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Government and Politics

Government and Politics


Introduction 3


How is political power distributed among members of society? 3


Traditional Authority 4

Legal-Rational Authority 4

Charismatic Authority 5


Monarchy 6

Oligarchy 6

Dictatorship and Totalitarianism 6

Democracy 7


Political Socialization 8

Participation and Apathy 9

Women and Politics 10

Interest Groups 11


Elite Model 12

Pluralist Model 14

Who Does Rule? 15



References: 17


Political system is one of the subsystem of society, and play

sufficient role in our life.

The term political system refers to a recognized set of procedures for

implementing and obtaining the goals of a group.

Each society must have a political system in order to maintain

recognized procedures for allocating valued resources. In political

scientist Harold Lasswell’s (1936) terms, politics is who gets what, when,

and how. Thus, like religion and the family, a political system is a

cultural universal; it is a social institution found in every society.

We will focus on government and politics within the United States as

well as other industrialized nations and preindustrial societies. In their

study of politics and political systems, sociologists are concerned with

social interactions among individuals and groups and their impact on the

larger political order. For example, in studying the controversy over the

nomination of Judge Robert Bork, sociologists might wish to focus on how a

change in the group structure of American society—the increasing importance

of the black vote for southern Democratic candidates—affected the decision

making of Howell Heflin and other senators (and, ultimately, the outcome of

the Bork confirmation battle). From a sociological perspective, therefore,

a fundamental question is: how do a nation’s social conditions affect its

day-to-day political and governmental life?


Power is at the heart of a political system. Power may be defined as

the ability to exercise one’s will over others. To put it another way, if

one party in a relationship can control the behavior of the other, that

individual or group is exercising power. Power relations can involve large

organizations, small groups, or even people in an intimate association.

Blood and Wolfe (1960) devised the concept of marital power to describe the

manner in which decision making is distributed within families.

There are three basic sources of power within any political

system—force, influence, and authority. Force is the actual or threatened

use of coercion to impose one’s will on others. When leaders imprison or

even execute political dissidents, they are applying force; so, too, are

terrorists when they seize an embassy or assassinate a political leader.

Influence, on the other hand, refers to the exercise of power through a

process of persuasion. A citizen may change his or her position regarding a

Supreme Court nominee because of a newspaper editorial, the expert

testimony of a law school dean before the Senate Judiciary Committee, or a

stirring speech at a rally by a political activist. In each case,

sociologists would view such efforts to persuade people as examples of

influence. Authority, the third source of power, will be discussed later.

Max Weber made an important distinction between legitimate and

illegitimate power. In a political sense, the term legitimacy refers to the

"belief of a citizenry that a government has the right to rule and that a

citizen ought to obey the rules and laws of that government". Of course,

the meaning of the term can be extended beyond the sphere of government.

Americans typically accept the power of their parents, teachers, and

religious leaders as legitimate. By contrast, if the right of a leader to

rule is not accepted by most citizens (as is often the case when a dictator

overthrows a popularly elected government), the regime will be considered

illegitimate. When those in power lack legitimacy, they usually resort to

coercive methods in order to maintain control over social institutions.

How is political power distributed among members of society?

Political power is not divided evenly among all members of society.

How extreme is this inequality? Three theoretical perspectives answer this

question in three different ways. First, Marxist theories suggest that

power is concentrated in the hands of the few who own the means of

production. Powerful capitalists manipulate social and cultural

arrangements to increase further their wealth and power, often at the

expense of the powerless.

Second, power elite theories agree that power is concentrated in the

hands of a few people; the elite includes military leaders, government

officials, and business executives. This group consists of those who occupy

the top positions in our organizational hierarchies; they have similar

backgrounds and share the same interests and goals. According to this view,

any organization (even a nation-state) has a built-in tendency to become an

oligarchy (rule by the few).

Third, pluralist theories suggest that various groups and interests

compete for political power. In contrast to Marxist and power elite

theorists, pluralists see power as dispersed among many people and groups

who do not necessarily agree on what should be done. Lobbyists for

environmental groups, for example, will battle with lobbyists for the coal

industry over antipollution legislation. In this way the will of the people

is translated into political action. Thurow, however, suggests that too

many divergent views have made it nearly impossible to arrive at a public

policy that is both effective in solving social problems and satisfactory

to different interest groups.


The term authority refers to power that has been institutionalized and

is recognized by the people over whom it is exercised. Sociologists

commonly use the term in connection with those who hold legitimate power

through elected or publicly acknowledged positions. It is important to

stress that a person’s authority is limited by the constraints of a

particular social position. Thus, a referee has the authority to decide

whether a penalty should be called during a football game but has no

authority over the price of tickets to the game.

Max Weber (1947) provided a classification system regarding authority

that has become one of the most useful and frequently cited contributions

of early sociology. He identified three ideal types of authority:

traditional, legal-rational, and charismatic. Weber did not insist that

particular societies fit exactly into any one of these categories. Rather,

all can be present in a society, but their relative degree of importance

varies. Sociologists have found Weber’s typology to be quite valuable in

understanding different manifestations of legitimate power within a


Traditional Authority

In a political system based on traditional authority, legitimate power

is conferred by custom and accepted practice. The orders of one’s superiors

are felt to be legitimate because "this is how things have always been

done." For example, a king or queen is accepted as ruler of a nation simply

by virtue of inheriting the crown. The monarch may be loved or hated,

competent or destructive; in terms of legitimacy, that does not matter. For

the traditional leader, authority rests in custom, not in personal

characteristics, technical competence, or even written law.

Traditional authority is absolute in many instances because the ruler

has the ability to determine laws and policies. Since the authority is

legitimized by ancient custom, traditional authority is commonly associated

with preindustrial societies. Yet this form of authority is also evident in

more developed nations. For example, a leader may take on the image of

having divine guidance, as was true of Japan’s Emperor Hirohito, who ruled

during World War II. On another level, ownership and leadership in some

small businesses, such as grocery stores and restaurants, may pass directly

from parent to child and generation to generation.

Legal-Rational Authority

Power made legitimate by law is known as legal-rational authority.

Leaders of such societies derive their authority from the written rules and

regulations of political systems. For example, the authority of the

president of the United States and the Congress is legitimized by the

American Constitution. Generally, in societies based on legal-rational

authority, leaders are conceived as servants of the people. They are not

viewed as having divine inspiration, as are the heads of certain societies

with traditional forms of authority The United States, as a society which

values the rule of law, has legally defined limits on the power of

government. Power is assigned to positions, not to individuals. Thus, when

Ronald Reagan became president in early 1981, he assumed the formal powers

and duties of that office as specified by the Constitution. When Reagan’s

presidency ended, those powers were transferred to his successor.

If a president acts within the legitimate powers of the office, but

not to our liking, we may wish to elect a new president. But we will not

normally argue that the president’s power is illegitimate. However, if an

official clearly exceeds the power of an office, as Richard Nixon did by

obstructing justice during investigation of the Watergate burglary, the

official’s power may come to be seen as illegitimate. Moreover, as was true

of Nixon, the person may be forced out of office.

Charismatic Authority

Weber also observed that power can be legitimized by the charisma of

an individual. The term charismatic authority refers to power made

legitimate by a leader’s exceptional personal or emotional appeal to his or

her followers. Charisma allows a person to lead or inspire without relying

on set rules or traditions. Interestingly, such authority is derived more

from the beliefs of loyal followers than from the actual qualities of

leaders. So long as people perceive the person as possessing qualities that

set him or her apart from ordinary citizens, the leader’s authority will

remain secure and often unquestioned.

Political scientist Ann Ruth Willner (1984) notes that each

charismatic leader draws upon the values, beliefs, and traditions of a

particular society. The conspicuous sexual activity of longtime Indonesian

president Achmed Sukarno reminded his followers of the gods in Japanese

legends and therefore was regarded as a sign of power and heroism. By

contrast, Indians saw Mahatma Gandhi’s celibacy as a demonstration of

superhuman self-discipline. Charismatic leaders also associate themselves

with widely respected cultural and religious heroes. Willner describes how

Ayalollah Khomeini of Iran associated himself with Husein, a Shiile Muslim

martyr; and Fidel Castro of Cuba associated himself with Jesus Christ.

Unlike traditional rulers, charismatic leaders often become well known

by breaking with established institutions and advocating dramatic changes

in the social structure. The strong hold that such individuals have over

their followers makes it easier to build protest movements which challenge

the dominant norms and values of a society. Thus, charismatic leaders such

as Jesus, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King all used their power to

press for changes in accepted social behavior. But so did Adolf Hitler,

whose charismatic appeal turned people toward violent and destructive ends.

Since it rests on the appeal of a single individual, charismatic

authority is necessarily much shorter lived than either traditional or

legal-rational authority. As a result, charismatic leaders may attempt to

solidify their positions of power by seeking other legitimating mechanisms.

For example, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959 as the leader of a

popular revolution. Yet in the decades which followed the seizure of power,

Castro stood for election (without opposition) as a means of further

legitimating his authority as leader of Cuba.

If such authority is to extend beyond the lifetime of the charismatic

leader, it must undergo what Weber called the routinization of charismatic

authority—the process by which the leadership qualities originally

associated with an individual are incorporated into either a traditional or

a legal-rational system. Thus, the charismatic authority of Jesus as leader

of the Christian church was transferred to the apostle Peter and

subsequently to the various prelates (or popes) of the faith. Similarly,

the emotional fervor supporting George Washington was routinized into

America’s constitutional system and the norm of a two-term presidency. Once

routinization has taken place, authority eventually evolves into a

traditional or legal-rational form.

As was noted earlier, Weber used traditional, legal-rational, and

charismatic authority as ideal types. In reality, particular leaders and

political systems combine elements of two or more of these forms.

Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy wielded power largely

through the legal-rational basis of their authority. At the same time, they

were unusually charismatic leaders who commanded (lie personal loyalty of

large numbers of Americans.


Each society establishes a political system by which it is governed.

In modern industrial nations, a significant number of critical political

decisions are made by formal units of government. Five basic types of

government are considered: monarchy, oligarchy, dictatorship,

totalitarianism, and democracy.


A monarchy is a form of government headed by a single member of a

royal family, usually a king, a queen, or some other hereditary ruler. In

earlier times, many monarchs claimed that God had granted them a divine

right to rule their lands. Typically, they governed on the basis of

traditional forms of authority, although these were sometimes accompanied

by the use of force. In the 1980s, monarchs hold genuine governmental power

in only a few nations, such as Monaco. Most monarchs have little practical

power and primarily serve ceremonial purposes.


An oligarchy is a form of government in which a few individuals rule.

It is a rather old method of governing which flourished in ancient Greece

and Egypt. Today, oligarchy often takes the form of military rule. Some of

the developing nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America are ruled by

small factions of military officers who forcibly seized power—either from

legally elected regimes or from other military cliques.

Strictly speaking, the term oligarchy is reserved for governments run

by a few select individuals. However, the Soviet Union and the People’s

Republic of China can be classified as oligarchies if we extend the meaning

of the term somewhat. In each case, power rests in the hands of a ruling

group—the Communist party. In a similar vein, drawing upon conflict theory,

one may argue that many industrialized "democratic" nations of the west

should rightly be considered oligarchies, since only a powerful few

actually rule: leaders of big business, government, and the military.

Later, we will examine this "elite model" of the American political system

in greater detail.

Dictatorship and Totalitarianism

A dictatorship is a government in which one person has nearly total

power to make and enforce laws. Dictators rule primarily through the use of

coercion, often including torture and executions. Typically, they seize

power, rather than being freely elected (as in a democracy) or inheriting a

position of power (as is true of monarchs). Some dictators are quite

charismatic and achieve a certain "popularity," though this popular support

is almost certain to be intertwined with fear. Other dictators are bitterly

hated by the populations over whom they rule with an iron hand.

Frequently, dictatorships develop such overwhelming control over

people’s lives that they are called totalitarian. Monarchies and

oligarchies also have the potential to achieve this type of dominance.

Totalitarianism involves virtually complete governmental control and

surveillance over all aspects of social and political life in a society.

Bolt Nazi Germany under Hitler and the Soviet Union of the 1980s are

classified as totalitarian states.

Political scientists Carl Friedrich and Zbigniew Brzezinski have

identified six bask traits that typify totalitarian states. These include:

1. Large-scale use of ideology. Totalitarian societies offer explanations

for every part of life. Social goals, valued behaviors, even enemies are

conveyed in simple (and usually distorted) terms. For example, the Nazis

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