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American Government Book Notes Midterm.docx

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Political Science
Political Science 2244E
P Ferguson

American Government – Chapter 1: The Study of American Government Who governs? ⁃ How is political power actually distributed in America? ⁃ What explains major political change? To What-ends? ⁃ What values matter most in American democracy ⁃ Are trade-offs among political purposes inevitable? Politics: • Exists in part because people normally differ about two things: who should govern and the ends toward which they should work • Who rules will affect how they rule (personality, beliefs, vices and virtues) • What difference it makes who governs • Power and purpose intertwined Political Power: • Power; the ability of one person to get another person to act in accordance with the first person's intention • Authority; the right to use power • Exercise of authority is easier than exercise of power unsupported by any persuasive claim or right • Formal authority; the right to exercise power is vested in a governmental office • Legitimacy; political authority conferred by a law or by a state or national constitution. What makes a law or constitution a source of right?(Question of legitimacy) • Virtually all Americans agree that no exercise of political power is legitimate if it is not in some sense democratic. Democracy: • Democracy; word used to describe those regimes that come as close as possible to Aristotle's definition: 'the rule of the many.' ◦ participatory/direct democracy: A government is democratic if all, or most, of its citizens participate directly in either holding office or making policy. ◦ representative democracy:(Joseph Schumpeter) the democratic method is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions in which individuals(leaders) acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the people's vote. Also referred to as elitist's theory of democracy. • Justified by: • the impracticality, owing to limits of time, information, energy, interest and experience, for the people to decide on public policy, but not to expect them to make reasonable choices among competing leadership groups • Some people believe direct democracy is likely to lead to bad decisions, because the people often decide large issues on the basis of fleeting passions and in response to popular demagogues • Is representative democracy best? ◦ Requires that individuals and parties be able to run for office, that communication be free, and that the voters perceive that a meaningful choice exists. ◦ Some people argue direct democracy can and should be reclaimed even in a modern society by letting cities govern themselves or by requiring those affected by a government to participate in its formulation(citizen participation) ◦ Fathers of constitution strongly favoured representative democracy and believed that government should mediate, not mirror, popular views and elected officials should represent, not register majority sentiments, supposed citizens didn't have time, information, interest, or expertise to make reasonable decisions ◦ Civil liberties shouldn't hinge on a popular vote (right to free speech, press, religion, etc) ◦ John Locke: • 17 century English writer who argued against powerful kings and in favour of popular consent • People can exist in a state of nature without any ruler so long as they can find enough food to eat and a way to protect themselves. Life may be poor and difficult • Did not want powerful central government (unlike Hobbes) • In order to prevent a majority from hurting a minority, Locke wrote that the government should be separated with a legislative and an executive branch ◦ Thomas Hobbes: • Argued people live in a “war of all against all” so a supreme ruler was necessary to prevent civil war How is Political Power Distributed? • Majoritarian politics: where elected officials are the delegates of the people, acting as the people (or the majority of them) would act were the matter put to a popular vote. Issues have to be important enough to command attention of most citizens • Distribution of political power depends on the mostly on the composition of the political elites who are actually involved in the struggle over policy • 4 ways to describe political elite: 1. Elites reflect a dominant social class (originated Karl Marx, power of “the rich”) 2. A group of business, military, labour union, and elected officials control all decisions (power elite view, America run by few top leaders, wealthy and private) 3. Appointed bureaucrats run everything (Max Weber, in order to be successful, put affairs in hands of bureaucrats whose competence is essential to management of office) 4. Representatives of a large number of interest groups are in charge ( pluralist view, political resources have become so widely distributed that no single elite class or bureaucratic arrangement can control them) Is Democracy driven by Self-Interest? • Alexis de Tocqueville: Americans often say their society is run completely on self-interest, even if this isn't always true • American revolution and civil rights movement not self-interested What Explains Political Change? • 1920s: government played small role • 1930s-1970s: Government tried to solve economic and social issues • 1981-1988: Reagan administration cuts back on reforms • Certain periods where America has “looked outwards” to the world and times where we have focused on ourselves and ignored the outside world • Differences in ways of thinking about an issue The Nature of Politics • At best, political scientists can give partial, contingent, and controversial answers to questio
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