American Government Outline
My lectures on American Government and Politics begin with a description of the systems model.
Basic Concepts of American Government
David Easton developed the idea of a political system in several books. A system is any entity which has parts that connect with each other. A system has cohesion and covariance. Almost anything can be viewed as a system.
Every state on this planet has a political system, an economic system, a system of social structure, and a cultural system.
Political systems can be analyzed by their structures and functions.
Functionally, the political systems may be defined as:
1. authoritatively allocating values (David Easton).
2. determining "who gets what, when, and how. (Harold Lasswell).
3. the steering mechanism which controls the ship of state. (Aristotle, Deutsch).
4. having a monopoly on the legitimate use of force.
Structurally, political systems may be defined in terms of input, conversion, output, and feedback operating in at least three different environments.
DAVID EASTON'S MODEL OF A POLITICAL SYSTEM
| | or | |
| 1. INPUT---> | DECISION- |--->---3.> OUTPUT |
| a. demands | MAKING | governmental |
| b. supports | STRUCTURES | policies |
and laws |
| /<-----------------<-------------------<---/ |
| 5. E N V I R
O N M E N T
The United States is a:
The US Constitution is the "supreme law of the land." Constitutional governments are limited in power. They follow the rule of law and due process. They are differentiated from various forms of tyranny, dictatorship, absolutism, and totalitarianism.
The US Constitution is above conflicting State law and above other federal laws like U.S. Statutory and U.S. Administrative law. It outlines the basic structure and functions of our national government.
Federalism is a division of power between the national and state levels of government. It means the US is neither a unitary system nor a confederation.
Democracy refers to political systems where the rulers are popularly elected by a majority of the voters. The franchise refers to who has the right to vote. Today the franchise has been given to all US citizens above the age of eighteen, who have registered to vote and who who are literate. In George Washington's day, the franchise was limited to property owners who paid the requisite property taxes. Women, slaves, and males who did not own sufficient property could not vote. Were we a democracy in George Washington's time?
Republic refers to a political system that is not a monarchy or other hereditary form of government. In a Republic, the rulers are elected in some fashion. A republic is not necessarily a democracy. But republics carry the seeds of democracy within themselves. If the franchise is enlarged to include most adults, then the system becomes a democracy. Republics, in addition to not being monarchies, usually provide for a mixed constitution of various checks and balances. Simple rule by a majority is usually rejected. The tyranny of the majority is to be feared as much as the tyranny of one person or the tyranny of factions.
Parliamentary and Presidential Systems
Presidential Systems have a chief executive who is directly elected by the voters and who is in control of the executive or administrative branch of government. Presidential systems usually have a legislative branch of government, which operates independently. If the legislature is independent of the president, then we can talk about separation of power. In some presidential systems, the president controls the legislature. The legislature is merely a rubber stamp for everything the president wants. A strong political party can be used as a tool to coordinate executive/legislative relationships.
In a Parliamentary System, the leader of the majority party of the lower (popularly elected) house of the legislature is the prime minister (United Kingdom), premier (France, or Chancellor (Germany). The prime minister is the head of the government. The prime minister and the other chief (cabinet) ministers all serve in the legislature. They also control of executive or administrative apparatus of the government. There is no separation of power in a parliamentary system. If the prime minister loses a majority vote in the House of Common (lower house of Parliament in the United Kingdom), he must either resign or call for new elections. In addition to the prime minister, there is also a ceremonial chief of state. This can be either a king or queen in monarchies or a president in republics.
The President is a ceremonial leader. Real power resides in the Prime Minister. Thus in a parliamentary system, the executive is a committee of the legislature. There is what we might call fusion of power.
Democracy means rule by the people. The ancient Greeks, particularly the Athenians, were the first people to develop democratic forms of government. Demos means people. Kratia is rule by.
Aristotle developed a classification of types of government, which included democracy as one of the variants.
ARISTOTLE'S CLASSIFICATION OF TYPES OF GOVERNMENT
RULE BY: LEGITIMATE GOVERNMENTS
ONE MONARCHY TYRANNY (DICTATORSHIP)
FEW ARISTOCRACY OLIGARCHY
MANY POLITY DEMOCRACY
There are many types of Democracy.
1. Direct Democracy
We will discuss these in class.
Politics is the art of the possible. Politics is connected to the idea of power. Politics requires bargaining and compromises. Politics is the process which animates the political system. It makes the system dynamic.
Political Party Systems
One Party Systems
Comparison of US and UK
Outline of the Course
III: Conversion Structures
V: The Judicial System
Dual Court System of the United States