An Introduction to Political Science and American Government



Edited by Matthew A. McIntosh / 02.14.2018
Historian
Brewminate Editor-in-Chief


1 – Forms of Government

Forms of government are categorized by the power source and power structure of any given state.

1.1 – Government and Its Forms

Countries of the World, by Type of Government in 2011: This map shows all the countries of the word, colored according to their type of government. Blue represents full presidential republics, while green and yellow are presidential republics with less powerful presidents. Orange represents parliamentary republics. Red and pink are parliamentary constitutional monarchies, and purple represents absolute monarchies. Brown represents single-party republics, green shows countries where government has been suspended (e.g., military dictatorships), and grey countries do not fit any of the above categories.

Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state. A form of government, or form of state governance, refers to the set of political institutions by which a government of a state is organized (synonyms include “regime type” and “system of government”). Governments consist of two broad interplaying elements that generally determine how a government is coded: the power source and the power structure. Power source refers to the individuals and institutions that exercise governing authority over a state and the means by which they obtain their power, while power structure refers to the system by which they are organized.

In the case of its broad definition, government normally consists of legislators, administrators, and arbitrators. Government is the means by which state policy is enforced, as well as the mechanism for determining the policy of the state. States are served by a continuous succession of different governments. Each successive government is composed of a body of individuals who control and exercise control over political decision-making. Their function is to make and enforce laws and arbitrate conflicts. In some societies, this group is often a self-perpetuating or hereditary class. In other societies, such as democracies, the political roles remain, but there is frequent turnover of the people actually filling the positions.

Governments with Aristarchy attributes are traditionally ruled by the “best” people. Aristocracy refers to the rule by elite citizens; a system of governance in which a person who rules in an aristocracy is an aristocrat. It has come to mean rule by “the aristocracy” who are people of noble birth. A meritocracy refers to rule by the meritorious; a system of governance where groups are selected on the basis of people’s ability, knowledge in a given area, and contributions to society. Finally, a technocracy refers to rule by the educated; a system of governance where people who are skilled or proficient govern in their respective areas of expertise in technology would be in control of all decision making. Doctors, engineers, scientists, professionals and technologists who have knowledge, expertise, or skills, would compose the governing body, instead of politicians, businessmen, and economists.

Governments with autocratic attributes are ruled by one person who has all the power over the people in a country. The Roman Republic made Dictators to lead during times of war. In modern times, an Autocrat’s rule is not stopped by any rules of law, constitutions, or other social and political institutions. After World War II, many governments in Latin America, Asia, and Africa were ruled by autocratic governments.

Governments with democratic attributes are most common in the Western world and in some countries of the east. In democracies, all of the people in a country can vote during elections for representatives or political parties that they prefer. The people in democracies can elect representatives who will sit on legislatures such as the Parliament or Congress. Political parties are organizations of people with similar ideas about how a country or region should be governed. Different political parties have different ideas about how the government should handle different problems. Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Governments with monarchic attributes are ruled by a king or a queen who inherits their position from their family, which is often called the “royal family. ” There are at two opposing types of monarchies: absolute monarchies and constitutional monarchies. In an absolute monarchy, the ruler has no limits on their wishes or powers. In a constitutional monarchy a ruler’s powers are limited by a document called a constitution.

Governments with oligarchic attributes are ruled by a small group of powerful and/or influential people. These people may spread power equally or not equally. An oligarchy is different from a true democracy because very few people are given the chance to change things. An oligarchy does not have to be hereditary or monarchic. An oligarchy does not have one clear ruler, but several powerful people. Some historical examples of oligarchy are the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and Apartheid in South Africa. Fictional oligarchic examples include the dystopian society of Oceania displayed in the book Nineteen Eighty-Four, the stratocracy government of Starship Troopers, and the kritarchic “Street Judges” of Judge Dredd.

1.2 – Democratic Governments

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

1.2.1 – Introduction

French Presidential Election: A woman casts her vote in the second round of the French presidential election of 2007.

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows people to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws. It encompasses social, economic, and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political self-determination. The term originates from the Greek word: δημοκρατία (dēmokratía), which translates to  “rule of the people”. This term was used around 400 BCE to denote the political systems then existing in Greek city-states, notably Athens.

A democratic government contrasts two forms of government where power is either held by one, as in a monarchy, or where power is held by a small number of individuals, as in an oligarchy or aristocracy. Nevertheless, these oppositions, inherited from Greek philosophy, are now ambiguous because contemporary governments have mixed democratic, oligarchic, and monarchic elements. Several variants of democracy exist, but there are two basic forms, both of which concern how the whole body of citizens executes its will: direct democracy and representative democracy.

1.2.2 – Direct Democracy

Swiss Assemblies: Landsgemeinde, or assembly, of the canton of Glarus, May 7, 2006, Switzerland.

Direct democracy is a form of democracy in which people vote on policy initiatives directly. This is different from a representative democracy, in which people vote for representatives who then vote on policy initiatives. Depending on the particular system in use, it might entail passing executive decisions, making laws, directly electing or dismissing officials, and conducting trials. Two leading forms of direct democracy are participatory democracy and deliberative democracy.

The earliest known direct democracy is said to be the Athenian Democracy in the 5th century BCE, although it was not an inclusive democracy; women, foreigners, and slaves were excluded from it. In the direct democracy of Athens, the electorate did not nominate representatives to vote on legislation and executive bills on their behalf (as in the United States Congress), but instead voted on these items in their own right. Participation was by no means open, but the in-group of participants was constituted with no reference to economic class and they participated on a large scale. The public opinion of voters was remarkably influenced by the political satire performed by the comic poets at the theaters.

Also relevant is the history of Roman republic, beginning circa 449 BCE. The ancient Roman Republic’s “citizen lawmaking”—citizen formulation and passage of law, as well as citizen veto of legislature-made law—began about 449 BCE and lasted the approximately 400 years to the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BCE. Modern-era citizen lawmaking began in the towns of Switzerland in the 13th century CE. In 1847, the Swiss added the “statute referendum” to their national constitution. Currently in Switzerland, single majorities are sufficient at the town, city, and canton level, but at the national level, double majorities are required on constitutional matters. The intent of the double majorities is simply to ensure any citizen-made law’s legitimacy.

1.2.3 – Representative Democracy

Direct democracy was very much opposed by the framers of the United States Constitution and some signatories of the Declaration of Independence. They saw a danger in majorities forcing their will on minorities. As a result, they advocated a representative democracy in the form of a constitutional republic over a direct democracy. For example, James Madison, in Federalist No. 10, advocates a constitutional republic over direct democracy precisely to protect the individual from the will of the majority. Representative democracy is a variety of democracy founded on the principle of elected people representing a group of people. For example, three countries which use representative democracy are the United States of America (a representative democracy), the United Kingdom (a constitutional monarchy) and Poland (a republic). It is an element of both the parliamentary system and presidential system of government and is typically used in a lower chamber such as the House of Commons (UK) or Bundestag (Germany).

1.2.4 – Democracy in the Contemporary World

According to Freedom House, in 2007 there were 123 electoral democracies – up from 40 in 1972. According to World Forum on Democracy, electoral democracies now represent 120 of the 192 existing countries and constitute 58.2 percent of the world’s population. At the same time, liberal democracies—countries Freedom House regards as free and respectful of basic human rights and the rule of law—are 85 in number and represent 38 percent of the global population. In 2010 the United Nations declared September 15 the International Day of Democracy.

1.3 – Non-Democratic Governments: Authoritarianism, Totalitarianism, and Dictatorship

Unlike democracy, authoritarianism and totalitarianism are forms of government where an individual or a single-party concentrates all power.

1.3.1 – Introduction

Communist Party of China: XVII Congress of the Communist Party of China held in 2007.

Authoritarianism is a form of social organization characterized by submission to authority as well as the administration of said authority. In politics, an authoritarian government is characterized by highly concentrated and centralized power maintained by political repression and the exclusion of potential challengers. It uses political parties and mass organizations to mobilize people around the goals of the regime. Authoritarianism emphasizes arbitrary law rather than the rule of law, including election rigging and political decisions being made by a select group of officials behind closed doors. Authoritarianism is marked by “indefinite political tenure” of an autocratic state or a ruling-party state.

An autocracy is a system of government in which a supreme political power is concentrated in the hands of one person, whose decisions are subject to neither external legal restraints nor regularized mechanisms of popular control. By contrast, a single-party state is a type of party system government in which a single political party forms the government and no other parties are permitted to run candidates for election. Typically, single-party states hold the suppression of political factions, except as transitory issue oriented currents within the single party or permanent coalition as a self-evident good. The Communist Party of China’s single-party rule of the People’s Republic of China is a prominent contemporary example.

1.3.2 – Totalitarianism

Totalitarianismis an extreme version of authoritarianism. Authoritarianism primarily differs from totalitarianism in that social and economic institutions exist free from governmental control. By contrast, totalitarianism is a political system where the state holds total authority over the society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever necessary. The term ‘an authoritarian regime’ denotes a state in which the single power holder – an individual ‘dictator,’ a committee or a junta or an otherwise small group of political elite – monopolizes political power. However, a totalitarian regime attempts to control virtually all aspects of the social life, including economy, education, art, science, private life, and morals of citizens. The concept became prominent in Western anti-communist political discourse during the Cold War era in order to highlight perceived similarities between Nazi Germany and other fascist regimes on the one hand, and Soviet communism on the other.

Zbigniew Brzezinski (1977): A number of thinkers, including Zbigniew Brzezinski, have argued that Nazi and Soviet regimes were equally totalitarian.

Political scientists Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski were primarily responsible for expanding the usage of the term in university social science and professional research, reformulating it as a paradigm for the Soviet Union as well as fascist regimes. For Friedrich and Brzezinski, the defining elements were intended to be taken as a mutually supportive organic entity composed of the following: an elaborating guiding ideology; a single mass party, typically led by a dictator; a system of terror; a monopoly of the means of communication and physical force; and central direction, and control of the economy through state planning. Such regimes had initial origins in the chaos that followed in the wake of World War I, at which point the sophistication of modern weapons and communications enabled totalitarian movements to consolidate power.

1.3.3 – Dictatorship

A dictatorship is defined as an autocratic form of government in which the government is ruled by an individual: a dictator. In contemporary usage, dictatorship refers to an autocratic form of absolute rule by leadership unrestricted by law, constitutions, or other social and political factors within the state.

For some scholars, a dictatorship is a form of government that has the power to govern without consent of those being governed (similar to authoritarianism), while totalitarianism describes a state that regulates nearly every aspect of public and private behavior of the people. In other words, dictatorship concerns the source of the governing power and totalitarianism concerns the scope of the governing power. In this sense, dictatorship (government without people’s consent) is a contrast to democracy (government whose power comes from people) and totalitarianism (government controls every aspect of people’s life) opposes pluralism (government allows multiple lifestyles and opinions).

The wave of military dictatorships in Latin America in the second half of the twentieth century left a particular mark on Latin American culture. In Latin American literature, the dictator novel challenging dictatorship is a significant genre. There are also many films depicting Latin American military dictatorships.

1.4 – Non-Democratic Governments: Monarchy, Oligarchy, Technocracy, and Theocracy

Some nondemocratic governments can be classified into categories such as monarchies, oligarchies, theocracies and technocracies.

1.4.1 – Introduction

Governments tend to fall between traditionally democratic and non-democratic forms. These forms of government are usually distinguished based on who controls the state, how that authority is justified, and in what ways leaders and governments are structurally organized based on these justifications.

1.4.2 – Monarchy

The decline of monarchy: Postcard of ruling monarchs, taken in 1908 between February (accession of King Manuel II of Portugal) and November (death of Guangxu Emperor).

A monarchy is a form of government in which sovereignty is actually or nominally embodied in a single individual, the monarch. This is a form of government in which a state or polity is ruled or controlled by an individual who typically inherits the throne by birth and rules for life or until abdication. Monarchs may be autocrats (absolute monarchy) or ceremonial heads of state who exercise little or no power or only reserve power, with actual authority vested in a parliament or other body such as a constitutional assembly.

Monarchs: This photograph depicts the King of Norway, Bulgaria, Portugal, Greece, Belgium, and Denmark. In a monarchy, the state is controlled by an individual who usually inherits the throne by birth.

Monarchs have various titles — king or queen, prince or princess, Malik or Malikah, emperor or empress, duke or grand duke, and Shah. Monarchy is associated with political or sociocultural hereditary rule; most monarchs, both historically and in the modern day, have been born and brought up within a royal family and trained for future duties. However, some monarchies are non-hereditary. In an elective monarchy, the monarch is elected but otherwise serves as any other monarch. Historical examples of elective monarchy include the Holy Roman Emperors and the free election of kings of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.

Crown Prince & Princess & Emperor Showa & Empress Kojun wedding 1959-4: Japanese Emperor Hirohito, Crown Prince Akihito, Crown Princess Michiko and Empress Nagako, 1959

Monarchies have existed throughout the world, although in recent centuries many states have abolished the monarchy and become republics. Advocacy of republics is called republicanism, while advocacy of monarchies is called monarchism. As of 2010 in Europe, there are twelve monarchies: seven kingdoms, one grand duchy, one papacy, and two principalities, as well as the diarchy of Andorra.

1.4.3 – Oligarchy

Oligarchy is a form of power structure in which power effectively rests with a small number of people. These people could be distinguished by royalty, wealth, family ties, education, corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who pass their influence from one generation to the next. Forms of government and other political structures associated with oligarchy usually include aristocracy, meritocracy, plutocracy, military junta, technocracy, and theocracy.

Aristocracy is a form of government in which a few elite citizens rule. In the origins in Ancient Greece, it was conceived of as rule by the best qualified citizens, and contrasted with monarchy. In later times, aristocracy was usually seen as rule by a privileged group, the aristocratic class, and contrasted with democracy. Similarly, plutocracy is rule by the wealthy. Unlike systems such as democracy, plutocracy is not rooted in a political philosophy and has no advocates; the term is only used in a pejorative sense. Examples of plutocracies include the Roman Republic, some city-states in Ancient Greece, the civilization of Carthage, the Italian city-states/merchant republics of Venice, Florence, Genoa, and pre-World War II Empire of Japan zaibatsu.

1.4.4 – Other Forms of Governance

Technocracy is a form of government in which experts in technology would be in control of all decision making. Scientists, engineers, and technologists who have knowledge, expertise, or skills, would compose the governing body instead of politicians, businessmen, and economists. In a technocracy, decision makers would be selected based upon how knowledgeable and skillful they are in their field.

Iran’s Theocracy: Iran is an example of a theocracy. Ali Khamenei, depicted here, current holds the position of Supreme Leader in Iran. The Supreme Leader is a religious figure who has arguably the most political power in Iran.

Theocracy is a form of government in which official policy is governed by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided, or is pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religion or religious group. Theocracy essentially means rule by a church or analogous religious leadership; a state in which the goal is to direct the population towards God and in which God himself is the theoretical “head of the state”.

An Islamic state is a state that has adopted Islam, specifically Sharia (Islamic Law), as its foundations for political institutions, or laws, exclusively, and has implemented the Islamic ruling system and is therefore a theocracy. Although there is much debate as to which states or groups operate strictly according to Islamic Law, Sharia is the official basis for state laws in the following countries: Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania, Oman and Iran.

2 – Functions of Government

2.1 – Why Politics Matters

From the political economy to political philosophy, politics determines “who gets what, when, and how” for all citizens.

2.1.1 – Introduction

Pyramid of Capitalist System: IWW poster “Pyramid of the Capitalist System”(c. 1911), depicting an anti-capitalist perspective on statist/capitalist social structures.

Politics as a term is generally applied to the art or science of running governmental or state affairs. The term includes behavior within civil governments, but is also applied to institutions, fields, and special interest groups such as the corporate, academic, and religious segments of society. It consists of “social relations involving authority or power” as well as the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy.

Political science is the study of politics. It examines the acquisition and application of power. Political scientist Harold Lasswell defined politics as “who gets what, when, and how”. Related areas of study include political philosophy, which seeks a rationale for politics and an ethic of public behavior; political economy, which attempts to develop understandings of the relationships between politics and the economy and the governance of the two; and public administration, which examines the practices of governance.

2.1.2 – Political Science

Political scientists study matters concerning the allocation and transfer of power in decision making, the roles and systems of governance including governments and international organizations, political behavior, and public policies. They measure the success of governance and specific policies by examining many factors including stability, justice, material wealth, and peace. Some political scientists seek to advance theses by analyzing politics. Others advance normative theses by making specificpolicy recommendations.

United Nations Building: UN Building in NYC.

Like all social sciences, political science faces the difficulty of observing human actors who can only be partially observed and have the capacity for making conscious choices unlike other subjects such as non-human organisms in biology or inanimate objects as in physics. Despite the complexities, contemporary political science has progressed by adopting a variety of methods and theoretical approaches to understanding politics. Methodological pluralism is a defining feature of contemporary political science.

2.1.3 – Public Policy

Public policy as government action is generally the principled guide to action taken by the administrative or executive branches of the state with regard to a class of issues in a manner consistent with law and institutional customs. Shaping public policy is a complex and multifaceted process. It involves the interplay of numerous individuals and interest groups competing and collaborating to influence policymakers to act in a particular way. These individuals and groups use a variety of tactics and tools to advance their aims. The tactics include advocating their positions publicly, attempting to educate supporters and opponents, and mobilizing allies on a particular issue.

2.2 – Defending the Nation

One of the most important functions of the U.S. government is to provide common defense and security for its citizens.

2.2.1 – Introduction

Article One of the United States Constitution describes the powers of Congress, which is the legislative branch of the federal government. More importantly, it establishes limits on the powers of Congress as well as the states. Section Eight gives Congress certain broad enumerated powers. Among these are the power to lay and collect taxes and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; to borrow money on the credit of the United States; and to regulate interstate, foreign, and Indian commerce. As stated in the Constitution, “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes, duties, imposts and excises, to pay the debts and provide for the common defense and general welfare of the United States; but all duties, imposts, and excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

2.2.2 – United States Armed Forces

The U.S. Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard. The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military. The President is the overall head of the military. The President helps form military policy with the United States Department of Defense. This department is a federal executive department, acting as the principal organ by which military policy is carried out. The United States has the largest defense budget in the world. As of 2011, the United States spends about 160 billion to fund Overseas Contingency Operations. Combined, the United States constitutes roughly 43 percent of the world’s military expenditures.

U.S. Defense Spending (1910 – 2007): The United States has the largest defense budget in the world.

The U.S. military is one of the largest militaries in terms of the number of personnel. It draws its manpower from a large pool of paid volunteers. However, conscription has been used in the past in various times of both war and peace. It has not been used since 1972. Historically, defense-related spending in the United States is at its highest inflation-adjusted level since World War II. As of September 2010, 1,430,895 people were on active duty in the military, with an additional 848,000 people in the seven reserve components. The United States military is the second largest in the world, after the People’s Liberation Army of China. The U.S. has troops deployed around the globe.

2.2.3 – United States National Security Council

The White House National Security Council is the principal forum used by the President of the United States for considering national security and foreign policy matters with his senior national security advisors and Cabinet officials. The Security Council is part of the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Since its inception under Harry S. Truman, the function of the Council has been to advise and assist the President on national security and foreign policies. The Council also serves as the president’s principal arm for coordinating these policies among various government agencies. The U.S. Council also has counterparts in the national security councils of many other nations.

The National Security Council is chaired by the President. Its regular attendees (both statutory and non-statutory) are the Vice President (statutory), the Secretary of State (statutory), the Secretary of Treasury (non-statutory), the Secretary of Defense (statutory), and the National Security Advisor (non-statutory).

2.3 – Establishing Justice

As the third branch of government, the judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in order to mete out justice.

2.3.1 – Introduction

Lady Justice: Lady Justice depicts justice as equipped with three symbols: a sword symbolizing the court’s coercive power; a human scale weighing competing claims in each hand; and a blindfold indicating impartiality.

Justice is a concept of moral rightness based on ethics, rationality, law, natural law, religion, or equity. In a world where people are interconnected, but with disagreements, institutions are required to instantiate ideals of justice. These institutions may be justified by their approximate instantiation of justice, or they may be deeply unjust when compared with ideal standards. Another definition of justice is an independent investigation of truth. In a court room, lawyers, the judge, and the jury are supposed to be independently investigating the truth of an alleged crime.

2.3.2 – The Judiciary and the Rule of Law

“The Mosaic Law” by Frederick Dielman (1896): Mosaic representing both the judicial and legislative aspects of law. The woman on the throne holds a sword to chastise the guilty and a palm branch to reward the meritorious. Glory surrounds her head, and the aegis of Minerva signifies the armor of righteousness and wisdom.

The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. Under the doctrine of the separation of powers, the judiciary generally does not make law or enforce law, but rather interprets law and applies it to the facts of each case. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes. This branch of the state is often tasked with ensuring equal justice under law. It usually consists of a court of final appeal, together with lower courts.

The United States Supreme Court (2010): The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the United States, in 2010. Top row (left to right): Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Associate Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Associate Justice Samuel A. Alito, and Associate Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right): Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

The rule of law is a legal doctrine whereby governmental decisions are made by applying known legal principles. Rule of law implies that every citizen is subject to the law. It stands in contrast to the idea that the ruler is above the law, for example by divine right, which the European monarchy routinely invoked to justify its rule. All government officers of the United States, including the President, the Justices of the Supreme Court, and all members of Congress, pledge first and foremost to uphold the Constitution. These oaths affirm that the rule of law is superior to the rule of any human leader.

2.3.3 – United States Court System

In the United States court system, the Supreme Court is the final authority on the interpretation of the federal Constitution and all statutes and regulations created pursuant to it, as well as the constitutionality of the various state laws; in the U.S. federal court system, federal cases are tried in trial courts, known as the U.S. district courts, followed by appellate courts and then the Supreme Court. State courts, which try 98% of litigation, may have different names and organization; trial courts may be called “courts of common plea,” and appellate courts may be “superior courts” or “commonwealth courts. ” The judicial system, whether state or federal, begins with a court of first instance, is appealed to an appellate court, and then ends at the court of last resort.

The Supreme Court of the United States is the highest court in the United States. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all federal courts and over state court cases involving issues of federal law, and original jurisdiction over a small range of cases. The Court, which meets in the United States Supreme Court Building in Washington, D.C., consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the United States Senate. Once appointed, justices have life tenure unless they resign, retire, or are removed after impeachment.

2.4 – Promoting the General Welfare

In many constitutions, the general welfare clause has been used as a basis for promoting the well-being of the governed people.

2.4.1 – Introduction

The General Welfare clause is a section of the Constitution– as well as certain charters and statutes– which provides that the governing body empowered by the document may enact laws to promote the general welfare of the people. In some countries, the clause has been used as a basis for legislation promoting the health, safety, morals, and well-being of the people governed by the state. Such clauses are generally interpreted as granting the state broad power to legislate or regulate for the general welfare, remaining independent of other powers specified in the governing document.

The common good is a term that can refer to several different concepts. In the popular meaning, the common good describes a specific “good” that is shared and beneficial for all members of a given community. This is also how the common good is broadly defined in philosophy, ethics, and political science.

2.4.2 – General Welfare in the United States

The United States Constitution contains two references to “the General Welfare,” one occurring in the Preamble and the other in the Taxing and Spending clause. The Preamble of the United States Constitution states that the Union was established “to promote the general Welfare. ” The Taxing and Spending Clause is the clause that gives the federal government of the United States its power of taxation. However, The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld that the mention of the clause in the Preamble “has never been regarded as the source of any substantive power conferred on the Government of the United States or on any of its Departments. ”

There have been different interpretations of the meaning of the General Welfare clause. The historical controversy over the U.S. General Welfare clause arises from two distinct disagreements: The first concerns whether the General Welfare clause grants an independent spending power or is a restriction upon the taxing power; the second disagreement pertains to what exactly is meant by the phrase “general welfare. ”

2.4.3 – Individual States

The state of Alabama has had six constitutions. The Preamble of the 1865 Alabama Constitution notes one purpose of the document to be to “promote the general welfare,” but this language is omitted from the 1901 Alabama Constitution. Similarly, Article IV of the Constitution of Massachusetts provides authority for the state to make laws “as they shall judge to be for the good and welfare of this commonwealth. ” The actual phrase “general welfare” appears only in Article CXVI, which permits the imposition of capital punishment for “the purpose of protecting the general welfare of the citizens. ”

2.5 – Resolving Conflicts

The legal system provides a structure for the resolution of many disputes, including litigation, arbitration, mediation, and conciliation.

2.5.1 – Introduction

The judiciary is the system of courts that interprets and applies the law in the name of the state. The judiciary also provides a mechanism for the resolution of disputes. Conflict resolution is conceptualized as the methods and processes involved in facilitating the peaceful ending of social conflict. More narrowly, dispute resolution is the process of resolving disputes between parties. The legal system provides a necessary structure for the resolution of many disputes. However, some disputants will not reach agreement through a collaborative process. Some disputes need the coercive power of the state to enforce a resolution.

The Old Bailey: A trial at the Old Bailey in London, as drawn by Thomas Rowlandson and Augustus Pugin, for Ackermann’s Microcosm of London (1808-11).

The most common form of judicial dispute resolution is litigation. Litigation is initiated when one party files suit against another. In the United States, litigation is facilitated by the government within federal, state, and municipal courts. The proceedings are very formal and are governed by rules, such as rules of evidence and procedure, which are established by the legislature. Outcomes are decided by an impartial judge and/or jury, based on the factual questions of the case and the application law. Methods of dispute resolution include: litigation, arbitration, mediation, and conciliation.

2.5.2 – Lawsuits

A lawsuit is a civil action brought in a court of law in which a plaintiff, a party who claims to have incurred loss as a result of a defendant ‘s actions, demands a legal or equitable remedy. The defendant is required to respond to the plaintiff’s complaint. If the plaintiff is successful, judgment will be given in the plaintiff’s favor, and a variety of court orders may be issued to enforce a right, award damages, or impose a temporary or permanent injunction to prevent or compel an act. Generally, the conduct of a lawsuit is called litigation. One who has a tendency to litigate rather than seek non-judicial remedies is called litigious.

2.5.3 – Arbitration

Arbitration is a legal technique for the resolution of disputes outside the courts, where the parties to a dispute refer it to one or more persons, by whose decision they agree to be bound. Arbitration can be either voluntary or mandatory, and can be either binding or non-binding. In theory, arbitration is a consensual process; a party cannot be forced to arbitrate a dispute unless he or she agrees to do so. In practice, however, many fine-print arbitration agreements are inserted in situations in which consumers and employees have no bargaining power. Because litigation is such a complex process, it is estimated that about 98% of civil cases in the United States federal courts are resolved without a trial.

2.5.4 – Mediation

Mediation is a way of resolving disputes between two or more parties with concrete effects. Typically, a third party, the mediator, assists the parties to negotiate a settlement. Disputants may mediate disputes in a variety of domains, such as commercial, legal, diplomatic, workplace, community, and family matters. The term “mediation” broadly refers to any instance in which a third party helps others reach agreement. More specifically, mediation has a structure, timetable, and dynamics that “ordinary” negotiation lacks. The process is private and confidential, possibly enforced by law. Participation is typically voluntary. The mediator acts as a neutral third party and facilitates rather than directs the process.

2.5.5 – Conciliation

Finally, conciliation is a process whereby the parties in a dispute agree to utilize the services of a conciliator, who then meets with the parties separately in an attempt to resolve their differences. Conciliation differs from arbitration in that the conciliation process, in and of itself, has no legal standing, and the conciliator usually has no authority to seek evidence or call witnesses, usually writes no decision, and makes no award.

Conciliation differs from mediation in that the main goal is to conciliate, most of the time by seeking concessions. In mediation, the mediator tries to guide the discussion in a way that optimizes parties’ needs, takes feelings into account, and reframes representations.

2.6 – Providing Public Services

A public service is a service that is provided by government to people living within its territory and considered essential to modern life.

2.6.1 – Introduction

  

[LEFT]: Public Transportation in the U.S.: Buses are an example of a public good delivered by local governments in the United States. This bus is in Brooklyn, New York.
[RIGHT]: Fire Brigades: A New South Wales Fire Brigades truck in 2008

2.6.2 – Public Goods and Merit Goods

A public service may sometimes have the characteristics of a public good. In economics, a public good is a good that is both non-excludable in that individuals cannot be effectively excluded from use and where use by one individual does not reduce availability to others. Examples of public goods include fresh air, knowledge, lighthouses, national defense, flood control systems, and street lighting. However, most public services are merit goods, which are services that may be under provided by the market. Examples of merit goods include the provision of food stamps to support nutrition, the delivery of health services to improve the quality of life and reduce morbidity, subsidized housing and, arguably, education.

2.6.3 – Nationalization

Nationalization is the process of taking a private industry or private assets into public ownership by a national government or state. Nationalization really took off following the World Wars of the first half of the twentieth century. Across Europe, because of the extreme demands on industries and the economy, central planning was required to ensure that the maximum degree of efficient production was obtained. Many public services, especially electricity, gas, and public transport were products of this era. Following the World War II, many countries also began to implement universal health care and expand education under the funding and guidance of the state. In the United States, some economists consider the U.S. government’s 2008 takeover of the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation and Federal National Mortgage Association to have been nationalization.

3 – Who is American?

3.1 – Racial and Ethnic Diversity in the United States

The United States is a diverse country, racially and ethnically, with over six races officially recognized by the U.S. Census Bureau.

3.1.1 – Introduction

The United States is a diverse country, racially and ethnically. Six races are officially recognized: White, American Indian and Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander, and people of two or more races; a race called “Some other race” is also used in the census and other surveys, but is not official. The United States Census Bureau also classifies Americans as “Hispanic or Latino” and “Not Hispanic or Latino”, which identifies Hispanic and Latino Americans as a racially diverse ethnicity that composes the largest minority group in the nation. A person of color is a term used primarily in the United States to describe any person who is not white. The term is meant to be inclusive among non-white groups, emphasizing common experiences of racism.

3.1.2 – Racial and Ethnic Categories

Asian Americans: Connie Chung, First Asian American national news anchor.

In the 2000 Census and subsequent United States Census Bureau surveys, Americans self-described as belonging to following racial groups. White are considered those having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa; Black or African American are considered those having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa; Native American are considered those having origins in any of the original peoples of North, Central and South America, and who maintain tribal affiliation or community attachment; Asian are considered those having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, and the Indian subcontinent; Pacific Islanders are those having origins in any of the original peoples of Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, or other Pacific Islands; see also Pacific Islander American. Finally, multiracial are those who check off or write in more than one race. There is no actual option labeled “Two or more races” or “Multiracial” on the census and other forms; only the foregoing six races appear, and people who report more than one of them are categorized as people of “Two or more races” in subsequent processing.

African American boy: An African American boy outside of Cincinnati, Ohio in the 1940s.

The question on Hispanic or Latino origin is separate from the question on race. Hispanic and Latino Americans have origins in the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America and Spain. Most of the Latin American countries are, like the United States, quite racially diverse. Consequently, no separate racial category exists for Hispanic and Latino Americans, as they do not make up a race of their own; when responding to the race question on the census form, they choose from among the same racial categories as all Americans, and are included in the numbers reported for those races. Self-identifying as Hispanic or Latino and not Hispanic or Latino is neither explicitly allowed nor explicitly prohibited.

3.1.3 – Racial Makeup of the U.S. Population

The majority of the more than 300 million people currently living in the United States consists of White Americans, who trace their ancestry to the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. White Americans are the majority in forty-nine of the fifty states, with Hawaii as the exception. The non-Hispanic White percentage (66% in 2008) tends to decrease every year, and this sub-group is expected to become a plurality of the overall U.S. population after the year 2050.

About 12.4% of the American people are Black or African American. Also known more simply as Black Americans, the Black or African American group is the largest racial minority, as opposed to Hispanics and Latinos, who are the largest ethnic minority. Historically, any person with any sub-Saharan African ancestry, even if they were mostly white, were designated and classified as “Black,” according to the “one drop rule. ” The one-drop rule is a historical colloquial term in the United States for the social classification as black of individuals with any African ancestry; this means any person with “one drop of black blood” was considered black.

A third significant minority is the Asian American population, comprising 13.4 million in 2008, or 4.4% of the U.S. population. California is home to 4.5 million Asian Americans, whereas 495,000 live in Hawaii, where they compose the plurality of the islands’ people – this is their largest share of any state. Asians are by no means a monolithic group. The largest sub-groups are immigrants or descendants of immigrants from the Philippines, China, India, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan and Thailand.

Indigenous peoples of the Americas, such as Native Americans and Inuit, made up 0.8% of the population in 2008, numbering 2.4 million. Once thought to face extinction in race or culture, there has been a remarkable revival of Native American identity and tribal sovereignty in the 20th century.

3.1.4 – Hispanic and Latino Americans

Assimilation of Native Americans: Portraits of Native Americans from the Cherokee, Cheyenne, Choctaw, Comanche, Iroquois, and Muscogee tribes in American attire. Photos date from 1868 to 1924.

“Hispanic or Latino origin” is a self-designation made by 47 million Americans, as of 2008. They have origins in the Spanish-speaking nations of Latin America, chiefly, whereas a small percentage traces their origins to Spain. The Hispanic or Latino population is young and fast-growing, due to immigration and higher birth rates. For decades it has contributed significantly to U.S. population increases, and this is expected to continue for decades. The Census Bureau projects that by 2050 one-quarter of the population will be Hispanic or Latino.

3.2 – Twenty-First Century Americans

Immigration has been a pivotal source for change in the social, economic and political makeup of the U.S.

3.2.1 – Introduction

2001-2005 Immigration Rate to the United States: Rate of immigration to the United States relative to sending countries’ population size, 2001–2005

Immigration to the United States is a complex demographic phenomenon that has been a major source of population and cultural change throughout much of U.S. history. Immigration has political, social and economic impacts that have led to a variety of controversies regarding ethnicity, economic benefits, jobs for non-immigrants, settlement patterns, upward social mobility, crime, and voting behavior. These issues are exacerbated by the scale at which immigration occurs. In 2006, the United States accepted, as permanent residents, more legal immigrants than all other countries in the world combined. Illegal immigration also occurs, most notably across the Mexico-United States border, but this type of migration is difficult, expensive and dangerous for participants. Out of those who have immigrated to the U.S., the largest amount originated in Mexico, India, the Philippines, and China. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly fourteen million immigrants entered the United States.

3.2.2 – History

American immigration history can be viewed in four epochs: the colonial period, the mid-nineteenth century, the turn of the twentieth century, and post-1965.Each period denotes a time when particular national groups, races and ethnicities were migrating to the United States. Historians estimate that fewer than one million immigrants—perhaps as few as 400,000—crossed the Atlantic during the 17th and 18th centuries. The peak year of European immigration was in 1907, when 1,285,349 individuals entered the country. By 1910, 13.5 million immigrants were living in the United States.

The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished an earlier immigration system that had set quotas on the number of people who could immigrate in a given year from particular countries. By equalizing immigration policies, the act resulted in new immigration from non-European nations, which changed the ethnic make-up of the United States. Immigration doubled between 1965 and 1970, and again between 1970 and 1990. In 1990, George H. W. Bush signed the Immigration Act of 1990. This further increased legal immigration to the United States by 40%.

3.2.3 – Contemporary Immigration Patterns

Until the 1930s, most legal immigrants were male. By the 1990s, women accounted for just over half of all legal immigrants. Contemporary immigrants tend to be younger than the native population of the United States, with people between the ages of 15 and 34 substantially over-represented. Immigrants are also more likely to be married and less likely to be divorced than native-born Americans of the same age. In terms of regional patterns, immigrants are likely to move to, and reside in, areas populated by people with similar backgrounds. This phenomenon has held true throughout the history of immigration to the United States.

Chinatown (Manhattan, New York): Chinatown, Manhattan, New York City 2009 on Pell Street, looking west towards Doyer and Mott.

Public attitudes about immigration in the U.S. were heavily influenced in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.According to a 2009 Gallup poll, after the attacks, only 52% of Americans believed that immigration was a good thing overall for the U.S., down from 62% the year before.

May Day Immigration Rally: Immigrant rights march for amnesty in downtown Los Angeles, California on May Day, 2006.

Contemporary immigrants settle predominantly in seven states: California New York, Florida, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Illinois. These states are large and comprise about 44% of the U.S. population as a whole. As of 2000, the combined immigrant population residing in these seven states accounted for 70% of the total foreign-born population. If current birth rate and immigration rates were to remain unchanged for another 70 to 80 years, the U.S. population would double to nearly 600 million.

4 – The Tenets of American Democracy

4.1 – Liberty

4.1.1 – Overview

Liberty, the ability of individuals to have control over their lives, is a central aspect of modern political philosophy.

Liberty is the ability of individuals to have agency, or control over their own lives. There are different conceptions of liberty, which articulate the relationship of individuals to society in varying ways, including some which relate to life under a ” social contract ” or to existence in a “state of nature,” and some which see the active exercise of freedom and rights as essential to liberty.

4.1.2 – Philosophical Foundations

John Stuart Mill: John Stuart Mill, author of On Libertysovereignty and natural rights. The thinkers of the Enlightenment reasoned that law governed both heavenly and human affairs, and that law gave the king his power, rather than the king’s power giving force to law. The conception of law as a relationship between individuals, rather than families, came to the fore, and with it the increasing focus on individual liberty as a fundamental reality, given by “Nature and Nature’s God,” which, in an ideal state, would be as expansive as possible. Thus, Enlightenment thinkers’ conception of liberty was that a free individual is most free within the context of a state which provides stability through its laws.

The concept of liberty plays a very important role in social contract theory, particularly in its discussion of sovereignty and natural rights. The thinkers of the Enlightenment reasoned that law governed both heavenly and human affairs, and that law gave the king his power, rather than the king’s power giving force to law. The conception of law as a relationship between individuals, rather than families, came to the fore, and with it the increasing focus on individual liberty as a fundamental reality, given by “Nature and Nature’s God,” which, in an ideal state, would be as expansive as possible. Thus, Enlightenment thinkers’ conception of liberty was that a free individual is most free within the context of a state which provides stability through its laws.

Within the context of social liberty, the British philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his work On Liberty, sought to define the “nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual.” As such, he describes an inherent and continuous antagonism between liberty and authority. The prevailing question thus becomes “how to make the fitting adjustment between individual independence and social control.”

4.1.3 – Positive and Negative Liberty

On Liberty was the first work to recognize the difference between liberty as the freedom to act and liberty as the absence of coercion.In his book, Two Concepts of Liberty, the British social and political theorist Isaiah Berlin formally framed the differences between these two perspectives as the distinction between two opposite concepts of liberty: positive liberty and negative liberty. The latter designates a negative condition in which an individual is protected from tyranny and the arbitrary exercise of authority, while the former refers to having the means or opportunity, rather than the lack of restraint, to do things.

4.1.4 – Liberty in the United States

The concept of liberty has long been a central aspect of the political self-definition in the United States. The founders of the United States were heavily influenced by the writings of John Locke, who had declared in Two Treatises of Government that under natural law, all people have the right to life, liberty, and estate. In addition, under the social contract, the people could instigate a revolution against the government when it acted against the interests of citizens, and replace it with one that would serve the interests of citizens.

In a more modern context, the U.S. Supreme Court decision Griswold v. Connecticut established that liberties relating to personal relationships, such as marriage, have a unique primacy of place in the hierarchy of freedoms.

4.2 – Equality

Equality refers to a state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or group have the same status.

4.2.1 – Social Equality and Equality Before the Law

Martin Luther King, Jr: Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman and activist who championed the cause of racial equality.

Social equality is a social state of affairs in which all people within a specific society or isolated group have the same status in certain respects. Social equality must include equal rights under the law, such as security, voting rights, freedom of speech and assembly, property rights, and equal access to social goods and services. However, it may also include concepts of economic equity, such as access to education, health care, and other social securities. Since social equality includes equal opportunities and obligations, it involves the whole of society.

Social equality requires the absence of legally enforced social class or caste boundaries and the absence of unjustified discrimination motivated by an inalienable part of a person’s identity. For example, sex, gender, race, age, sexual orientation, origin, caste or class, income or property, language, religion, convictions, opinions, health or disability must not result in unequal treatment under the law and should not reduce opportunities unjustifiably. Within the United States, racial and gender equality issues have been particularly prevalent and the catalyst for much social and political reform through the work of the feminist and civil rights movements.

4.2.2 – Equality of Opportunity vs. Outcome

The concepts of equality of opportunity vs. outcome have been the center of much contentious debate within American politics. Equality of opportunity is a state in which all people are treated similarly, unhampered by artificial barriers, prejudices, or preferences, except when particular distinctions are warranted. Equality of opportunity – as an ideal – ensures that important jobs will go to those persons who are most qualified, rather than go to people for arbitrary or irrelevant reasons, such as circumstances of birth, upbringing, friendship ties to whoever is in power, religion, gender, ethnicity, race, caste, or “involuntary personal attributes” such as disability, age, or sexual preferences. Chances for advancement should be open to everybody interested. The concept of equal opportunity has moved beyond employment practices and is now applied to broader areas such as housing, college admissions, and voting rights. In the classical sense, equality of opportunity is closely aligned with the concepts of equality under the law and meritocracy.

Equality of outcome, in contrast, refers to a state in which people have approximately the same material wealth or, more generally, the state in which the general economic conditions of people’s lives are similar. To achieve equality of outcome, it is necessary to reduce or eliminate material inequalities between individuals or households in a society. This can be done through a transfer of income and/or wealth from wealthier to poorer individuals, or adopting other institutions designed to promote equality of condition from the start. Equality of outcome remains a controversial concept, since, for example, striving for equal outcomes might require discriminating between groups to achieve these outcomes; or striving for equal opportunities in some types of treatment might lead to unequal results. Thus, policies that seek an equality of outcome often require a deviation from the strict application of concepts such as meritocracy and legal notions of equality before the law for all citizens.

4.3 – Democracy

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives.

4.3.1 – Overview

Democracy is a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows people to participate equally—either directly or through elected representatives—in the proposal, development, and creation of laws, and encompasses social, economic, and cultural conditions that enable the free and equal practice of political determination.

Several variants of democracy exist, but there are two basic forms, both of which concern how the whole body of citizens executes its will. One form of democracy is direct democracy, in which citizens have direct and active participation in the decision making of the government. The other form is representative democracy, where the whole body of citizens remain the sovereign power but political power is exercised indirectly through elected representatives. Most modern democracies are representative democracies, the concept of which arose largely from ideas and institutions that developed during the European Middle Ages, the Enlightenment, and the American and French Revolutions.

4.3.2 – Common Understandings of Democracy

While there is no universally accepted definition of “democracy,” equality and freedom have both been identified as important components of democracy since ancient times. These principles are reflected in all citizens being equal before the law and having equal access to legislative processes. For example, in a representative democracy, every vote has equal weight, no unreasonable restrictions can apply to anyone seeking to become a representative, and the freedom of its citizens is secured by legitimized rights and liberties which are generally protected by a constitution.

The term “democracy” is also often used as shorthand for liberal democracy, which is a variant of representative democracy that may include elements such as political pluralism, equality before the law, the right to petition elected officials for redress of grievances, due process, civil liberties, human rights, and the existence of elements of civil society outside the government. In the United States, separation of powers is often cited as a central attribute of democracy. Democracy, however, does not necessarily guarantee a good government.

Another essential part of an “ideal” representative democracy is competitive elections that are fair both substantively and procedurally. Furthermore, freedom of political expression, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press are considered to be essential rights that allow citizens to be adequately informed and able to vote according to their own interests. It has also been suggested that a basic feature of democracy is the capacity of individuals to participate freely and fully in the life of their society.

4.3.3 – Ancient Origins

The term “democracy” first appeared in ancient Greek political and philosophical thought in the city-state of Athens. Athenian democracy took the form of a direct democracy, and it had two distinguishing features: the random selection of ordinary citizens to fill the few existing government administrative and judicial offices, and a legislative assembly consisting of all Athenian citizens. All citizens were eligible to speak and vote in the assembly, which set the laws of the city-state. However, Athenian citizenship excluded women, slaves, foreigners, and males under 20 years old.

4.3.4 – Democracy in the United States

Although not explicitly described as a democracy by the founding fathers, the United States founders also shared a determination to root the American experiment in the principle of natural freedom and equality. The United States Constitution, adopted in 1788, provided for an elected government and protected civil rights and liberties for some.

The United States is an example of a Presidential Democracy – a Presidential Democracy is a system where the public elects the president through free and fair elections. The president serves as both the head of state and head of government controlling most of the executive powers. By contrast, a parliamentary democracy is a representative democracy where government is appointed by, or can be dismissed by, representatives as opposed to a ‘presidential rule’ wherein the President is both head of state and the head of government and is elected by the voters. Some modern democracies that are predominately representative in nature also heavily rely upon forms of political action that are directly democratic. Examples include Switzerland and some U.S. states, where frequent use is made of referendums and initiatives.

4.4 – Popular Consent, Majority Rule, and Popular Sovereignty

Popular consent, majority rule, and popular sovereignty are related concepts that form the basis of democratic government.

Popular consent (or the consent of the governed), majority rule, and popular sovereignty are related concepts that form the basis of democratic government.

4.4.1 – Consent of the Governed

John Locke: John Locke was an English philosopher whose writings on the consent of the governed heavily influenced the founders of the United States

“Consent of the governed” is a phrase synonymous with a political theory wherein a government’s legitimacy and moral right to use state power is only justified and legal when derived from the people or society over which that political power is exercised. This theory of “consent” is historically contrasted to the “divine right of kings” and has often been invoked against the legitimacy of colonialism.

Using thinking similar to that of English philosopher John Locke, the founders of the United States believed in a state built upon the consent of “free and equal” citizens; a state otherwise conceived would lack legitimacy and legal authority. This idea was expressed, among other places, in the 2nd paragraph of the Declaration of Independence and in the Virginia Bill of Rights, especially Section 6, quoted below:

“That elections of members to serve as representatives of the people, in assembly, ought to be free; and that all men, having sufficient evidence of permanent common interest with, the attachment to, the community, have the right of suffrage, and cannot be taxed or deprived of their property for publick uses without their own consent, or that of their representatives so elected, nor bound by any law to which they have not, in like manner, assented, for the  public good.

4.4.2 – Majority Rule

Majority rule is a decision rule that selects the option which has more than half the votes. It is the decision rule used most often in influential decision-making bodies, including the legislatures of democratic nations. Some scholars have recommended against the use of majority rule, at least under certain circumstances, due to an ostensible trade-off between the benefits of majority rule and other values important to a democratic society. Most famously, it has been argued that majority rule might lead to a “tyranny of the majority,” and the use of a supermajority and constitutional limits on government power have been recommended to mitigate these effects. Recently some voting theorists have argued that majority rule is the rule that best protects minorities.

4.4.3 – Popular Sovereignty

Popular sovereignty in its modern sense, that is, including all the people and not just noblemen, is an idea that dates to the social contracts school (mid-17th to mid-18th centuries), represented by Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679), John Locke (1632–1704), and Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778), author of The Social Contract, a prominent political work that clearly highlighted the ideals of “general will” and further matured the idea of popular sovereignty. The central tenet is that legitimacy of rule or of law is based on the consent of the governed. Popular sovereignty is thus a basic tenet of most democracies. Whether men were seen as naturally more prone to violence and rapine (Hobbes) or cooperation and kindness (Rousseau), the idea that a legitimate social order emerges only when the liberties and duties are equal among citizens binds the social contract thinkers to the concept of popular sovereignty. Although Rousseau argues that sovereignty (or the power to make the laws) should be in the hands of the people, he also makes a sharp distinction between the sovereign and the government. The government is composed of magistrates, charged with implementing and enforcing the general will. The “sovereign” is the rule of law, ideally decided on by direct democracy in an assembly.

The American Revolution marked a departure in the concept of popular sovereignty as it had been discussed and employed in the European historical context. With the American Revolution, Americans substituted the sovereignty in the person of King George III, with a collective sovereign—one composed of the people. Thenceforth, American revolutionaries generally agreed and were committed to the principle that governments were legitimate only if they rested on popular sovereignty–that is, the sovereignty of the people. This idea—often linked with the notion of the consent of the governed—was not invented by the American revolutionaries. Rather, the consent of the governed and the idea of the people as a sovereign had clear 17th and 18th century intellectual roots in English history.

4.5 – Individualism

Individualism is a philosophy that stresses the value and rights of the individual vis-a-vis society and government.

Individualism is the moral stance, political philosophy, ideology, or social outlook that stresses the moral worth of the individual. Individualists promote the exercise of one’s goals and desires and so value independence and self-reliance while opposing external interference upon one’s own interests by society or institutions such as the government.

Individualism, sometimes closely associated with certain variants of anarchism or liberalism, typically takes it for granted that individuals know best and that public authority or society has no right to interfere in a person’s decision-making process, unless a very compelling need to do so arises (and maybe not even in those circumstances). This type of argument can occur in policy debates regarding regulation of industries, as well as in relation to personal choice of lifestyle.

Individualists are chiefly concerned with protecting individual autonomy against obligations imposed by social institutions (such as the state or religious morality). Civil liberties are rights and freedoms that provide an individual specific rights such as the freedom from slavery and forced labor, freedom from torture and death, the right to liberty and security, right to a fair trial, the right to defend one’s self, the right to own and bear arms, the right to privacy, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and association, and the right to marry and have a family.

The Bill of Rights of the United States of American: The U.S. Constitution, seen here, protects civil liberties.

Civil libertarianism is not a complete ideology; rather, it is a collection of views on the specific issues of civil liberties and civil rights. Because of this, a civil libertarian outlook is compatible with many other political philosophies, and civil libertarianism is found on both the right and left in modern politics.

Individualism is often contrasted either with totalitarianism or with collectivism, but in fact there is a spectrum of behaviors at the societal level ranging from highly individualistic societies through mixed societies to collectivist societies.

4.6 – Religious Freedom

Freedom of religion is a principle that allows an individual or community to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.

Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. This concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change a religion, leave a religion, or not to follow any religion. Freedom of religion is considered by many nations to be a fundamental human right.

In the United States, freedom of religion is a constitutionally guaranteed right provided in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is also closely associated with the separation of church and state, a concept advocated by Thomas Jefferson.

Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and 3rd President of the United States: Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, who advocated for separation of church and states.

Controversy continues within the U.S. between those who wish to restrict government involvement with religious institutions and remove religious references from government institutions and property, and those who wish to loosen such prohibitions. Advocates for stronger separation of church and state emphasize the plurality of faiths and non-faiths in the country, and what they see as the broad guarantees of the Constitution. Their opponents emphasize what they see as the largely Christian heritage and history of the nation (often citing the references to “Nature’s God” and the “Creator” of men in the Declaration of Independence. )

The United States formally considers religious freedom in its foreign relations. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 established the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which investigates the records of over 200 other nations with respect to religious freedom, and makes recommendations to submit nations with egregious records to ongoing scrutiny and possible economic sanctions. Many human rights organizations have urged the United States to be even more vigorous in imposing sanctions on countries that do not permit or tolerate religious freedom.

5 – Political Ideology

5.1 – Conservatism

5.1.2 – Overview

Conservatism is a social and political philosophy that supports retaining traditional social institutions and has many modern variations.

Edmund Burke: Edmund Burke, considered to be the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.

Conservatism, taken from the Latin word conservare (“to retain”) is a political and social philosophy that promotes retaining traditional social institutions. Edmund Burke, an Anglo-Irish politician who served in the British House of Commons and opposed the French Revolution, is credited as one of the founders of conservatism in Great Britain and is generally viewed as the philosophical founder of modern conservatism.

5.1.3 – Variants of Conservatism

Liberal conservatism is a variant of conservatism that combines conservative values and policies with classical liberal stances. Historically, the term referred to combination of economic liberalism, which champions laissez-faire markets, with the classical conservatism concern for established tradition, respect for authority, and religious values. It contrasted itself with classical liberalism, which supported freedom for the individual in both the economic and social spheres.

Libertarian conservatism describes certain political ideologies within the United States and Canada which combine libertarian economic issues with aspects of conservatism. Libertarian conservatives generally support strict laissez-faire policies such as free trade and oppose any national bank, regulations on businesses, environmental regulation, corporate subsidies, and other areas of economic intervention.

Fiscal conservatism is the economic philosophy of prudence in government spending and debt. Edmund Burke, in particular, argued that a government does not have the right to run up large debts and then throw the burden on the taxpayer.

National conservatism concentrates more on national interests than standard conservatism, and it upholds cultural and ethnic identity. It is heavily oriented towards the traditional family and social stability, and it is in favour of limiting immigration. As such, national conservatives can be distinguished from economic conservatives, for whom free market economic policies, deregulation, and fiscal conservatism are the main priorities.

Cultural conservativism the preservation of the heritage of one nation, or of a shared culture that is not defined by national boundaries.Cultural conservatives hold fast to traditional ways of thinking even in the face of monumental change. They believe strongly in traditional values and politics, and often have an urgent sense of nationalism.

Social conservatism is distinct from cultural conservatism, although there are some overlaps. Social conservatives believe that the government has a role in encouraging or enforcing what they consider traditional values or behaviors. A social conservative wants to preserve traditional morality and social mores, often through civil law or regulation. Social change is generally regarded as suspect.

Religious conservatives principally seek to apply the teachings of particular religions to politics, sometimes by merely proclaiming the value of those teachings, and at other times by having those teachings influence laws.

5.1.4 – Conservatism in the United States

Liberal conservatism is a variant of conservatism that combines conservative values and policies with classical liberal stances. Historically, the term referred to combination of economic liberalism, which champions laissez-faire markets, with the classical conservatism concern for established tradition, respect for authority, and religious values. It contrasted itself with classical liberalism, which supported freedom for the individual in both the economic and social spheres.

Libertarian conservatism describes certain political ideologies within the United States and Canada which combine libertarian economic issues with aspects of conservatism. Libertarian conservatives generally support strict laissez-faire policies such as free trade and oppose any national bank, regulations on businesses, environmental regulation, corporate subsidies, and other areas of economic intervention.

Fiscal conservatism is the economic philosophy of prudence in government spending and debt. Edmund Burke, in particular, argued that a government does not have the right to run up large debts and then throw the burden on the taxpayer.

National conservatism concentrates more on national interests than standard conservatism, and it upholds cultural and ethnic identity. It is heavily oriented towards the traditional family and social stability, and it is in favour of limiting immigration. As such, national conservatives can be distinguished from economic conservatives, for whom free market economic policies, deregulation, and fiscal conservatism are the main priorities.

Cultural conservativism the preservation of the heritage of one nation, or of a shared culture that is not defined by national boundaries.Cultural conservatives hold fast to traditional ways of thinking even in the face of monumental change. They believe strongly in traditional values and politics, and often have an urgent sense of nationalism.

Social conservatism is distinct from cultural conservatism, although there are some overlaps. Social conservatives believe that the government has a role in encouraging or enforcing what they consider traditional values or behaviors. A social conservative wants to preserve traditional morality and social mores, often through civil law or regulation. Social change is generally regarded as suspect.

Religious conservatives principally seek to apply the teachings of particular religions to politics, sometimes by merely proclaiming the value of those teachings, and at other times by having those teachings influence laws.

5.2 – Liberalism

Liberalism is a broad political ideology or worldview founded on the ideas of liberty and equality.

5.2.1 – Sources of Liberal Thought

Liberalism, from the Latin liberalis, is a broad political ideology or worldview founded on the ideas of liberty and equality. Liberalism espouses a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, and can encompass ideas such as free and fair elections, free trade, private property, capitalism, constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free press, and the free exercise of religion.

John Locke: John Locke, often credited for the creation of liberalism as a philosophical tradition.

Liberalism first became a powerful force during the Enlightenment, when it became popular among philosophers and economists in the Western world. Liberalism rejected the notions, common at the time, of hereditary privilege, state religion, absolute monarchy, and the Divine Right of Kings. The early liberal thinker John Locke, who is often credited with the creation of liberalism as a distinct philosophical tradition, employed the concept of natural rights and the social contract to argue that the rule of law should replace both tradition and absolutism in government; that rulers were subject to the consent of the governed; and that private individuals had a fundamental right to life, liberty, and property.

5.2.2 – Liberalism and Revolution

The revolutionaries in the American and France used liberal philosophy to justify the armed overthrow of what they saw as tyrannical rule. The nineteenth century saw governments established around liberalist political ideology in nations across Europe, Latin America, and North America. Liberalist ideas spread even further in the twentieth century, when liberal democracies were on the winning side in both World Wars I and II, and when liberalism survived major ideological challenges from fascism and communism. Today, liberalism remains a political force with varying degrees of power and influence in many countries.

5.2.3 – Classical vs. Modern Liberalism

Classical liberalism is a political philosophy and ideology belonging to liberalism in which primary emphasis is placed on securing the freedom of the individual by limiting the power of the government. The philosophy emerged as a response to the Industrial Revolution and urbanization in the 19th century in Europe and the United States. It advocates civil liberties with a limited government under the rule of law, private property, and belief in laissez-faire economic policy.

Both modern American conservatism and social liberalism split from Classical Liberalism in the early 20th century. At that time conservatives adopted the Classic Liberal beliefs in protecting economic civil liberties. Conversely social liberals adopted the Classical Liberal belief in defending social civil liberties. Neither ideology adopted the pure Classical Liberal belief that government exists to protect both social & economic civil liberties. Conservatism shares an ideological agreement on limited government in the area of preventing government restriction against economic civil liberties as embodied in the ability of people to sell their goods, services or labor to anyone they choose free from restriction except in rare cases where society’s general welfare is at stake.

While many modern scholars argue that no particularly meaningful distinction between classical and modern liberalism exists, others disagree. According to William J. Novak, liberalism in the United States shifted in the late 19th and early 20th century from classical liberalism (endorsing laissez-faire economics and constitutionalism) to “democratic social-welfarism” (endorsing such government involvement as seen in the New Deal ). This shift included qualified acceptance of government intervention in the economy and the collective right to equality in economic dealings. These theories came to be termed “liberal socialism”, which is related with social democracy in Europe. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, “In the United States, liberalism is associated with the welfare-state policies of the New Deal program of the Democratic administration of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, whereas in Europe it is more commonly associated with a commitment to limited government and laissez-faire economic policies. ” Consequently in the U.S., the ideas of individualism and laissez-faire economics previously associated with classical liberalism, became the basis for the emerging school of right wing libertarian thought.

5.2.4 – Liberalism and Socialism

Some confusion remains about the relationship between social liberalism and socialism, despite the fact that many variants of socialism distinguish themselves markedly from liberalism by opposing capitalism, hierarchy and private property. Socialism formed as a group of related yet divergent ideologies in the 19th century such as Christian socialism, Communism and Social Anarchism. These ideologies — as with liberalism — fractured into several major and minor movements in the following decades. Marx rejected the foundational aspects of liberal theory, hoping to destroy both the state and the liberal distinction between society and the individual while fusing the two into a collective whole designed to overthrow the developing capitalist order of the 19th century.

Social democracy, an ideology advocating progressive reform of capitalism, emerged in the 20th century and was influenced by socialism. Yet unlike socialism, it was not collectivist nor anti-capitalist. It was not against the state; rather it was broadly defined as a project that aims to correct, through government reformism, what it regards as the intrinsic defects of capitalism by reducing inequalities. Several commentators have noted strong similarities between social liberalism and social democracy, with one political scientist even calling American liberalism “bootleg social democracy”.

5.2.5 – American Tradition and Liberal Heritage

Many fundamental elements of modern society have liberal roots. The early waves of liberalism popularized economic individualism while expanding constitutional government and parliamentary authority. One of the greatest liberal triumphs involved replacing the capricious nature of royalist and absolutist rule with a decision-making process encoded in written law. Liberals sought and established a constitutional order that prized important individual freedoms, such as the freedoms of speech and association, an independent judiciary and public trial by jury, and the abolition of aristocratic privileges. These sweeping changes in political authority marked the modern transition from absolutism to constitutional rule.

Later waves of liberal thought were strongly influenced by the need to expand civil rights. In the 1960s and 1970s, feminism in the United States was advanced in large part by liberal feminist organizations.Many liberals also have advocated for racial equality, and the civil rights movement in the United States during the 1960s strongly highlighted the liberal crusade for equal rights.

5.3 – The Traditional Political Spectrum

The traditional political spectrum models different political positions by placing them upon a left-right geometric axis.

5.3.1 – Background

 Traditional political spectrum: The traditional left-right political spectrumThe terms “right” and “left” refer to political affiliations which originated early in the French Revolutionary era of 1789–1796, and referred originally to the seating arrangements in the various legislative bodies of France. The aristocracy sat on the right of the Speaker (traditionally the seat of honor) and the commoners sat on the Left, hence the terms right-wing and left-wing politics.

The traditional political spectrum is a way of modeling different political positions by placing them upon one or more geometric axes symbolizing independent political dimensions. Most long-standing spectra include a right and left, and according to the simplest left-right axis, communism and socialism are usually regarded internationally as being on the left, opposite fascism and conservatism on the right.

5.3.2 – Origins of the Political Spectrums

Originally, the defining point on the ideological spectrum was the ancien regime (“old order”). “The Right” thus implied support for aristocratic or royal interests and the church, while “The Left” implied support for republicanism, secularism, and civil liberties. Support for laissez-faire capitalism was expressed by politicians sitting on the left, because these represented policies favorable to capitalists rather than to the aristocracy, but outside of parliamentary politics, these views are often characterized as being on the right.

As capitalist economies developed, the aristocracy became less relevant and was mostly replaced by capitalist representatives. The size of the working class increased as capitalism expanded and began to find expression partly through trade unionist, socialist, anarchist, and communist politics, rather than being confined to the capitalist policies expressed by the original left. This evolution has often pulled parliamentary politicians away from laissez-faire economic policies, although this has happened to different degrees in different countries.

Thus, the word “left” in American political parlance may refer to “liberalism” and be identified with the Democratic Party, whereas in a country such as France these positions would be regarded as relatively more right-wing, and “left” is more likely to refer to socialist positions rather than liberal ones.

5.3.3 – Left-wing vs. Right-wing

In left-right politics, left-wing describes an outlook or specific position that accepts or supports social equality, often in opposition to social hierarchy and social inequality. It typically involves a concern for those in society who are perceived as disadvantaged relative to others and an assumption that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished. In left-right politics, left-wing describes an outlook or specific position that accepts or supports social equality, often in opposition to social hierarchy and social inequality. It typically involves a concern for those in society who are perceived as disadvantaged relative to others and an assumption that there are unjustified inequalities that need to be reduced or abolished.

In left-right politics, right-wing describes an outlook or specific position that accepts or supports social hierarchy or social inequality. Social hierarchy and social inequality is viewed by those affiliated with the Right as either inevitable, natural, normal, or desirable, whether it arises through traditional social differences or from competition in market economies. It typically accepts or justifies this position on the basis of natural law or tradition. Although the term ‘right-wing’ originally designated traditional conservatives and reactionaries, it has also been used to describe neo-conservatives, nationalists, Christian democrats, and classical liberals.

In modern parlance, left-right has acquired the added dimension of the balance of governmental power and individual rights, wherein moving left increases the power of government and moving right the rights of individuals. In this view, “reactionary” has the aspect of “anarchy”. This introduces, or exposes, a limitation in this simple binary spectrum, where by social views of left-right, fascists and totalitarian systems are on the far right; whereas by a balance of government to individual power, fascists and totalitarian systems are on the far left.

5.4 – Issues with the Traditional Political Spectrum

Researchers have frequently noted that a single left-right axis is insufficient to describe the existing variation in political beliefs.

Researchers have frequently noted that a single left-right axis is insufficient in describing the existing variation in political beliefs, and often include other axes. Though the descriptive words at polar opposites may vary, often in popular biaxial spectra the axes are split between cultural issues and economic issues, each scaling from some form of individualism (or government for the freedom of the individual) to a form of communitarianism (or government for the welfare of the community). In this context, the contemporary American on the left is often considered individualist (or libertarian ) on social/cultural issues and communitarian (or populist) on economic issues, while the contemporary American on the right is often considered communitarian (or populist) on social/cultural issues and individualist (or libertarian) on economic issues.

Numerous alternatives exist, usually developed by those who feel their views are not fairly represented on the traditional right-left spectrum. One alternative spectrum offered by the conservative American Federalist Journal accounts for only the “degree of government control ” without consideration for any other social or political variable and, thus, places “fascism” (totalitarianism ) at one extreme and “anarchy” (no government at all) at the other extreme.

The Nolan Chart: An alternative to the traditional political spectrum, the Nolan Chart positions opinions on economic freedom and personal freedom.

Other axes include: the focus of political concern (communitarianism vs. individualism), responses to conflict (conversation vs. force), the role of the church (clericalism vs. anticlericalism), foreign policy (interventionism vs. non-interventionism), and freedom (positive liberty vs. negative liberty). The Nolan Chart, created by libertarian David Nolan, shows what he considers as “economic freedom ” (issues like taxation, free trade, and free enterprise) on the horizontal axis and what he considers as “personal freedom” (issues like drug legalization, abortion, and the draft) on the vertical axis. This puts left-wingers in the left quadrant, libertarians in the top, right-wingers in the right, and what Nolan originally named “populists” at the bottom.


Originally published by Lumen Learning – Boundless Political Science under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported license.

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