POLSC101 Study Guide

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