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Chapter 1 Outline

I. The Study of American Government

A. What is Political Power

1. Power: the ability of one person to get another person to act in
accordance with the first person’s intentions.
2. Government uses this ability to get people to act the way the gov’t
would like them to.
3. Recently, almost every aspect of human life has found way onto gov’t
4. Authority: the right to use power
5. People tend to absently follow gov’t laws b/c we accept decisions if they
are made by people who we believe have the right to make them.
6. Legitimacy- political authority conferred by law or by a state or national
constitution (i.e. United States’ Constitution is widely accepted as source
of legitimate authority.
7. Gov’t decides what makes a law of constitution a source of right, validity.
Discussed in national conventions.

B. What is Democracy
1. Democracy: rule of many.
2. Direct or Participatory democracy: gov’t in which all or most citizens
participate directly.
3. Representative Democracy: a gov’t in which leaders make decisions
by winning a competitive struggle for the popular vote.
4. Some believe democracy is elitist theory-
a. It’s impractical for people to decide on public policy but it’s not
impractical to expect them to make reasonable choices among
competing leadership groups.
b. Some believe that direct democracy is likely to lead to bad
decisions b/c people often decide w/ bias

C. Is Representative Democracy Best?

1. Constitution originally calls democracy, “republican form of gov’t” but
Republican form of government means “representative democracy.”
2. Form of democracy involving direct participation of all or most citizens =
direct/participatory democracy.
3. Some argue that virtues of direct democracy can and should be
reclaimed even in modern, complex society. Defended as only way to
ensure that “will of people” prevails.
4. Founding fathers wanted a representative democracy, but didn’t not a
direct democracy b/c people had power to vote on every issue directly.

D. How Is Political Power Distributed?

1. Majoritarian politics- elected officials who are the delegates of the
people, acting as the people would act were the matter put to a popular
a. Issues handled can only be those that are very important to
command attention of most citizens.
b. Sufficiently clear to elicit an informed opinion from citizens
c. Suff. feasible to address so that what people want can be done
2. Elite- persons who possess a disproportionate share of some valued
resource, like money or power. = unequal distribution of power even in
3. Marxist view- view that the gov’t is dominated by capitalists.
4. Power Elite View- view that gov’t is dominated by a few top leaders,
most of whom are outside the gov’t.
a. Wright Mills (sociologist) believes the gov’t is dominated by
corporate leaders, military officers, an elected officials
b. Max Weber believed the gov’t falls under control of large
5. Bureaucratic view- view that gov’t is dominated by appointed officials.
a. Virtually invisible to public and unknown to most elites but
exercise cast power by deciding how to translate public laws
into admin actions.
6. Pluralist View- belief that competition among all affected interests
shapes public policy.
a. No specific group dominates the gov’t b/c resources like money,
prestige, media spread information out to public but
acknowledge that big businesses, cozy elites, or career
bureaucrats may dominate on some issues.
b. Many forms where power is exercised i.e. state, local, federal,
city level.
c. Pluralists say there is economic inequality in democracies b/c
say that decisions are made on majoritarian basis

E. Is Democracy Driven by Self-Interest

1. Self-interest of a person or group = altering of gov’t in order to coincide
with wants.
2. Self-interest of individuals is often an incomplete guide to their actions
3. However sometimes decisions are made based on what is morally just.
Sometimes made for the benefit of most rather than few individuals.

F. What Explains Political Change?

1. Great changes in gov’t due to complex and sometimes sudden changes
in elite or mass beliefs about what gov’t is supposed to do.
2. Hardest things to explain are usually most important ones. (i.e. case of
foreign affairs.)
3. Deep beliefs, major econ development and widely shared opinions about
what makes up dominant political problem of time shapes nature of day
to day political conflict.
4. The role of the federal gov’t changes with what is going on at the time.

G. The Nature of Politics

1. “Who governs?”- one of many questions about gov’t and law makers.
2. Most power exists b/c of shared understanding, common friendships,
communal or organizational loyalties and different degrees of prestige
3. It is harder to identify who has the power, rather than who did what in

H. Summary
1. Marxist- those who control economic system will control the political
2. Elitist- a few top leaders, not all of them drawn from business, make the
key decisions w/o reference to popular desires.
3. Bureaucratic- appointed civil servants run things.
4. Pluralist- competition amon affected interests shapes public policy.