Political Science: Glossary

Anarchy – Absence of government, emphasized by realism in explaining the nonexistence of any overarching governing power in international politics

Anomic group – An interest group with minimal organization

Apolitical – Not interested or participating in politics.

Associational groups – Highly organized interest groups possessing formal rules of operation, designated leaders, official structures, and an official name

Attentive public – Those citizens who follow politics, especially national and international affairs

Authoritarian – Nondemocratic government but not necessarily totalitarian.

Authority – Political leaders’ ability to command respect and exercise power.

Bailout – Emergency government loan to save firm from collapse.

Balance of payments – The value of what a country exports compared with what it imports.

Balance of power – System in which major nations form and reform alliances to protect themselves.

Behavioralism – A perspective in political science presenting itself as an alternative to traditionalism; behavioralism emphasizes empirical analysis of the actual behavior of politically involved individuals and groups, as opposed to historical/textual analysis of institutions and laws

Bourgeois – Adjective, originally French for city dweller; later and current, middle class in general. Noun: bourgeoisie.

Caste – Rigid, hereditary social class or group.

Centralization – Degree of control exercised by national headquarters.

Civil disobedience – The nonviolent breaking of an unjust law to serve a higher law.

Civil law – Noncriminal disputes among individuals.

Civil rights – Ability to participate in politics and society, such as voting and free speech; sometimes confused with but at a higher level than human rights.

Civil society – Humans after becoming civilized. Modern usage: associations between family and government.

Civil society – Humans after becoming civilized. Modern usage: associations between family and government.

Classic liberalism – Ideology founded by Adam Smith to keep government out of economy

Coalition – Multiparty alliance to form a government.

Cold War – Armed tension and mistrust between U.S. and Soviet camps, 1946–1989.

Communism – Marxist theory merged with Leninist organization into a totalitarian party.

Comparative politics – The study of governments and/or political processes across countries and/or time periods

Confederation – Political system in which components override center.

Conservatism – Ideology of keeping systems largely unchanged.

Constitution – Basic rules that structure a government, usually written.

Constitutional law – law that grows out of a country’s basic documents.

Constitutionalism – Degree to which government limits its powers.

Corruption – Use of public office for private gain.

Culture – Human behavior that is learned as opposed to inherited.

Debt – The sum total of deficits over many years.

Decentralization – Shifting some administrative functions from central government to lower levels; less than devolution.

Deficit – Spending more in a given year than you take in.

Demagogue – Politician who whips up masses with extreme and misleading issues.

Democracy – Political system of mass participation, competitive elections, and human and civil rights.

Democratic government- Government in which the people and the government are connected; in other words, the people are self-governed in terms of inputs and outputs. Democratic government may be viewed as consisting of five components: participation, pluralism, developmentalism, protection, and performance

Democratic peace – Theory that democracies do not fight each other.

Domestic politics – Interactions within states.

Environmentalism – Ideology asserting the importance of viewing natural resources from an ecological perspective emphasizing stewardship and ecosystem integrity

Epistemology – A branch of philosophy that examines evaluations of what constitutes truth

Feminism – An ideology that opposes the political, economic, and/or cultural relegation of women to positions of inferiority and advocates gender equality

Human rights – Freedom from government mistreatment such as arrest, torture, jail, and death without due process.

Ideology – Belief system that society can be improved by following certain doctrines

Imperialism – Amassing of colonial empires, mostly by European powers; pejorative in Marxist terms.

Instability – Frequent changes of cabinet.

Institutions – The formal structures of government.

Interest group – A group of individuals or institutions sharing interests or opinions and united enough to work together to seek to influence political outcomes

Leftist – Favors social and economic change to uplift poor.

Legitimacy – The property states possess when their citizens view their sovereignty as appropriate, proper, or acceptable

Marginalized – Pushed to the edge of society and the economy, often said of the poor and of subcultures.

Mass media – Modern means of communication that quickly reach very wide audiences. (The word media is plural; medium is the singular form.)

Mass party – One that attempts to gain committed adherents; usually has formal membership.

Monarchy – Hereditary rule by one person

Nation – Population with a historic sense of self.

Nationalism – A people’s heightened sense of cultural, historical, and territorial identity, unity, and sometimes greatness.

Nationalization – Putting major industries under government ownership.

Noninterventionism – A policy of not sending troops abroad.

Ombudsman – Swedish for “agent”; lawyer employed by parliament to help citizens wronged by government.

Participation – A component of democracy referring to the processes whereby people act in political ways to connect themselves to government and thus become self-governing.

Performance – A component of democracy referring to outputs reflective of a self-governing population’s pursuit of well-being

Persuasion – A nonphysical type of power in which the agent using power makes its intentions and desires known to the agent over whom power is exercised

Pluralism – A component of democracy that refers to the multiplicity, diversity, or plurality of opinions and groups free to express themselves within a political system

Pluralism – Theory that politics is the interaction of many groups.

Political generations – Theory that great events of young adulthood permanently color political views.

Political institution – Established and durable pattern of authority.

Political party – An organization that puts forward proposed leaders for positions in government

Political party – Group seeking to elect officeholders under a given label.

Political power – Ability of one person to get another to do something.

Political socialization – A process of political learning that results in the formation of an individual’s political attitudes, values, and behaviors

Positivism – Theory that society can be studied scientifically and incrementally improved with the knowledge gained.

Postmodernism – Outlook positing that traditional ideologies put forward ideas as independently existing truths but that such truths lack an objective basis.

Power – An ability to act in order to (1) influence an outcome that allows for the achievement of an objective and/or (2) influence another agent to act in a manner in which the agent, on its own, would not choose to act

Precedent – Legal decisions based on earlier decisions

Presidential systems – Governmental arrangements in which executive–legislative relations operate as follows: (1) Executives and legislatures are elected in distinct, separate elections for fixed terms of office; (2) executives cannot be removed by votes of no confidence; and (3) executive power is separated from legislative power

Proletariat – Marx’s name for the industrial working class.

Proportional representation – Types of election procedures under which parties (and their candidates) receive a percentage of offices based on the percentage of votes won in an election

Protection – A component of democracy that refers to democracy’s commitment to limiting governmental power so that governments do not become tyrannical

Protective – A component of democracy emphasizing limits on governmental authority

Protest – Interest group strategy that may be used to publicize an interest group’s viewpoints and sway public opinion

Quantitative analysis – A research approach that uses mathematical, statistical information and methods to discover empirically verifiable patterns

Realism – Working with the world as it is and not as we wish it to be; usually focused on power.

Reciprocity – Mutual application of legal standards.

Republic – A political system without a monarch.

Revolution – Sudden replacement of an old system by a new one

Secular – Not connected to religion.

Social contract – Theory that individuals join and stay in civil society as if they had signed a contract.

Social democracy – A form of socialism that combines socialist and democratic principles and asserts that socialism must be pursued and implemented peacefully and with respect for democratic freedoms

Socialism – An ideology that argues that citizens are best served by policies focusing on meeting the basic needs of the entire society rather than by policies focusing on serving the needs of individuals as individuals; socialism draws on diverse traditions and can be applied in a Marxist–Leninist fashion as well as in a social democratic fashion

Socialism – Economic system of government ownership of industry, allegedly for good of whole society; opposite of capitalism.

Socialization – The learning of culture

Sociological cleavages – A process in which voting decisions are affected by membership in certain groups

Sovereignty – A national government’s being boss on its own turf

State – Government structures of a nation. A set of offices with security, extractive, allocative, and final rule-defining authority

State autonomy – A pattern of government– interest group relations in which governments originate policy on their own, rather than responding to interest group pressures

State corporatism – Government coordination of interest groups and governmental inclusion of interest groups into the formal governing process in such a manner as to facilitate government control over interest groups to such an extent that the groups serve the government

State of nature – Humans before civilization.

Statism – Economic system of state ownership of major industries to enhance power and prestige of state; a precapitalist system.

Status quo – Keeping the present situation.

Subculture – A minority culture within the mainstream culture.

Superstructure – Marx’s term for everything that is built on top of the economy (laws, art, politics, etc.).

Survey – A public opinion poll.

Terrorism – Political use of violence to weaken a hated authority.

Thesis – A main idea or claim, to be proved by evidence.

Third parties – Minor parties; parties lacking the capacity to capture a plurality of votes

Totalitarian – Political system in which the state attempts total control of its citizens.

Traditionalists – Traditionalists subscribe to traditionalism, a perspective in political science that seeks to understand politics by examining laws, governmental offices, constitutions, and other official institutions associated with politics and to describe how institutions operate through formal rules and publicly sanctioned procedures; an alternative to behavioralism and postbehavioralism

Transparency – Political money and transactions open to public scrutiny

Unitary states – Unitary states that concentrate power at the central, or national, level of government

Weak state – One unable to govern effectively, corrupt and penetrated by crime.

Weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – Nuclear, chemical, and bacteriological weapons.

Welfare dependency – Stuck on welfare with no incentive to get off.

Welfare state – Economic system of major government redistribution of income to poorer citizens.

Zeitgeist – German for “spirit of the times”; Hegel’s theory that each epoch has a distinctive spirit, which moves history along.

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