An Introduction To The Political System Politics Essay

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The political institution is the social structure concerned with the use and distribution of power within a society. Power gives direction to human affairs, it channels people's actions along one course rather than another so that collective goods can be achieved. Some expressions of power are more critical than others. The power that makes a real difference in the way society operates is "institutionalized power". Power refers to the ability of individuals and groups to realize their will in human affairs even if it involves resistance of others. Formally, politics-or "the polity" -is the social institution that distributes power, sets a society's agenda, and makes decisions.

Power brings about change in people-in attitude, behavior, motivation, or direction-that would not have occurred in its absence. It entails the ability not only to get things done, but to get them done in the way that one party prefers. Those individuals and groups who control critical social resources-rewards, punishments, and persuasive communications-are able to influence, even dictate, the way social life is ordered. In sum power affects the ability of people to make the world work on their behalf. To command key organizations and institutions, particularly the state, is to command people.

According to the sociologist, Max Weber, "every society is based on power, which is defined as the ability to achieve desired ends despite resistance from others". The exercise of power is the business of government, a formal organization that directs the political life of a country. Weber explained that most governments do not openly threaten their people, most of the time, people respect or at least accept their political system.


The state is a social organization that exercises within a given territory an effective monopoly in the use of physical coercion. In other words state rests on force, power whose basis is the threat or application of punishment. The ability to inflict sufferings and take life gives a crucial advantage in human affairs. For this reason sovereign nations restrict or even prohibit, the independent exercise of power by their subjects. If it were otherwise, governments could not suppress forceful challenges to their authority. It is only in unusual situations that societal power actually takes this form.

One of the peculiarities of the state power is that it may be exercised without corresponding to the letter of the law. Moreover any group that can secure sufficient power may overthrow the legally constituted government and establish itself as the ruling group. This has become a recurrent practice in many countries, where periodic coups and "palace revolutions" displace one ruling elite with another.


The state is a relatively recent institution. It arose with the changes in subsistence patterns and the production of a social surplus. But states have not emerged just as response to internal factors. They have arisen as a system of state called nation-states. States are part of a larger social arrangement-a sort of culture-that legitimates sovereignty, state purposes, and territorial jurisdictions. A set of rules defines limits of permissible military action, the allocation of sea and air space, weaponry, diplomatic etiquette, the provisions of embassies, and treaty obligations. Widespread military competition puts premium on large scale and strongly organized governments. Relatively small domains ruled by feudal lords were progressively incorporated into larger and more effective political entities.

As smaller states were integrated into nation-state, their many languages were incorporated into one national language. This language then became the carrier of emerging national culture, and both together became the hallmark of the nation. In turn nation became the focus of intense identification and loyalty.

Within the western world, the jurisdiction of the state has expanded across time. More and more aspects of social life have been incorporated within its general welfare function. Courts and taxing structure were early components. A whole arena of public finance evolved to control credit, currency, and other finance related matters. And education, medicine, religion, family, working conditions and technology, all became a important parts of the government.

As the state has grown and assumed more activities, it has become increasingly rationalized through the introduction of explicit rules and procedures based on a division of functions and authority, defined as "bureaucracy". Bureaucracies routinize, standardize, and regularize the planning and coordination of activities in an efficient manner.


Sociologists and political analysts highlight the importance of the distinction between the power that people view legitimate, and the power they define as illegitimate. Legitimate power is "authority". In contrast, "coercion" is illegitimate power. When individuals possess authority, they have a recognized and established right to determine policies, pronounce judgments, and settle controversies to act as leaders.

Max Weber suggests that legitimacy, the social jurisdiction of power, finds expression in three types of authority: Traditional authority, legal-rational authority, and charismatic authority.

TRADITIONAL AUTHORITY. In traditional authority, power is legitimated by the sanctity of age-old customs. People obey their rulers because "this is the way things have always been done". Powers of the rulers are viewed as eternal, inviolable, and sacred. In ancient history, kings and queens ruled in the names of "a divine right" ordained by God. It was this type of authority that Emperor Hirohito of Japan enjoyed until the American occupation imposed a legal rational system in the country following World War II. A good deal of moral force stands behind traditional authority. Often the claim to such authority rests on birth-rights, royal blood being thought superior to the blood of commoners.

LEGAL-RATIONAL AUTHORITY. In legal rational authority, power is legitimated by explicit rules and rational procedures that define the rights and duties of the occupants of the given positions. Under this arrangement, officials claim obedience on grounds that their commands fall within the impersonal, formally defined scope of their office. Obedience is owed not to the person but to the set of impersonal, rationally devised principles. For instance, in the United States, the authority of government leaders is for the most part accepted because American accept the premise that the Law is supreme and that the policies and orders are formulated in accordance with rules to which they subscribe. They accept the authority of the newly elected president despite the bitterness and anger of the election campaign. The system would crumble were large number to reject these as "the rules of the game". Ideally the legal-rational authority is "a government of laws, not of people".

CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY. In charismatic authority, power is legitimated by the extraordinary superhuman or supernatural attributes that people impute to a leader. Founders of world religions, Prophets, military victors, and political heroes commonly derive their authority from charisma. (meaning literally "gift of grace"). Miracles, revolutions, exceptional feats, and baffling successes are their trademarks. They are the Christ, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), Napoleon, Castro, Gandhi, Ayatollah Khomeini, and Mahatir bin Mohammad that dot the pages of the history. At time such leaders have sense of being "called' to spread the word.

These three bases of authority are considered the ideal types. In practice any specific form of authority may involve various combinations of all three. For example, President Roosevelt gained the presidency through legal-rational principles. By the time he was elected president for the fourth time, his leadership had a good many traditional elements to it. And many Americans viewed him as a charismatic leader.


Clearly, power can be exercised in a good many ways, both legitimately and illegitimately. There are also multiple sources of power. Historically, Marxist theorists have highlighted the [power that is realized by those who control a society's means of production. The means of administration is an alternative basis of social power. In eastern European nations, there is no ownership of the means of production and the state controls the economy. In contrast western nations control a different arena of power, including religion, science, the art, medicine, education and the media. Each of these areas has its own set of powerful individuals and groups-what sociologists term as "strategic elites". These elites with significant powers own their specialized domains.

Although there may be many arenas of power within modern societies, the study of power that makes real difference is the "government". Those individuals and groups who formulate the rules and policies that are authoritative, binding, and pervasive throughout the society. The decisions they make profoundly affect everyday lives of nation's citizens, as well as the lives of the other nation's citizens. In dealing with the matters of economy, education, health care, military, and environmental issues etc. three different types of governments have competed in recent generations for people's allegiance: democracy, totalitarianism, and authoritarianism.

Democracy. Democracy is a political system in which the powers of government derive from the consent of the people. The populace has a voice in decision making by virtue of its right to choose among contenders for political office. Democracy is not characterized by the rule of the people themselves. Rather most democracies are characterized by representative democracy-officials are held accountable to the public through periodic elections that either confirm them in power or replace them with new officials.

Most rich countries of the world claim to be democratic, even those who still have royal families. Industrialization and democracy go together, because both require a literate population. Democracy and rational=legal authority are linked just as monarchy and traditional authority are. But high income countries like USA are not truly democratic because real decision making lies with their powerful bureaucracy. Still democratic nations provide many rights and freedom to the people. Relatively stable economies and social conditions also seem to favor a democratic order. A stable democracy benefits from an underlying consensus among the people that democratic government is desirable and valid. Democracy is more than the set of organizational structures; it is a spirit, a kind of secular religion, that holds the rights of the individual "sacred". In turn people give legitimacy to the political institution. They believe they can realize their goals within the existing framework because they enjoy "fair play" access to the seats of power. Voting is key mechanism for achieving this consensus.

2. TOTALITARIANISM. Totalitarianism is a "total state", one in which government undertakes to extend control over all parts of society and all aspects of social life. Those individuals and groups who dominate the state apparatus-elites-seek to control all subordinate units, all institutions, including the economy, education, religion, health, art, science and communication etc, all associations, like labor unions, churches, occupational and professional organizations, special interest associations, and youth groups and even individual families. All forms of organizations become an extension of the state and are expected to act as its agent. It is the power structure rather than the economic order which characterizes the political system. The two major prototypes of 20th century totalitarianism-Nazi Germany under Hitler and Communist Russia under Stalin-remind us that this form of government can incorporate either a capitalistic or a socialistic economy.

A totalitarian society typically has three characteristics: (1) a monolithic political party, (2) a compelling ideology, and (3) pervasive social order. This system permits only one political party with no opposition, only a small number of the population are the party members and party membership the requisite for all the key positions. This ideology is utopian in nature, encompasses all areas and aspects of social life, and establishes universal goals. To maximize its powers and propagate its ideology, the regime centralizes the control. It regiments education and the media, while simultaneously using police power to compel compliance. The Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev, once depicted his nation's experience with terror in his 1956 "secret" speech to the 20th Communist party congress as--- Stalin practiced brutal violence, not toward everything that opposed him, but also toward that which capricious and despotic character, contrary to his concepts….Mass arrests and deportations of thousands of people, executed without trial, and without normal investigation created conditions of insecurity, fear and even depression.

AUTHORITARIANISM. Authoritarianism is a political system in which government tolerates little or no opposition to its rule but permits nongovernmental centers of influence and allows debates on some issues of public policy. Many African and Latin American countries ruled by military regimes are authoritarians. It denies popular participation in the government. It cares little about the needs of the ordinary people, providing them with no legal means leaders from the office, and makes use of force to response to dissent or opposition. Reports indicate, for example, that Iraq's Saddam Hussein imprisoned, tortured, or murdered thousands of people who resisted his rule. Several of Iraq's neighbors, including the absolute monarchies like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain are also authoritarians as are the military rulers in Congo and Ethiopia. Heavy handed government does not always breed popular opposition.