Chapter 1 People and Government

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Chapter 1

People and Government

Section 1

Principles of Government

Essential Questions

  • Why do we study government?

  • What are the 4 main purposes of government?

Why do we study government?

Most of us live our lives without thinking too much about the structure of our nation, the thoughts of our Founding Fathers, or why we have a government at all. In our minds, the government simply exists. It is there to tell us what to do or to take our money. Many people overlook the basic parts of our everyday lives that rely on government. This trend shows in voting turnout numbers. According to the Washington Post only 36.4% of eligible voters in the United States cast a ballot in the 2014 midterm elections. That was down from 58% in the Presidential election of 2012 when Barack Obama defeated Mitt Romney. Follow the link for more.

Why don’t people vote? Perhaps it is their belief that their vote won’t matter. Maybe they don’t see voting as being necessary. Possibly they are boycotting government action or inaction in their locality. Whatever the reason, voter apathy is a grave concern in the United States. It’s ok if you don’t completely understand the article or the discussion we will have on the subject. You’re taking the class to better understand government.
So why should you be forced to study government? I believe ignorance is the main reason for low voter turnout and that is why everyone should take a government class. Many people in this country have no idea what government does for them or how it operates. The truth is our government spends billions of dollars and makes thousands of laws every year that affect you, your family, your school, and your way of life. Without a basic understanding of government, you will have no idea who to vote for. You will not know what candidates think about issues and how they will vote when they get to decision making positions. You take government class so that you can be an informed citizen of a great state and nation. And it is the citizens that make a country great.
If that explanation didn’t provide a good enough reason to take the class seriously try this one: you have to pass this class to graduate. No, they will not give you a diploma if you fail. The state makes these decisions for you. That is another example of why understanding government is important. The government is the one who mandates what classes you have to pass to graduate. If you disagree with their assessments perhaps you should run for Congress and make the changes yourself. However, you must graduate high school first. A high school dropout doesn’t have much of a chance of being elected to anything.
What is government?

Now that we have finished our discussion of why government matters, let’s talk about what it is. Aristotle of ancient Greece was one of the first to study government. Follow the link to see just how smart of a guy Aristotle was. Aristotle studied the Greek city-state. A city-state is comprised of a city with its outlying territory that forms its own independent government. We usually use the term country when we talk about a state. People from the US see states as dependent bodies within a greater country.

For the purposes of this discussion a state is a political community that occupies a definite territory and has an organized government with the power to make and enforce laws without the approval from any higher authority. With that definition you should see the difference between a state within the US and a defined state. Each state within the US must have approval from the US NATIONAL government to make decisions. This approval comes in the form of Supreme Court decisions and national laws. So why do we call South Carolina a state instead of a province? When colonists declared their independence from Great Britain each colony became its own country. It had its own laws and its own money. When they came together after the Revolution they were a collection of united states (lowercase u and s). After uniting officially, via the Articles of Confederation, they became the United States (capital U and S).
We also use the term nation when we refer to a country. In the study of government, a nation is any sizable group of people united by common bonds of race, language, custom, or tradition. This is what people mean when they refer to the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee represents a common ancestral past that people can share. Recent research suggests that the North America is made up of 11 nations based on voting patterns, demographics, and public opinion polls. It really is a neat study.
Most nations have boundaries held by the state. For example, although not all citizens of France are of French descent, the territories of both the nation of France and the state of France coincide. We use the term nation-state to describe such a country. A nation-state is a country in which the territory of both the nation and the state coincide.
What are the features of a state?

There are approximately 195 states in the world today. Each one has 4 essential features: population, territory, sovereignty, and government.

We’ll start with population. In order for a state to exist, there have to be people in it. The continent of Antarctica doesn’t have any countries because there are not enough people to inhabit it. Peoples’ interactions within a state affect its stability. If the population shares a general political and social consensus, or agreement about basic beliefs, the country can thrive. Americans tend to have similar beliefs about the value of democratic governance. However, if there is not a consensus, unhappy citizens may want to overthrow the government. The link shows just how often this happens. Population can also affect political power by moving. Millions of Americans change addresses every year. Moving from state to state can affect representation in Congress and therefore, how much influence a state has in making laws. Shifts in living patters can also occur between cities and suburban areas.
A state must also have territory. Can a county exist if it doesn’t have any land? Of course it can’t. The exact location of political borders is often a source of conflict among states. Disagreements over boundaries can result in war, negotiations, or purchase. The US has grown considerably throughout its history starting out as 13 states on the Atlantic coast and spreading to the islands of the Pacific.
Sovereignty is another feature of state. Sovereignty means the state has supreme and absolute authority within its territorial borders. It has complete independence and complete power to make laws. In theory, every state is equal with respect to legal rights. However, states with great economic and military strength have more power than other states.
Every state also has some form of government. Government is the institution through which the state maintains social order, provides public serves, and enforces decisions that are binding on all people living with the state. There are many different types of government which we will discuss in sections 4-6.

Section 2

Theories of the State and the Purposes of Government

Essential Questions

  • How do various theories explain the origin of government?

  • What is social contract theory?

  • What are the purposes of government?

How do various theories explain the origin of government?

How did the state come to be? There is no way of knowing exactly how the first state became organized. There have been a number of theories to address the creation of the state.

Some scholars believe the state evolved from the family group. Think of evolutionary theory as a big family. The family would look up to a father. As the family grew the sons-in-law and daughters-in-law would listen to the father as well. Eventually the family would grow because biology and the offspring would look up to the father (who is now a grandfather) as well. As more people joined the family, Grandpa gained more power. Sadly, Grandpa will die. When that happens, the next in charge will take over. The man or woman in charge served as a sort of president who made important decisions. Those who subscribe to evolutionary theory would say that government grew naturally out of the family as populations became larger.
Other scholars believe in force theory. Force theory says that government emerged when all people of an area were brought under the authority of one person or group. The force in force theory implies that people were brought under authority against their will at least some of the time. Think of the leader in force theory as a bully who imposes his or her will on a group. The bully probably has some good ideas but they have more strength which helps them encourage people to listen.
Another theory of the origin of the state is divine right theory. Divine right holds that a god or collection of gods chose certain people to rule a nation. The Egyptians, Chinese, and Aztecs believed their god allowed them to rule. Egyptians took it a step further as their leaders became gods on Earth. Many of the monarchs of Europe pointed to divine right as their authority to lead. To oppose the monarch was to oppose God and was considered both treason and sin.
The final theory we will discuss is social contract theory. Social contract theory holds that the people give government the right to rule. Thomas Hobbes was one of the first to theorize on social contract. He said that nature had no government; therefore, government was constructed by people in order to look after the best interest of citizens. The contract was between the people and the government. People gave the government the right to rule and, in return, the government promised to protect its people. John Locke took the contract further than Hobbes. Locke believed people were naturally endowed with the right to life, liberty, and property (this will show up later). Locke held that when the government didn’t hold up its end of the contract, the people had the right to overthrow that government. This is the justification the founding fathers of the US would use during the Revolution.
What are the purposes of government?

Governments have 4 main purposes: to maintain social order, provide public services, provide for national security and a common defense, and to provide for and control the economic system.

Maintaining social order is a very important government responsibility. Every state is made up of many people with differing opinions. Sometimes these differences boil over and cause riots. It is the responsibility of government to keep the peace. Without governments civilized life would not be possible. Governments control and contain conflict between people by placing limits on what individuals are permitted to do. The next time you wish there was no government, think about the purge. That would be every day if no government existed. An effective government allows citizens to plan for the future, get an education, raise a family, and live orderly lives.
Governments also should provide publics services. Governments undertake projects, like building sewer systems, that individuals could not or would not do their own. Governments also provide as essential service by making and enforcing laws that promote public health and safety. Government inspectors check meat and produce to prevent the sale of spoiled food. State legislators pass laws that require people to pass driving tests. One quote sums up this governmental responsibility.
“The legitimate object of government is to do for a community of people whatever they need to have done but cannot do at all, or cannot do so well do for themselves in their separate and individual capacities. But in all that people can individually do for themselves, government ought not to interfere.”

Abraham Lincoln

Governments also must provide national security. That is to protect citizens from attack by other states or threats such as terrorism. In today’s world of nuclear weapons, spy satellites, international terrorists, and huge armies the job of providing for the defense and security of the state is complex. In addition to protecting the nation from attack, the government handles normal relations with other nations. The Constitution gives our national government a monopoly over our nation’s dealings with foreign countries. The national government can make treaties and enact trade agreements with other countries.
The final responsibility of governments is to make economic decisions. While no nation provides its citizens with everything they need or desire they do try to provide economic opportunities to its citizens. Even the US has poverty, hunger, and unemployment. There are only so many goods and services for people to consume and those with money can purchase those goods. Governments must try to combat economic problems by passing laws that shape the economic environment of the nation. These laws could be as limited as providing a national currency or as extensive as controlling every individual’s economic decision.
Section 3

The Formation of Governments

Essential Questions

  • What are the similarities and differences between a unitary government and a federal government system?

  • How do citizens participate in politics?

  • What are some ways in which countries depend on one another?

What are the similarities and differences between a unitary government and a federal government system?

Governments come in many shapes and sizes. Each of the 195 sovereign nations in the world has their own form of government. The government of each nation has unique characteristics derived from how that nation developed. Government system can be broken into two categories depending on how the power of the nation is divided: unitary and federal.

In a unitary system, all key powers are given to the national government. States or provinces can exist in a unitary system but their power is limited to what the national government allows and many national laws dictate what lower levels of government can do. Great Britain, Italy, and France have developed unitary systems due to their history as smaller kingdoms.
In contrast, a federal system splits key powers between the national and state governments. Each level of the government has sovereignty in some way. The US developed this system after the Revolution. And that makes sense when you consider where those states were in the late 1700s. Each state considered itself independent and wanted its own rights without being told what to do. The colonists had just fought a long war over the right to choose what happened on their home property. They were not keen on having someone from another area tell them how to live their lives and I would imagine you still aren’t. This system lives on today as states still follow the Constitution which made the national government but still gave states some powers.
How do citizens participate in politics?

The effort to control or influence the conduct and policies of government is called politics. Politics occurs at multiple levels. We often think of Congressmen yelling at each other over some form of legislation as politics. It is, but normal citizens can participate as well. Maybe you attend an anti-gun rally. Maybe you meet at a church to vocalize your desire to have prayer in schools. Both are examples of politics. You are voicing an opinion on a topic that requires political decisions.

Politics is an integral part of our society as this is the way we manage conflict. The outcomes of politics, which can also be thought of as a struggle to control government, affect key matters like quality of air and water, economic conditions, peach and war, and the extent of citizen’s rights and freedoms. People participate in politics because they realize government influences their lives in a number of ways.

What are some ways in which countries depend on one another?

We live in a very complex world. Each country has its own self interests in mind in every decision that it makes. There are major inequalities among countries and this tends to cause some conflict from time to time. Industrialized nations compete with developing nations for resources. Industrialized nations have large industries and advanced technology that provide a more comfortable way of life than developing nations do. Developing nations are only beginning to develop industrially. You may have also heard the terms first world and third world to describe economic differences between countries. Those terms were removed because they are offensive. Who wants to be from a third world country? How many worlds are there anyway? More information on that can be found here.

Industrialized nations tend to have a high quality of life. That means it is mostly pleasant to live there. Most people are comfortable and well fed. Citizens of industrialized countries rely on jobs involving high-tech machines. Developing nations on the other hand are not nearly as nice. These are the countries that are shown on TV where a washed-up celebrity tells you to donate a nickel a day to help out. They have high rates of starvation, disease, and political turmoil. They have jobs mostly in agriculture and often do not have access to machines that will make the work easier.
Despite the differences between these nations, they depend on one another. Most countries, especially industrialized nations, have economic interests all over the world. This is why the US is always involved in what other nations are doing- we have money at stake. Global interdependence is increasing due to growing industrialization and rapid technological advances in manufacturing, transportation, and telecommunications. What this means is we make products quickly, we ship them quickly, and we can communicate about products efficiently.
The US relies on developing nations just as much as we rely on industrialized nations. Developing nations are often fertile areas for cheap labor. We can have a young person in China make shoes for a quarter an hour or pay an American citizen $8.00 an hour to make the same shoe. Corporations also see people in other countries as more willing to take on these projects and they may be right. Do you want to work in shoe factory all day doing nothing but making shoes? I know I don’t and I’m willing to pay for the product. Industrialized countries pay developing countries to do the work we don’t want to do. This sounds like a raw deal for developing countries and in some ways it is. However, when they agree to take on the work, millions or billions of dollars are pumped into the country’s economy. That money can be used to further industrialize and can be used on infrastructure which is often lacking in poorer countries.

Section 4

Types of Governments

Essential Questions

  • What are the 3 major types of government?

  • What are the main characteristics of a democracy?

  • What does democracy need to thrive?

What are the 3 major types of government?

As we stated in the last section, governments come in all shapes and sizes. However, most governments fit neatly into one of three categories: autocracy, oligarchy, and democracy. The type of government a country goes with depends on that nation’s history and who the leader is.

An autocracy is any system of government in which the power and authority to rule are in the hands of a single individual. Usually the right to rule comes from inheritance or the ruthless use of military power. There are several forms of autocracy. In an absolute or totalitarian dictatorship the ideas of a single leader are held in high standing. Think Napoleon in France or Hitler in Germany for totalitarian dictatorship. Both of those men ruled the country completely without using the opinions of a congress. Monarchs would be another form of autocracy. Monarchs are endowed to lead by inheritance gaining their position from a deceased relative. Absolute monarchs, like absolute dictators, have complete authority in their country. Absolute monarchs are rare in today’s world but were very common in Europe from the 1400s to the 1700s. Constitutional monarchs still exist today. These monarchs share government powers with elected legislatures and serve mostly ceremonially. Think about the Queen of England. She is a figurehead with very limited powers- even if she is cool.
An oligarchy is any system of government in which a small group holds power. This group can derive its power from wealth, military power, social position, or a combination of these elements. Many communists countries, such as China, are oligarchies. In such countries, leaders of the communist party and the armed forces control the government. Usually political opposition in this system is suppressed- sometimes violently.
The final type of government we will look at is democracy. This is where we will spend most of our time. A democracy is any system of government in which rule is by the people. The key idea of democracy is that the people hold sovereign power. Abraham Lincoln summed up democracy nicely saying it is, “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Democracy can take one of two forms: direct or representative. A direct democracy has its citizens vote on everything. New England town meetings serve as an example of direct democracy. People can come together, voice their opinions, and vote on various topics. Obviously this can only exist in a small country or locality. It would be difficult for the 320 million people in the US to meet and vote on every law. For this reason, the Founding Fathers decided to make the US a representative democracy. In a representative democracy citizens elect people to vote for them. We vote 535 members of congress from each state to make decisions for us. If we don’t like the decisions they make we can vote them out of office.
We will get into the types of governments in greater depth in Chapter 2.

What are the main characteristics of a democracy?

Some countries have taken to calling themselves “democratic” or “republics” even though they are not. North Korea is an oligarchy but calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. As a rule of thumb, the longer the country’s official name- the less free it is. It’s kind of like they are trying to convince themselves that the people’s opinion is important to them. In order for a country to be a democracy it must have certain characteristics. It should allow for individual liberty, majority rule with minority rights, free elections, and competing political parties.

While no individual is free to do anything he or she wants, democracy should provide people the freedom to develop to their own capacities. This means we should be able to do whatever our intelligence, talent, and work ethic allows us to do. You’ll notice that I included three conditions in that sentence. Democracy does not guarantee that we will have whatever we want or even need. We have to find success and work toward our goals. You can be very smart and talented but if you fail to work hard you won’t accomplish anything. Sorry if that statement ruins your dreams but it is the truth. Democracy promises to allow us an equal OPPORTUNITY for success as those around you. You may not believe this is true. You may say people with more money don’t have to work as hard as they have been given a head start. That may be true, but you then have to outwork them to accomplish the same goal. You can still accomplish just as much or more than them. Bottom line is: don’t complain about where you are compared to other people at the beginning- just beat them to the finish line. IF YOU GET NOTHING ELSE OUT OF THIS CLASS, PLEASE REMEMBER THIS PARAGRAPH.

Democracy also provides for majority rule with minority rights. In a democracy people usually accept decisions made by the majority of voters in a free election. Representative democracy means that laws enacted in the legislatures represent the will of the majority of the lawmakers. Because lawmakers are elected by the people, the laws are accepted by the people. At the same time, the Constitution helps ensure that the rights of individuals in the minority will be protected. Respect for minority rights is difficult to maintain, especially in times of stress, such as during WWII when thousands of Japanese-Americans were imprisoned.

Democracies must have free elections. Without free elections we are allowing a small number of people to make decisions for us. This is why fights over black and female suffrage were so important. If a piece of the population is denied the right to vote, even if they are the minority, there is a piece of the population without a voice in our government. Several characteristics make up free elections. First, every vote should have equal weight. Second, all candidates can express their views freely and have people vote for them. We cannot oppress the opinions of citizens. Third, citizens are free to help candidates or support issues. Fourth, the legal requirements of voting such as age, residence, and citizenship are kept to a minimum. This ensure that as many people as possible are having their voices heard. Fifth, citizens may vote freely by secret ballot to ensure safety for coercion or punishment for their voting decisions.
Democracies must also have competing political parties. A political party is a group of individuals with broad common interests who organize to nominate candidates for office, win elections, conduct government, and determine public policy. In the US we have a large number of political parties. These will be discussed in depth later in the semester. Rival parties make elections meaningful by providing a choice to voters. They also serve to watch over one another- bringing to light any mistakes the opposing party makes.

What does democracy need to thrive?

Democratic government is more likely to succeed in countries which to some degree meet 5 general criteria that reflect the quality of life of citizens: active citizen participation, a favorable economy, widespread education, strong civil society, and a social consensus.

Active citizen participation means the citizens participate fully in the civic process. This requires that people vote in elections, inform themselves on issues, serve on juries, and run for government office. Unfortunately, far too many of us care far too little for educating ourselves on issues or voting. Neither takes a tremendous amount of time and both are easy to do. And if you don’t vote you shouldn’t complain about the direction the country is going. You had your opportunity to voice your opinion and you passed it up. A favorable economy also helps a democracy thrive. A stable, growing economy with a large middle class helps democracy. An economy that does not have large boom and bust cycles allows people to invest money with little fear. A large middle class is very important as well as it provides a large number of people who must work but can spend their income. What this means is simple. Middle class citizens have to work because they do not have enough money to simply sit at home. This is good because businesses need workers. But lower class people can work too, right? Yes they can but they are not as good for the economy because they do not have as much disposable income (we’ll cover this in econ). Middle class citizens have disposable income to spend on cars, houses, movie tickets, etc. all of which help the economy.
Democracy needs a widespread and healthy education system. Democracy is more likely to succeed in countries with an educated public because citizens are more likely to understand the issues they will be voting on.
“If an elective republic is to endure for any great length of time, ever elector must have sufficient information… to direct wisely the legislature, the ambassadors, and the executive of the nation… [I]t is the duty of government to see that the means of information be diffused to every citizen.”

Thaddeus Stevens, April 1835
A strong civil society in which a network of voluntary organizations (including economic groups, religions groups, and many other) exists independent of government helps democracy to flourish. The US has thousands of organizations- the Red Cross, the Humane Society, the National Rifle Association, your church, newspapers, labor unions, and business groups- that allow people to associate with others who have similar ideas and interests. These organizations give citizens strength in numbers. It is easier to make a difference as a team than individually. The people accept democratic values such as individual liberty and equality for all in a social consensus. There must also be general agreement on the purposes and limits of government.

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