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Government and Politics
How is political power distributed among members of society? 3
TYPES OF AUTHORITY 4
Traditional Authority 4
Legal-Rational Authority 4
Charismatic Authority 5
TYPES OF GOVERNMENT 5
Dictatorship and Totalitarianism 6
POLITICAL BEHAVIOR IN THE UNITED STATES 8
Political Socialization 8
Participation and Apathy 9
Women and Politics 10
Interest Groups 11
MODELS OF POWER STRUCTURE IN THE UNITED STATES 12
Elite Model 12
Pluralist Model 14
Who Does Rule? 15
KEY TERMS 16
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.
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.
Max Weber made an important distinction between legitimate and
illegitimate power. In a political sense, the term legitimacy refers to the
How is political power distributed among members of society?
Political power is not divided evenly among all members of society.
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.
TYPES OF AUTHORITY
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 society.
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.
Power made legitimate by law is known as legal-rational authority.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
TYPES OF GOVERNMENT
Each society establishes a political system by which it is governed.
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.
Strictly speaking, the term oligarchy is reserved for governments run
by a few select individuals. However, the Soviet Union and the People’s
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.