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Chapter One. The Foundations of American Government. What is Politics?. Process of resolving conflicts and deciding, as Harold Laswell put it, “who gets what, when, and how”

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chapter one

Chapter One

The Foundations of American Government

what is politics
What is Politics?
  • Process of resolving conflicts and deciding, as Harold Laswell put it, “who gets what, when, and how”
  • Struggle over power or influence within organizations or informal groups that can grant or withhold benefits or privileges
  • Process that regulates conflict within society (conflict is universal, endemic, pervasive) over the distribution of benefits
  • David Easton = politics is about the authoritative allocation of values for a society
what is government
What is Government?
  • An institution in which decisions are made that resolve conflicts or allocate benefits and privileges
  • Preeminent institution within society; ultimate authority for making decisions and allocating values
  • Power to enforce rules that impose order and stability; authority to make and enforce laws considered legitimate (proper, appropriate)
  • Max Weber = the state (i.e., government) has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence
why do we need government
Why Do We Need Government?
  • Security
  • Order
  • Liberty, Equality, Property
  • Men/women are not angels
  • Resources are limited, scarce
  • Conflict is endemic, universal
  • All states seek stability, security, prosperity
types of government
Types of Government
  • Totalitarian regime – rule by a small group or an individual dictator; with control over all aspects of life
  • Authoritarianism – only the government (not social and economic institutions) are fully controlled by the ruler
  • Oligarchy – rule by a few elites, who make decisions to benefit their own group
  • Aristocracy – initially rule by the best suited, which meant the wealthy, later it meant titled nobility
  • Democracy – political power is vested in the people
  • Direct democracy – when citizens vote directly on laws (e.g., initiatives, referendums, recall)
discussion question
Discussion Question
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of direct democracy?
formal characteristics of american democracy
Formal Characteristics of American Democracy
  • Consent of the governed
  • Republican (sovereignty rests in the people)
  • Representative (people elect decision-makers)
  • Limited government (constitutionalism)
  • Universal suffrage
  • Majority rule/minority protections
what kind of democracy do we have
What Kind of Democracy Do We Have?
  • Majoritarianism – the political theory that, in a democracy, the government should do what the majority of the people want
  • Elite theory – the idea that society is ruled by a small group who exercise power in their self-interest (class theory = dominant class)
  • Pluralism – a theory that views politics as conflict among interest groups, where decisions are made through bargaining and compromise
discussion question10
Discussion Question
  • What kind of democracy do you think we we have?
    • majoritarian?
    • elite?
    • pluralistic?
  • What are the strengths/weaknesses of each theory?
  • What kind of democracy should we have?
  • How “democratic” is the U.S.?
what is political culture
What is Political Culture?
  • Collection of beliefs and attitudes toward government and the political process held by a community or nation
  • Learned through political socialization
  • Occurs in many settings, family, schools, etc.
  • Dominant culture = values, customs, and language established by group or groups that have controlled politics and government
  • Subcultures = competing sets of values
fundamental values of american political culture
Fundamental Values of American Political Culture
  • Liberty, equality, and property
  • Liberty = greatest freedom of individuals consistent with freedom of others
  • Equality = all people are of equal worth (formal/legal equality and equal opportunity vs. equality of conditions)
  • Property = anything that is or may be subject to ownership
  • Inherent trade-offs, tension between these values
  • Liberty in tension with equality; equality with property (also liberty with order)
discussion questions
Discussion Questions
  • How is liberty in tension with equality?
  • How is liberty in tension with order?
what is ideology
What is Ideology?
  • Ideology = comprehensive set of beliefs about the nature of people (human nature) and the role of government
    • Liberalism = advocates government action to improve the welfare of individuals, support for civil rights and tolerance for social change
    • Conservatism = advocates a limited role for the government in helping individuals and support for traditional values and lifestyles
  • Most Americans tend to be moderate
what this spectrum leaves out
What this spectrum leaves out
  • From left to right
    • Communism
    • Democratic Socialism
    • Fascism
  • On a line, or in a circle
discussion question18
Discussion Question
  • How would you identify yourself?
  • What is your ideological orientation?
hot links to selected internet resources
Hot Links to Selected Internet Resources:
  • Book’s Companion Site:
  • Wadsworth’s Political Science Site:
  • Government Resources on the Web:
  • Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy: