The Democratic Republic
After students have read and studied this chapter, they should be able to:
· Understand a substantial amount of basic terminology, beginning with politics, institution, and government.
· Understand the relationship between politics and government.
· Understand the concepts of order (or security) and liberty.
· Understand the concepts of authority and legitimacy.
· Briefly describe several forms of government (totalitarianism, authoritarian regime, aristocracy, theocracy, oligarchy, democracy).
· Understand the difference between direct democracy on the one hand and a democratic republic (or a representative democracy) on the other.
· Explain the key features of democracies (universal suffrage, consent of the people, majority rule, limited government).
· Describe competing theories of how the U.S. democracy works (majoritarianism, elite theories, and pluralism).
· Understand the concepts of political culture and political socialization.
· Describe the trade-off between order or security and liberty, and between equality and liberty (in the form of property).
· Describe attitudes regarding the proper size of government.
· Define the concept of ideology and explain the dominant ideologies in the U.S. (liberalism and conservatism).
· Describe the traditional political spectrum and its extremes (socialism and libertarianism).
· Distinguish between economic liberalism and conservatism and cultural liberalism and conservatism and describe the ideological grid.
The basic point of Chapter 1 is to introduce a series of concepts that are basic to understanding American government and politics, and indeed, political science in general.
I. Politics and Government
Key terms to define: politics, institution, government. Politics is the struggle over power or influence within organizations or informal groups that can grant or withhold benefits or privileges, or as Laswell puts it, “who gets what, when, and how.” An institution (p. 2 top) is an ongoing organization that performs certain functions for society. Government (p. 2 top) is the institution in which decisions are made that resolve conflicts or allocate benefits and privileges. It is unique because it has the ultimate authority [for making decisions].
II. Why Is Government Necessary?
A. The Need for Security. Key concept: order, that is, a state of peace and security. Maintaining order by protecting members of society from violence and criminal activity is the oldest purpose of government.
B. Limiting Government Power. Key concept: liberty, or the greatest freedom of individuals that is consistent with the freedom of other individuals in the society.
C. Authority and Legitimacy. Two more key concepts: authority is the right and power of a government or other entity to enforce its decisions and compel obedience; legitimacy is popular acceptance of the right and power of a government or other entity to exercise authority.
III. Democracy and Other Forms of Government
A. Types of Government (p. 4) . More concepts:
1. Totalitarian regime—A form of government that controls all aspects of the political and social life of a nation.
2. Authoritarian regime—A regime in which only the government itself is fully controlled by the ruler, however, social and
economic institutions exist that are not under the government’s control.
3. Aristocracy—Rule by the “best”; in reality, rule by an upper class.
4. Theocracy—Rule by self-appointed religious leaders, with Iran being a rare example.
5. Oligarchy—“Rule by a few.”
6. Democracy—A system of government in which political authority is vested in the people.
B. Direct Democracy as a Model (p. 4 and Van Vechten pp. 2, 15, 19 n.4, 20, 22 24 center, 27 end 29). A system of government in which political decisions are made by the people directly, rather than by their elected representatives; probably attained most easily in small political communities. Key concepts are the initiative, a procedure by which voters can propose a law or a constitutional amendment; the referendum, an electoral device whereby legislative or constitutional measures are referred by the legislature to the voters for approval or disapproval; and the recall, a procedure allowing the people to vote to dismiss an elected official from state office before his or her term has expired.
C. The Dangers of Direct Democracy (p. 5). While the founders [the writers of the U.S. Constitution, especially James Madison] believed in government based on the consent of the people, they were highly distrustful of anything that might look like “mob rule.” Therefore, they devised institutions to filter the popular will through elected elites.
D. A Democratic Republic. Obviously, the terms republic and democratic republic are key, as is the term representative democracy. The differences between these terms are subtle. By itself, a republic can have many undemocratic features. Democratic republic and representative democracy really mean the same thing—government based on elected representatives—except for the historical quirk that a republic cannot have a vestigial king.
1. Principles of Democratic Government. These include universal suffrage, the right of all adults to vote for their representatives, and majority rule, which means that the greatest number of citizens in any political unit should select the officials and determine policies.
2. Constitutional Democracy. The key concept is limited government, the principle that the powers of government should be limited, usually by institutional checks. Without such limits, democracy could destroy itself.
IV. What Kind of Democracy Do We Have?
The text discusses three theories that seek to explain how the U.S. democracy works.
A. Democracy for Everyone. Majoritarianism is a political theory holding that in a democracy, the government ought to do what the majority of the people want. Popular as a principal, but not very good at explaining what really happens in our system.
B. Democracy for the Few. Elite theory assumes the population has little if any impact on the decision-making process. Ultimately, policy decisions are made by a select few within the society. These elites share a goal of governmental stability because they do not want their position within society jeopardized.
C. Democracy for Groups. Pluralism assumes that numerous factions (or interest groups) work to affect policy. Each faction works to promote the interests of the faction, and through a series of compromises, public policy decisions are made.
V. Fundamental Values
Political Socialization: Why is our system stable? In part because of a shared political culture passed on through political socialization; the most important sources of political socialization are the family and the educational system. The resulting dominant culture in America is based on values inherited from Europe in general and England in particular.
A. Liberty versus Order. Personal freedom and order, or security, can come into conflict. Examples are the loss of civil liberties during wartime (p. 9, end) and cultural conflicts such as the one over abortion. [Note the many liberties guarnteed by the
Bill of Rights written by James Madison.]
B. Equality versus Liberty. [Note the words "all men are created equal" from the Declaration of Independence., p 10 top [written by Thomas Jefferson] and the end slavery as an economic system as a result of the Civil War fought by President Abraham Lincoln]. There are many kinds of equality, some of which are more controversial than others. Equality under the law regardless of race, religion, or gender is a popular value today, but was not accepted as a norm even fifty years ago. Equality of opportunity is a concept with much support.
1. Economic Equality. This concept is more controversial. It came into play during the 1800s, especially as promoted by the European socialist movements (which are not specifically named in this section).
2. Property Rights and Capitalism. Economic equality fairness as a value comes into conflict with property rights and with the capitalist system in general. Key concept: Capitalism, p. 11 center, an economic system characterized by the private ownership of wealth-creating assets and also by free markets and freedom of contract. Although the desire to own property is widespread among all classes of Americans, the recession of 2008-2009 has enhanced the popularity of egalitarian ideas among voters.
C. The Proper Size of Government: Tensions over the size and scope of government have been a constant theme in American politics. Citizens often possess contradictory opinions about the role government should play in their lives.
1. Big Government in Times of Crisis. Americans are most likely to call for the benefits of big government during times of crisis, such as the 2008 financial collapse.
2. Big Government and Civil Liberties. Regardless of opinions regarding government involvement in economic issues, Americans value limited government involvement with respect to civil liberties and their private lives.
VI. Political Ideologies
Key concept: a political ideology is a comprehensive set of beliefs about politics, with a set of guiding values at its core.
A. Conservatism versus Liberalism. Key concepts: conservatism. Conservatives tend to favor limited governmental involvement in the economic sector. Economic freedom is seen as a necessity for the good of the society. On social issues, conservatives advocate governmental involvement to preserve traditional values and lifestyles. Also: liberalism. Liberals tend to favor governmental regulation of the economy to benefit individuals within the society. On social issues, liberals advocate a limited governmental role. In recent years, many liberals have switched to the label “progressive” to describe their political ideology.
B. The Traditional Political Spectrum. Traditionally, political ideologies have been arranged on a continuum from left to right. Key concepts: socialism, a political ideology based on strong support for economic and social equality; traditionally placed on the left of the spectrum. Socialists traditionally envisioned a society in which major businesses were taken over by the government or by employee cooperatives. Also: libertarianism, a political ideology based on skepticism or opposition toward almost all government activities; traditionally placed on the right of the spectrum..
C. Problems with the Traditional Political Spectrum. We introduce the relative separability of cultural and economic politics.
D. A Four-Cornered Ideological Grid. We can break down the electorate into cultural and economic liberals, cultural and economic conservatives, cultural liberals/economic conservatives (libertarians), and cultural conservatives/economic liberals.
A. The Politics of Boom and Bust: Liberals—or Progressives? President Obama is one of the most recent and visible examples of a politician who uses the label progressive, rather than liberal, to describe his political ideology. The meaning of liberal has changed over time, from something closer to modern libertarianism, to President Franklin Roosevelt’s support of positive government intervention in the economy , p. 14 [both before and during World War II]. As the word liberal became weighed down with historical baggage, the progressive label has become increasingly popular with Democrats and seems to resonate more strongly with voters.
B. Making a Difference: Seeing Democracy in Action. One way to begin to understand the American political system is to observe a legislative body in action. In addition to being a learning experience, you may be able to influence policy decisions that directly affect your life.
TOPICS FOR DISCUSSION
Ask students to freely associate with the term “politics.” Ask them why so many of the responses tend to be negative. Do the same with “government.”
Governments are unique in that they have a monopoly on the legitimate use of force to settle disputes. (We, in effect, point this out in the text, but do not use the word monopoly.) In economic production, monopoly is generally a bad thing. Hold a discussion on why in this circumstance, monopoly is essential. Hint: Competition in the use of force within society is a form of civil war. Consider the example of Somalia (which is discussed in the text).
A family can serve as an example of an informal use of power. The parents have the authority to make the decisions for the family, while the children are responsible for obeying the decisions. Problems arise when authority and/or legitimacy are in question. If the parents disagree as to a course of action, the children may perceive a problem with authority. Which parent has the authority to make the decision? When the parents leave the children with a sitter, there may be a problem with legitimacy. Do the children obey the decisions of the sitter?
Ask students whether they themselves think a direct democracy is a rational option for governing in the United States. Describe the forms of direct democracy that exist (initiative and referendum, the New England town), or make sure the students pay special attention to what Chapter 1 says about these topics. Then ask the students to discuss the pros and cons of these mechanisms.
Ask students whether they think majoritarianism, elite theory, or pluralism best describes our system of government. Ask them to provide evidence of this, using newspaper articles or anecdotes.
Discussions of the concepts of order or security can bring up the concept of the “other.” Do some people in American society equate security and order with protection against fellow citizens who are racially, culturally, or economically different? And what does security look like from the viewpoint of a member of a minority group? Can protection against discrimination be considered a security issue as well as an issue of equality?
Opportunities for discussing political ideology are almost endless. You might consider concentrating, however, on libertarianism and on the “cultural conservative/economic liberal” viewpoints, given that many students are likely to already have at least some idea of what conservatives and liberals stand for. You can ask if there are students who believe that they themselves represent such viewpoints, or whose parents do. (This must be done on a purely voluntary basis, of course—students should never be required to openly espouse an ideology. Many students, however, will be more than happy to express their personal views.) This can then provide an opening for examining these positions on the ideological grid shown in Chapter 1. What does it mean that “cultural conservative/economic liberal” voters are more likely to be Democrats? Hint: This is a combination of views that is popular among Hispanic Americans.
BEYOND THE BOOK
Have the students watch the film Hotel Rwanda and ask them to explain the things they saw in this movie that an effective government would have been able to prevent and remedy.
In deciding how to begin Chapter 1, we rejected a more traditional focus on Hobbes and Locke on the grounds that these philosophers of old might not be very interesting to the students. Instead, we focused on today’s Iraq. Depending on what kind of students you have, however, you could give an alternate introduction to the concepts of order and liberty based on these two thinkers. The example of disorder would then be medieval Europe, not occupied Iraq.
Chapter 1 contains an analysis of democracy. It provides no example of an authoritarian regime, although such systems are widespread in the world today. To extend the discussion of different political systems, you could provide the students with a brief description of an authoritarian regime, for example, that of former President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt. Various techniques were used to ensure that the control of the Egyptian president remained absolute. He was elected by a referendum in which there is no opposing candidate. (He had to be nominated by parliament, however.) He could issue decrees that had the force of law on virtually any topic. Finally, the government strictly limited who can run for parliament in the first place, thus ensuring the president’s ultimate control of the system. The economic system combined state enterprises and a private sector, both weighed down by heavy corruption. Mexico during the period of complete PRI dominance is another example you could use. A description of a sample authoritarian regime can then lead directly into a class discussion of the importance of various institutional safeguards for protecting democracy.
An ancient Athenian would have called our system an oligarchy, on the ground that true power rests in the hands of a limited number of elected leaders. You could initiate a discussion on whether the concept of oligarchy is at all useful as a way of looking at the system we call representative democracy.
Chapter 1 contains a brief history of the term “liberal” but does not give a similar treatment to the term “conservatism.” This provides an opening that you could exploit with a little information beyond what is included in the text. Conservatism is a term with multiple meanings. It can mean preserving the past. It can mean a spirit of caution or moderation. But it can also, in America, mean adherence to a defined right-of-center ideology and a commitment to reshape the world in accordance with that ideology. A conservative, in other words, can be a radical. You could try to elicit a discussion of this contradiction, or alternatively examine possible contradictions between the pro-business, free market tendencies in modern conservatism and the imperatives of cultural conservatism. The key concept here is of capitalism as a continuing source of revolutionary developments that can threaten traditional values.