The Study of American Government
- What is political power?
- Two great questions about politics
- Who governs: the people who govern affect us
- To which ends: in which ways government affects our lives
- And then how the government makes decisions on a variety of issues
- Definition: the ability of one person to cause another person to act in accordance
with the first person's intentions
- Text's concern: power as it is used to affect who will hold government office
and how government will behave
- Authority: the right to use power; not all who exercise political power have it
- Legitimacy: what makes a law or constitution a source of right
- Struggles over what makes authority legitimate
- Necessity to be in some sense democratic in the United States today
- What is democracy?
- Aristotelian "rule of the many" (participatory democracy)
- Fifth-century B.C. Greek city-state
- New England town meeting
- Community control in self-governing neighborhood
- Citizen participation in formulating programs
- Acquisition of power by leaders via competitive elections (representative democracy)
- Sometimes disapprovingly referred to as the elitist theory
- Justifications of representative democracy
- Direct democracy is impractical.
- The people make unwise decisions based on fleeting emotions.
- Direct versus representative democracy
- Text uses the term democracy to refer to representative democracy.
- The Constitution does not contain the word democracy but the phrase "republican form of government."
- Representative democracy requires leadership competition if the system is
- Individuals and parties must be able to run for office.
- Communication must be free.
- Voters perceive that a meaningful choice exists.
- Many elective national offices
- Most money for elections comes from special interests
- Virtues of direct democracy should be reclaimed through
- Community control
- Citizen participation
- Framers: "will of people" not synonymous with the "common interest" or the "public good"
- They strongly favored representative over direct democracy.
- Direct democracy minimized chances of abuse of power by tyrannical popular
majority or self-serving office holders.
- How is power distributed in a democracy?
- Majoritarian politics
- Leaders constrained to follow wishes of the people very closely
- Applies when issues are simple, clear, and feasible
- Rule by identifiable group of persons who possess a disproportionate share of political power
- Four theories of Elite Influence
- Marxism: government merely a reflection of underlying economic forces
- C. Wright Mills: power elite composed of corporate leaders, generals, and
- Max Weber: bureaucracies based on expertise, specialized competence
- Pluralist view: no single elite has a monopoly on power; hence must bargain
- Cynical view that politics is self-seeking
- Good policies may result from bad motives
- Self-interest is an incomplete guide to actions (Alexis de Tocqueville on
- September 11 and self interest
- AFL-CIO and civil rights
- Some act against long odds and without the certainty of benefit
- Political change
- Necessary to refer frequently to history because no single theory is adequate
- Government today influenced by yesterday
- Government today still evolving and responds to changing beliefs
- Politics about the public interest, not just who gets what
- Finding out who governs
- We often give partial or contingent answers.
- Preferences vary, and so does politics.
- Politics cannot be equated with laws on the books.
- Sweeping claims are to be avoided.
- Judgments about institutions and interests should be tempered by how they behave on different issues.
- The policy process can be an excellent barometer of change in who governs.