Government and Politics


Introduction 3


How is political power distributed among members of society? 3


Traditional Authority 4

Legal-Rational Authority 4

Charismatic Authority 5


Monarchy 6

Oligarchy 6

Dictatorship and Totalitarianism 6

Democracy 7


Political Socialization 8

Participation and Apathy 9

Women and Politics 10

Interest Groups 11


Elite Model 12

Pluralist Model 14

Who Does Rule? 15



References: 17


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 Lasswell’s (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 society—the increasing importance of the black vote for southern Democratic candidates—affected 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 nation’s 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 one’s 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 system—force influence and authority. Force is the actual or threatened use of coercion to impose one’s 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 person’s 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 Weber’s 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 one’s 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 Japan’s 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 Reagan’s 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 president’s power is illegitimate. However if an official clearly exceeds the power of an office as Richard Nixon did by obstructing justice during investigation of the Watergate burglary the official’s power may come to be seen as illegitimate. Moreover as was true of Nixon the person may be forced out of office.

Charismatic Authority

Weber also observed that power can be legitimized by the charisma of an individual. The term charismatic authority refers to power made legitimate by a leader’s exceptional personal or emotional appeal to his or her followers. Charisma allows a person to lead or inspire without relying on set rules or traditions. Interestingly such authority is derived more from the beliefs of loyal followers than from the actual qualities of leaders. So long as people perceive the person as possessing qualities that set him or her apart from ordinary citizens the leader’s authority will remain secure and often unquestioned.

Political scientist Ann Ruth Willner (1984) notes that each charismatic leader draws upon the values beliefs and traditions of a particular society. The conspicuous sexual activity of longtime Indonesian president Achmed Sukarno reminded his followers of the gods in Japanese legends and therefore was regarded as a sign of power and heroism. By contrast Indians saw Mahatma Gandhi’s celibacy as a demonstration of superhuman self-discipline. Charismatic leaders also associate themselves with widely respected cultural and religious heroes. Willner describes how Ayalollah Khomeini of Iran associated himself with Husein a Shiile Muslim martyr; and Fidel Castro of Cuba associated himself with Jesus Christ.

Unlike traditional rulers charismatic leaders often become well known by breaking with established institutions and advocating dramatic changes in the social structure. The strong hold that such individuals have over their followers makes it easier to build protest movements which challenge the dominant norms and values of a society. Thus charismatic leaders such as Jesus Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King all used their power to press for changes in accepted social behavior. But so did Adolf Hitler whose charismatic appeal turned people toward violent and destructive ends.

Since it rests on the appeal of a single individual charismatic authority is necessarily much shorter lived than either traditional or legal-rational authority. As a result charismatic leaders may attempt to solidify their positions of power by seeking other legitimating mechanisms. For example Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba in 1959 as the leader of a popular revolution. Yet in the decades which followed the seizure of power Castro stood for election (without opposition) as a means of further legitimating his authority as leader of Cuba.

If such authority is to extend beyond the lifetime of the charismatic leader it must undergo what Weber called the routinization of charismatic authority—the process by which the leadership qualities originally associated with an individual are incorporated into either a traditional or a legal-rational system. Thus the charismatic authority of Jesus as leader of the Christian church was transferred to the apostle Peter and subsequently to the various prelates (or popes) of the faith. Similarly the emotional fervor supporting George Washington was routinized into America’s constitutional system and the norm of a two-term presidency. Once routinization has taken place authority eventually evolves into a traditional or legal-rational form.

As was noted earlier Weber used traditional legal-rational and charismatic authority as ideal types. In reality particular leaders and political systems combine elements of two or more of these forms. Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and John F. Kennedy wielded power largely through the legal-rational basis of their authority. At the same time they were unusually charismatic leaders who commanded (lie personal loyalty of large numbers of Americans.


Each society establishes a political system by which it is governed. In modern industrial nations a significant number of critical political decisions are made by formal units of government. Five basic types of government are considered:monarchy oligarchy dictatorship totalitarianism and democracy.


A monarchy is a form of government headed by a single member of a royal family usually a king a queen or some other hereditary ruler. In earlier times many monarchs claimed that God had granted them a divine right to rule their lands. Typically they governed on the basis of traditional forms of authority although these were sometimes accompanied by the use of force. In the 1980s monarchs hold genuine governmental power in only a few nations such as Monaco. Most monarchs have little practical power and primarily serve ceremonial purposes.


An oligarchy is a form of government in which a few individuals rule. It is a rather old method of governing which flourished in ancient Greece and Egypt. Today oligarchy often takes the form of military rule. Some of the developing nations of Africa Asia and Latin America are ruled by small factions of military officers who forcibly seized power—either from legally elected regimes or from other military cliques.

Strictly speaking the term oligarchy is reserved for governments run by a few select individuals. However the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China can be classified as oligarchies if we extend the meaning of the term somewhat. In each case power rests in the hands of a ruling group—the Communist party. In a similar vein drawing upon conflict theory one may argue that many industrialized "democratic" nations of the west should rightly be considered oligarchies since only a powerful few actually rule: leaders of big business government and the military.

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