Politics and Ideologies
Over the past few decades, indicators of political participation, such as the percentage of
people who vote in elections, has been declining, and many Canadians, particularly young
people, seem to feel that politics is irrelevant to their lives. However, as this chapter notes,
politics gives us social order, protection, and laws to define what is good and bad. This chapter is
concerned with the nature of politics, the distribution of power in society, and the role of
ideology in politics. Politics always involves power, which was extensively studied by Max
Weber, who distinguished between power and authority. Weber also identified three types of
authority: traditional authority, based on respect for custom; charismatic authority, based on a
leader’s exceptional qualities, and rational–legal authority, based on law or written rules and
This chapter also examines three different types of modern states: authoritarian states,
which typically forbid public opposition and use force to ensure compliance with the written
laws; totalitarian states, which are even more extreme than authoritarian states and intervene in
both public and private life; and, liberal-democratic states, such as Canada, which are governed
The chapter makes the point that although Canada is a representative democracy, not all
Canadians are represented. For instance, most major political figures are middle- and upper-
middle class males. As a result of Canada’s current voting system, substantial numbers of voters
are unrepresented and smaller parties are excluded from representation.
In this chapter, you will
• understand the nature of politics from a sociological perspective;
• see how power is distributed in different societies;
• review and evaluate competing perspectives on democratic societies; and,
• discover how politics can be both an integrative and a disintegrative force.
authority: Power that is considered legitimate by the people who are subject to it.
citizens: People who belong to a state. Citizenship developed out of the relative freedom of city
life, granting equal treatment for all residents. 2
civil liberties: Freedoms that protect the individual against government. These include freedom
of speech, assembly, and movement, and freedom of the press.
civil rights: Rights we consider all people deserve under all circumstances, without regard to
race, ethnicity, age, sex, or other personal qualities.
ideologies: Coherent sets of interrelated beliefs about the nature of the world that imply or
demand certain courses of political, social, or economic action.
politics: The processes by which individuals and groups act to promote their interests.
power: According to Weber, ‘the ability of persons or groups to achieve their objectives, even
when opposed’. Said another way, power is the capacity to compel people to act in certain ways,
and politics is the process by people gain and exercise this power.
propaganda: Mass communication whose purpose is to influence people’s political opinions
state: The set of institutions with authority to make the rules that govern a society. Weber wrote
that the state ‘claims a monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory’.
Baer, D. E. (ed.) (2002). Political Sociology: Canadian Perspectives. Toronto: Oxford
This is a collection of writings on political sociology in Canada. It effectively covers the
basic topics of interest in this field, including political culture, the state, political movements,
Bashevkin, S. (2009). Women, Power, Politics: The Hidden Story of Canada’s Unfinished
Democracy. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press.
In this important new addition to Canadian political sociology, the author argues that
Canadians are unsettled by women politicians—in fact, by women in positions of authority in
general. Exploring this discomfort, Bashevkin points out the many barriers and difficulties
women face in politics. 3
Chappell, L. & Hill, L. (eds.) (2006). The Politics of Women’s Interests: New Comparative
Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge.
This is a comprehensive interpretation of political issues from a feminist perspective. It
examines how political institutions both shape and reflect gender issues, and the current role
of women in politics around the world.
Homans, G. C. (1950). The Human Group. New York: Harcourt, Brace.
Homans’s classic work argues for the consideration and treatment of human groups as mini
social systems, operating by the same principles as large societies. Here Homans provides a
general theory on interpersonal relationships.
Martin, R. (2002). Propaganda and the Ethics of Persuasion. Peterborough, ON: Broadview
This book analyzes propaganda by first providing a historical outline of its development and
then discussing its rise in the twentieth century. The author aims to increase public awareness
of the construction and impact of propaganda.
Moore, B. (1966). Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the
Making of the Modern World. Boston: Beacon Press.
This classic work takes on a historical-comparative perspective, arguing that particular
agrarian systems and ways in which industrialization occurs in societies later produces
certain political systems, whether democratic, fascist, or communist.
Parsons, T. (1964 ). The Social System. New York: Free Press; London: Collier-
This classic outline of the functionalist view of society was one of Parsons’s most important
The State, by Statistics Canada
Parliament of Canada
Canadian Election Study (CES)
Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU)
Canadian Women in Government
Multiple Choice Questions
1. The term __________ refers to the processes by which individuals and groups act to promote
c) the government
d) the state
2. People who belong to a state are
b) state nationals.
3. The __________ is the set of institutions with authority to make the rules that govern a
d) judiciary 5
4. According to Talcott Parsons, social systems have a political process, which he labels the
a) regulation function.
b) political process function.
c) goal attainment function.
d) surveillance function.
5. Which of the following is an American cultural value according to Seymour Martin Lipset?
d) both b and c
6. Which discipline studies the machinery of government and public administration and with
elections, public opinion, polling, pressure groups and political parties?
a) political cultural studies
b) political economy
c) political sociology
d) political science
7. __________ are coherent sets of interrelated beliefs about the nature of the world that imply
or demand certain courses of political, social, or economic action.
a) Collective consciences
8. According to Max Weber, __________ refers to the ‘ability of persons or groups to achieve
their directives, even when opposed.’
a) brute force
c) political authority
9. Power that is considered legitimate by the people who are subject to it is defined as
a) authority. 6
c) false consciousness.
10. According to Max Weber, __________ authority is legitimized on the basis on ancient
11. According to Max Weber, __________ authority is based on the po