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Fundamental Concepts in Political Science. Douglas Brown Pols 222 / St Francis Xavier Winter 2013. Fundamental Concepts of Politics. What is Politics? The Nature of Political Power The State Government Legitimacy Democracy. What is Politics?. Learning to live together

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Fundamental concepts in political science

Fundamental Concepts in Political Science

Douglas Brown

Pols 222 / St Francis Xavier

Winter 2013

Fundamental concepts of politics
Fundamental Concepts of Politics

  • What is Politics?

  • The Nature of Political Power

  • The State

  • Government

  • Legitimacy

  • Democracy

What is politics
What is Politics?

  • Learning to live together

  • Authoritative allocation of scarce resources

  • Civilized struggle in a defined community

  • Exercising power

  • Drawing lines between the public and the private

The nature of political power
The Nature of Political Power

  • Legitimate authority

  • Backed by coercion (police, armed force)

  • Exercise of influence on community decisions

  • The many ways in which decisions are made and implemented in a community

The state
The State

  • The entire apparatus of authoritative decision-making institutions

  • The organized monopoly of political power

  • Bounded by a defined territory

  • …But what about power sharing? Federalism?


  • Generic word for the main institutions of the State

  • In Canada, we have federal, provincial, territorial, local and aboriginal governments

  • In parliamentary systems, the ministry commanding the confidence of the House

  • Governance is the act of governing, even if not by government


  • The rules, institutions and decisions of the State have the consent of the governed

  • Where Governments ultimately derive their power

  • Some sources of legitimacy:

    • Traditional leadership

    • Divine right

    • Military conquest

    • Democratic process

Brooks definition on democracy
Brooks’ definition on democracy

  • “a political system based on the formal political equality of all citizens, in which there is a realistic possibility that voters can replace the government, and in which certain basic rights and freedoms are protected.”


  • Applying notions of equality to authoritative allocation

  • Liberal democracy: formal equality of citizens

  • Social democracy: towards actual equality of living standards

  • Economic democracy: workplace decision-making

  • Majority rules, but with major constraints such as individual and minority rights

Forms of democratic expression
Forms of Democratic Expression

  • Direct democracy

    • Referendum, recall

  • Representative democracy

    • Parliament, city council, etc.

  • Participatory democracy

    • Public consultation, partnerships with social groups

  • Deliberative democracy

    • Ordinary citizens do the deliberating, not parliamentarians

Political values
Political Values

  • What is our notion of the “good” when it comes to our political community?

  • What are our values ?

    • Freedom?

    • Equality?

    • Participation?

    • Solidarity?

    • Recognition?

Identity politics
Identity Politics

  • What is our political community?

  • Traditional notions of political community

    • Class, caste

    • Religion

    • Ethnicity, race, tribe

    • Nation

Canadian identities
Canadian Identities

  • Creative and destructive tension within historical and newer sets of “fault lines”.

  • Four older fault lines:

    • English/ French

    • British (Canadian) / American

    • Region

    • Religion (Catholic/Protestant)

New and emerging creators of political identity and values
New and Emerging Creators of Political Identity and Values

  • Aboriginal nationalism

  • Multiculturalism, visible minorities

  • “post-material” identities (e.g. “Greens”)

  • Gender, sexual orientation

  • New economic realities (e.g. “income polarity”)

  • Urban/suburban/rural