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Introduction to American Government Structure & Function Dr. Donald M. Gooch. Introductory Lecture. Three Fundamental Concepts. Liberalism Representation Democracy. What is Liberalism?. Liberalism as classically defined differs significantly from the modern American usage

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Introduction to american government structure function dr donald m gooch

Introduction to American GovernmentStructure & FunctionDr. Donald M. Gooch

Introductory Lecture

Three fundamental concepts
Three Fundamental Concepts

  • Liberalism

  • Representation

  • Democracy

What is liberalism
What is Liberalism?

  • Liberalism as classically defined differs significantly from the modern American usage

  • It is a philosophy of social order that emerged in 17th and 18th century Europe

  • Fundamentally it means

    • a toleration of diversity

    • a recognition of the primacy of individual rights

    • a social agreement establishing a zone of individual privacy

Key assumptions of liberalism
Key Assumptions of Liberalism

  • Assumes individuals are best situated to determine what is best for themselves

  • Assumes that a variety of behaviors, even conflicting ones, are legitimate

  • Assumes that strong government interferes with the ability of individuals to engage in those behaviors

  • And thus concludes government should be limited

What is representation
What is Representation?

  • Representation is a type of government premised on liberalism

  • Diverse elements are represented in society

  • Representation is the form of government for the United States

  • The U.S. government is made up of representatives – distinguished from a direct democracy where the government is made up of all citizens

What is democracy
What is Democracy?

  • Democracy, unlike liberalism and representation, is an old word

  • Greek Roots:

    • Demos “The People”

    • Kratia “Rule”

  • Ancient Greeks used term as early as 400 B.C.

  • IMPORTANT: in a democracy, the people rule as the government and thus the government embodies the people

Representation vs democracy
Representation vs. Democracy

  • Representation is a relatively young word

  • Differs from ‘democracy’ as the Greeks defined in significant ways:

    • Citizens do not make laws directly

    • A representative does not ‘embody’ the people but rather re-presents their preferences in government

    • Hinges on the assumption that there are a diversity of legitimate interests in society

Path from greek democracy to liberal representative government
Path from Greek Democracy to Liberal Representative Government

  • How did the Greek concept of democracy evolve into the modern concept of representation?

  • The story begins with Athens, Greece circa 400B.C.

  • Fundamentally, Greeks believe in a natural order to the world

  • This is a highly normative assessment – how it should be rather than how it is

The path continued
The Path Continued

  • The Greeks believed that:

    • Man was fundamentally a political animal (politikon zoon)

    • As such, his natural habitat is the city – not as a noble savage in the wilderness but a functioning citizen of a civil society

    • The basic political question for the Greeks: how ought man order his life in the city to be fully human (self-actualized, in modern terminology)

    • Answer: unselfish participatory government where all work for the common good of society – as a whole.

Rep v demo 2
Rep v. Demo 2

  • The Greeks would not have accepted representation as a good form of government

    • It is based in selfishness: the desire to further individual interests

    • Government, according to the Greeks, was to benefit the whole

    • See Aristotle, Plato and Spock from Star Trek

Philosophers on good government
Philosophers on Good Government

  • Aristotle - a good citizen can exist only as part of the state/society.

  • Aristotle – good government is best accomplished when rule is by the middle (“golden mean”)

“He who is unable to live in society, or who has no need because he is sufficient for himself, must be either a beast or a god.”

“The most perfect political community is one in which the middle class is in control, and outnumbers both of the other classes.”

Philosophers continued
Philosophers Continued

  • Plato – a good political order produces “good natures; and these useful natures, who are in turn well educated, grow up even better than their predecessors”

  • Plato – human morality is closely linked with the good society:

Plato: “Man and city are alike – Humans without souls are hollow. Cities without virtue are rotten.”

Spock: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”

Philosophers continued1
Philosophers Continued

  • Ideally, for Plato government involved a form of communism (with property communally-owned) and for Aristotle a government by the enlightened and moderate middle class.

  • In practice, both called for a government of active citizens who shared the responsibility for governing.

Distinguishing representation from democracy
Distinguishing Representation from Democracy

  • Important: In Greek democracy, there is no explicit representation of interests.

  • Both Plato and Aristotle advocated moderation, virtuousness, and justice as ideals for best government. One ‘good’ citizen. One ‘good’ government.

  • Government embodied the people – purpose to protect and promote the common interest

  • Factions were considered bad -- selfish

Did democracy work
Did Democracy Work?

Greek Citizen

  • Yes it did. Why?

  • Small city-states with relatively homogenous populations

  • In Athens, citizens were:

    • Free

    • Native born

    • Property-owning

    • Qualified males

  • As such, the citizenry was even more uniform than the general population

Not Greek Citizens

On to europe
On to Europe

  • The Greek concept of good government prevailed in Europe through much of the Middle Ages

  • Why? It was supported by:

    • Divine Right of Kings

    • Solidarity of the Catholic Church

    • Large Armies

    • Largely Ignorant and Uneducated Population

The winds of change
The Winds of Change

  • The Greek-based state begins to break down as the Dark Ages lifted around 1500 A.D.

  • Why? The foundations of the Greek consensus were crumbling

    • Society was becoming more diversified

    • Economic order shifting as a result of the collapse of feudalism and the adoption of a nascent capitalist system

    • Primacy of the Catholic Church challenged by the emergence of Protestantism

    • The Knight is displaced as the Medieval ‘weapon of mass destruction’ as gun powder changes the nature of warfare

    • The printing press improves the education of the masses as well as promoting the free flow of information

Out with the old
Out with the Old…

  • As the Greek consensus collapses with an increasing rejection of the divine rights of the aristocracy and Church leadership, so to the justification for states themselves is lost.

  • A new intellectual basis for the foundation and rationale of civil society was needed

Liberalism the new foundation
Liberalism: The New Foundation

  • Liberalism provided the new argument for social order and civilized society within an organized political structure

  • One of liberalism’s earliest and most important advocates was Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679)

  • Hobbes was an Englishman and critic of Aristotle and his notions of the virtuous citizen


  • Hobbes had three important characteristics that informed his political theory

    • He was a materialist: he liked his property and wanted to keep it

    • He was a pessimist: he believed most men were fundamentally evil

    • He was a coward: he spent much of his life on the run from his enemies

  • “The condition of man . . . is a condition of war of everyone against everyone.” – Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes continued
Hobbes Continued

  • Hobbes’ most famous work is Leviathan

  • In it he attempts to accomplish his primary theoretical goal: to justify the existence of an authoritarian state as a guarantor of life and property

  • Thus a quandary for Hobbes, who viewed human nature with great skepticism – man was animalistic and driven by lusts and desires:

“…there is a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power that ceaseth only in death” – Thomas Hobbes

Hobbesian state of nature
Hobbesian State of Nature

  • Hobbes argued humans first existed in a ‘state of nature’ outside the bounds of civil society

  • In the State of Nature:

    • man’s lusts and desires are unchecked

    • there is no right to life or property

    • there are no laws or rules – life is a state of perpetual war of ‘all against all

  • As such, life in the state of nature was as bad as it gets.

“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short”

Hobbes continued1
Hobbes Continued

  • Hobbes’ Solution: The very evil nature of man was the justification for an authoritarian state

  • The state of nature was so bad, even evil, power-hungry tyrants would willingly trade the ‘freedom’ of the SofN for the security of the state.


  • The horrors of the state of nature necessitated a strong authoritarian government to check its inherent anarchy and provide a mechanism for justice where by life and property could be protected


  • Any government, no matter how despotic, was better than the anarchy of the state of nature

  • Government’s role

    • Maintain peace and order

    • Protect property

    • Allow for the pursuit of desire within the bounds of law

Leviathan continued
Leviathan continued

  • Problem: how do you get people in the state of nature to agree to be ruled by this authoritarian Leviathan?

  • Answer: People had an incentive to leave the state of nature: fear of death

  • Mechanism: social contract

The social contract
The Social Contract

  • Independent individuals voluntarily contract to leave the state of nature and form a civil society

  • As such, they give up some of their natural rights (to dispense personal justice, for example)

  • But they gain the protection of Leviathan as to their rights to life, liberty, and property.

  • Hence the Greek concept of a natural government is displaced with a government founded on the consent of the governed.

  • This introduces the concept of representation- the government represents the authority of the people.

From hobbes to locke
From Hobbes to Locke

  • John Locke (1632-1704) provided the intellectual bridge from Hobbes to the American Revolution

  • Locke’s political theory is similar to Hobbes:

    • places man in state of nature

    • life in the state of nature isn’t good

    • man contracts his way out of the state of nature and into civil society

Locke vs hobbes
Locke vs. Hobbes

  • Locke’s most famous work is The Second Treatise of Government

  • There is a critical difference between Lockeian and Hobbesian philosophy.

  • In the Lockeian State of Nature, man has some rights that are respected - life - liberty - property

  • For Hobbes, there were no natural rights. Rights were conferred by Leviathan. For Locke, natural rights exist ex ante.

Limited government
Limited Government

  • Since the state of nature, while lacking a mechanism for justice, is not the worst of all possible worlds, Locke is not compelled to justify any form of government.

  • Locke thus argues for a limited government:

    • Strong enough to protect natural rights

    • But not so strong that it can abuse them

Pictured: Government Being Limited

An umpire
An Umpire

  • For Locke, government is an umpire: adjudicating disputes and dispensing justice.

  • It does not represent the authority of the people, as with Hobbes (the people retain their authority in the Lockeian social contract), but rather it represents their diverse interests and protects their natural rights.


  • Thus Locke provides an intellectual basis for revolution.

  • If a government abuses natural rights such as life, liberty, and property then it forfeits its right to exist. The state of nature becomes preferable to that government.

  • Thus revolution is justified in order to nulify the social contract and reinstitute the natural order.

Jefferson s declaration
Jefferson’s Declaration

  • Jefferson was clearly inspired by Locke’s treatise:

    "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it...."