Government and Politics

Информация - Юриспруденция, право, государство

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How is political power distributed among members of society?3


Traditional Authority4

Legal-Rational Authority4

Charismatic Authority5




Dictatorship and Totalitarianism6



Political Socialization8

Participation and Apathy9

Women and Politics10

Interest Groups11


Elite Model12

Pluralist Model14

Who Does Rule?15






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 Lasswells (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 societythe increasing importance of the black vote for southern Democratic candidatesaffected 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 nations 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 ones 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 systemforce, influence, and authority. Force is the actual or threatened use of coercion to impose ones 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 persons 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 Webers typology to be quite valuable in understanding different manifestations of legitimate power within a society.

Traditional Authority

In a political system based on traditional authority, legitimate power is conferred by custom and accepted practice. The orders of ones 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 Japans 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 Reagans 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 presidents power is i