catalyzed an increase in conflict between nations and cultures? Is it possible that Huntington and all those picking up the train of thought that claimed divergent cultures were on the verge of cataclysmic collision actually accelerated the process of increasing Islamist terrorism and worldwide reactions to this? Are academic articles and theories capable of influencing world events? Do writers have a responsibility to self-censor utterances that potentially could be misinterpreted (or correctly interpreted) in ways that exacerbate problems? Or is it important for all views, no matter how astute, nonsensical, inane, or potentially irresponsible, to be aired in a free society where expression is valued?

The "democratic peace" theory of international politics holds that democracies rarely go to war with each other, and consequently, in order to ensure a more peaceful future for the world, the ideal is for all countries to develop into democracies.

Review The Ethical Dilemmas of the Democratic Peace Theory in Relation to Copenhagen for a discussion of the meaning of "democratic peace" and considerations of whether this theory holds water.


6i. Explain the doctrine and international practice of human rights

The concept of human rights may be considered to have begun to be established several millennia ago in the Middle Eastern/North African (MENA) region of the world. Human rights essentially are rights that all people have, simply by virtue of their being human, which must be protected at all times, even against their rulers and those with political authority over them.

  • Hammurabi's Code, written about 1754 BCE, was a set of laws for Babylonia, where Iraq now exists, providing a complex written set of prescriptions for how particular infractions should be handled. Limitations on punishments for specific crimes were spelled out in great detail, although violent measures also were included which today would be considered abridges of human rights. It represents one of the earliest written attempts to codify law worldwide.
  • Over the following centuries, various documents appeared which stated that the rights of at least certain members of a society should be protected. For example, in 1215 the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, written by English barons stated that the King of England could not arbitrarily take lands away from those with lesser powers than he. The document, signed by King John, also stated that other rights would be protected, such as the rule of law and freedom of the church.
  • By the 19 th century, Europe and America had passed through the feudal stages of development and were fully entrenched in the democratic era, but rights were still insufficiently protected. Charles Dickens, the English novelist, for example, traveled to America in the 1840s and noted with horror in his travelogue, America Notes for General Circulation, written in 1842, the unsanitary conditions of American cities and the dismal conditions of prisons and asylums for the mentally ill. Clearly, many reforms were yet to come.

See Overview of the Human Rights Framework for a clear depiction of the nature of human rights and how they have been protected through increasingly diverse measures over the course of time. As this article states, "human rights are those activities, conditions, and freedoms that all humans are entitled to enjoy, by virtue of their humanity".

With increasingly violent warfare using mechanized weapons of ever-greater deadliness, international agreements were signed to limit the actions of combatants in war, known as the Geneva Conventions, beginning in 1949. These followed earlier agreements regarding the treatment of combatants and civilians in war situations, such as the agreement to establish the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian War in the 1870s.

Near the close of World War II, the Allied Powers (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, and France) proposed that a new structure be established after the war ended to ensure that the world would never again experience such a terrible state of warfare and so much human misery and destruction.

  • Already in August 1941, before much of World War II had yet taken place, the leaders of the two main Allied nations, Winston Churchill of Great Britain and Franklin D. Roosevelt of the United States, signed an agreement affirming principles for future respect of rights among nations. This Atlantic Charter, as it was known, became the inspiration for the UN system that followed when the war concluded. Although it outlined the aims of the two major powers for the conduct of war against Germany, it also stated eight "common principles" to be followed after the war to ensure that certain rights of the people of the nations at war would be protected.
  • The United Nations system was begun with the agreement adopted in June 1945 known as the UN Charter, which came into force on October 24, 1945. This agreement laid out the framework for an organization of nations whose intention would be to prevent future warfare of the type that had devastated so much of the world in the Second World War.
  • A complex array of organizations and offices, committees and subcommittees, designed to protect, investigate, and promote human rights emerged as the United Nations bodies and agencies developed. International agreements concerning the protection of civil and political rights, and of economic, social, and cultural rights, were included in the work of the various UN bodies.

Refer to Overview of the Human Rights Framework to better understand how the very complex system for protecting human rights currently works in the world.

With the increase in globalization in the late 20th century and early 21st century, the promulgation of a culture of respect for human rights around the world for the first time became a more practical and potentially realizable project.

Why does Human Rights: Past Their Sell-By Date maintain that the era of protecting human rights will soon be over, at least for the type of rights protection emphasized by international organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch? Is the author correct? What evidence does he bring to his argument? And what are the implications for future work by activists eager to further a climate of respect for human rights worldwide?


Unit 6 Vocabulary

  • Peace of Westphalia
  • International system
  • Realist theory of international relations
  • Liberal theory of international relations
  • Constructivist theory of international relations
  • Intergovernmental organization
  • International alliance
  • United Nations (UN) system
  • European Union (EU)
  • North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO)
  • Diplomacy
  • International cooperation
  • International law
  • Conflict
  • War
  • Peace
  • Ethnic conflict
  • "Ethnic cleansing"
  • Internal (civil) war
  • Regional warfare
  • International warfare
  • Proxy war
  • Terrorism
  • "Clash of civilizations"
  • "Democratic peace"
  • International human rights