For a heated discussion about the freedoms and rights of Americans, as well as the flawed system for campaigning and electing officials.
The three branches of government are the executive branch (headed by the president), the legislative branch (including the House of Representatives and the Senate, which together make up Congress), and the judicial branch (including the Supreme Court and lower federal courts). The three branches should use a system of “checks and balances” to keep each other in line. We’ll talk about political parties and interest groups in just a moment.
Many people think that there are two parties in the United States, Democrats and Republicans. Some people might also think of the Green Party, the newly formed Tea Party, or people registered as “Independents.” However, most people would be surprised to know that there are dozens of political parties in the United States. Most of these parties aren’t big enough to support strong candidates for public offices, but from time to time, one of these parties gains momentum and power and can be a force for social change.
Many groups want to have some political control, even though they don’t want to be politicians. For instance, let’s say there is a law that states that each farmer can only have one cow. The farmers don’t like this law and they want to change it, but they don’t want to run for office. So instead, they come together and form an interest group, called Farmers Want More Cows. They hire a lobbyist (a person to represent their interests) to go to Congress and talk to the politicians and try to convince them to change the laws. This sounds like a logical process, but sometimes people get upset because if a group has a lot of money to hire a lobbyist, their concerns might become more important than the concerns of the majority of the constituents (the voters in the area).
Having authority in a society helps to enforce the norms of that society. Authority is the justifiable right to exercise power. In other words, authority is power that is vested or backed by a society.
There are different types of legitimate authority. In other words, people can earn authority in different ways. For discussion, ask your students to think of examples.Charismatic authority comes from a person’s charisma, or outstanding personality. Examples could be Jesus Christ or Gandhi.Traditional authority comes from traditions in a society, for instance, having a tribal leader could be a social tradition.Legal-rational authority is based on legal, or regulated power. In the United States, an example would be the president or the police force.
In other words, bureaucracy is based on the idea that people are treated fairly and equally and that everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed or fail, based on the amount of effort they exert.
Through his experiment, Milgram realized that people feel strongly compelled to obey a person whom they believe is an authority figure. The “authority figure” doesn’t have to be a police officer or a politician. Milgram found that even a white lab coat conveyed some authority, and people would obey experimenters just because they “look” like they had the authority to conduct the experiment. What Milgram found was that “ordinary people” would administer electric shocks (or at least they thought they were administering shocks) to other people just because they were told to do so, even when told the shocks were strong enough to kill the other person!
Weber differentiated between domination by economic power and domination by authority, which is the willing obedience of the ruled to the commands of legitimate authority. Weber defined the state,the ultimate example of domination by authority, as “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” (See the key term definition on page 554.)
Coercion is the use of force, as opposed to authority, to get others to do what you want. For example, if you are a police officer and you tell someone to get out of the car, you have controlled that person with your authority. If instead you tell your friend to get out of the car or you will post all of their deep, dark secrets on the Internet, you were still able to control that person, but you did so with coercion rather than authority.
One of the things that binds the United States together is federal regulations and laws. The government has enacted regulations that allow for the use of military and police forces.
This is interesting because it implies that borders and geographic regions are socially constructed through political, economic, and social means.
There are numerous theories about the origins of the welfare state, including the logic of industrialism thesis, neo-Marxist theory, and statist theories. Many organizations like Newsweek rank “the best countries to live in” based on factors like access to education, health care, and other social resources. These resources may be considered welfare if they are provided by the state or government.
We’ll define each of these types in just a moment.
Civil and political rights are considered to be constitutional rights, yet these rights were not granted to all citizens until recently in American history. For example, African Americans weren’t granted full civil rights until the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 (and even then full rights were not immediately granted), and women were not granted the right to vote until 1920. Many people argue that here in the United States, some people still are denied civil, political, or social rights.
These different ideas say very different things about the nature of humans. Are we chaotic people and society helps us keep our balance, or are we peaceful people trying to make our way in a chaotic society?
Chapter 15: Authority and the State
Do you think the United States has a true democracy?2
Who Rules in the United States? • In the United States, power is shared between three branches of government as well as between the federal government and the many state governments. • Other important actors in our political system are political parties and interest groups.
Who Rules in the United States?• A political party is an organization that wants to gain power in a government, typically by backing a candidate who shares the same beliefs.
Who Rules in the United States?• An interest group is an organization that seeks to gain power in government and influence policy without its representative (a lobbyist) seeking election.
Types of Legitimate Authority• Authority is the justifiable right to exercise power.
Types of Legitimate Authority • Charismatic authority is based on the personal appeal of an individual leader. • Traditional authority is based on appeals to the past or a long established way of doing things. • Legal-rational authority is based on legal, impersonal rules that have been routinized and rationalized.
Types of Legitimate AuthorityBureaucracy is a legal-rational organization or mode of administration that governs with reference to rules and roles and emphasizes meritocracy.
Obedience to Authority • The Milgram Experiment – tested people to see how far they would go in obeying an authority figure – results showed that obedience to authority is a very powerful form of social control that can make “ordinary” people do unspeakable things because an authority figure told them to do so
Authority, Legitimacy, and the State • Max Weber stated that: – Power is the ability to carry out one’s will despite resistance. – Domination is the probability that a command will be obeyed by a group of people.
Authority, Legitimacy, and the State • Coercion is the use of force to get others to do what you want. Once a person or institution decides to use physical coercion, it loses all its legitimate authority.
Types of Legitimate Authority• A “state,” according to Weber, is a human community that claims the legitimate use of physical force in a given territory.
Authority, Legitimacy, and the State• Most European states developed through fights over territorial boundaries.• Many countries in the world have been somewhat arbitrarily “produced” through colonization or groups like the United Nations.
Authority, Legitimacy, and the State • The welfare state is a system in which the state is responsible for the welfare of its citizens.
Authority, Legitimacy, and the State • Sociologist T. H. Marshall identified three types of citizenship rights (rights that one has as a citizen of a nation): – civil rights – political rights – social rights
Authority, Legitimacy, and the State • Civil rights guarantee personal freedom without state interference. • Political rights are rights to participate in politics, hold office, or vote. • Social rights guarantee protection by the state.
Types of States• Democracy is a system of government where the power lies with the people, who can vote and participate in the political system.• Dictatorship is a system of government where participation in politics is limited to a select few (or maybe even just one person).
Radical Power and Persuasion• Thomas Hobbes believed that the state of nature is chaos and that people submit to authority (the state) as a means of survival.• John Locke argued that people live in peace and equality in the state of nature, but that they ultimately submit to authority (the state) for financial reasons — to help iron out disagreements about property.