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Chapter 1: Politics, the State and liberal democracy Aims and learning outcomes After completing this chapter

and the Essential reading, you should be able to: use the criteria used to determine whether a set of organisations is a state, and show familiarity with these criteria demonstrate a basic appreciation of the recent historical growth of the State and spread of liberal democracy define the following terms: welfare state executive and legislature parliamentary and presidential systems plurality rule voting and proportional representation voting unitary states and federal states. 1.1 Two definitions: politics and liberal democracy Politics is a social process, part of what goes on in human societies. But what part it is, and where the boundary of the political sphere should be drawn, have been hotly disputed by numerous political scientists and other commentators. I am going to cut through these elaborate and protracted debates in a drastic way, so as to get to what I take to be the heart of the matter, the key issues around which political life revolves. My definition aims to briefly capture the vast majority of political activity and give us areasonably clear focus on which to proceed. Politics has three parts: the formation and expression of groups or social identities, in competition with other groups and identities a competitive struggle between individuals, groups of people or organisations for control of the State. (I define this term in the next section, but roughly speaking we can take the State for the moment to denote the complete machinery of government of a distinct society) a competitive struggle between different states (systems of government) for power, influence and the worlds resources. Not all political processes are about the State, but in the contemporary world most are. Nowadays the State is the key influence on determining who gets what, when, how (as the American political scientist, Harold Lasswell, famously defined politics in 1936).

You cannot understand modern politics without understanding what the State is and how the State operates and is controlled. Some political processes apparently take place in civil society, separate from the State or the governmental sphere. For example, trade unions battle employers for higher pay, or homosexuals organise to assert gay pride, or religious groups campaign for a more conservative morality to apply in social life. But look a little closer and many of these campaigns that seem to be about defining a groups identity or advancing a particular cause in society actually turn out to involve the State in some way. For instance, in every country, government laws and regulations limit the ways in which unions can take industrial action and organise strikes; laws also recognise or prohibit different aspects of homosexual behaviour; and government rules make it easier or more difficult for religious values to prevail in areas like schooling, marriage and divorce, and the censorship of mass media.

A liberal democracy is a political system where: Periodic free and fair elections take place to determine how governments are formed and how the legislature is constituted, with free political competition for groups and political parties and some reasonably efficient system for assuring majority rule (the democracy part of the concept); and Fundamental civil liberties are protected by law and constitutional safeguards, while legal enactments and rules are equally and impartially enforced by an independent judiciary and legal system (the liberal part of the concept). Both the liberal and the democracy elements of this concept have to be present at the same time for liberal democracy to exist. Majority rule without the protection of civil liberties can be tyrannical for instance allowing a larger ethnic group to suppress the political freedoms of smaller groupings, as happened in the southern states of the USA for many decades after the US Civil War in the 1860s. Having an impartial legal system and protection of rights coinciding with rule by a single party (or a single faction or family) can create a relatively open society and allow a capitalist economy to flourish, as in contemporary Singapore. But without full and fair elections, at which people can freely compete to change their government without fear of harassment or State action against them, such a society is not democratic. Obviously all liberal democracies place some limits on their citizens political activities, outlawing terrorism, armed subversion, or

activities which undermine a democratic constitution, for instance. But the general principle is clear, that all peaceful means of political mobilisation, which do not harm or interfere with other citizens rights and freedoms, should be open to people. This provision covers things like equal protection of life and property, freedom of speech, freedom to associate, a right to demonstrate peacefully, and so on. 1.2 The concept of the State The State is a distinctively modern and Western way of organising political authority and the conduct of government. The idea of the State essentially is that there should be a single, unified source of authority in each area, drawing upon the undivided loyalties of a population, operating in a well-organised and permanently continuing way, and directed towards the interests of a whole society. Furthermore a modern assumption is that government should be organised exclusively by states, which can meet all of these criteria. Indeed very recently the assumption has been that the whole surface of the world (which can be occupied by humanity) should be partitioned exhaustively between one state or another.