HGov: Chapter 1 American Political Culture – Seeking a More Perfect Union


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Contemporary American government is placed in historical perspective. The value of political science in examining the development of American politics since the country’s earliest years is examined briefly, and concepts such as power, pluralism, and constitutionalism that are central to the study of government and politics are also assessed. In addition, the value of political thinking and the ability of political science to help develop political thinking are discussed. Several comparisons between the cultural development of political institutions and financial systems of the United States and Europe are made to help illustrate the different forms of government and economic organization. The main points of this chapter are as follows:

  • The development of political thinking is important for functioning democracies, which rely on the informed choices of citizens for the formation of government. There are powerful barriers to political thinking, such as individual unwillingness to develop it, changing patterns of media consumption, and “spin” by political leaders. Political science is a discipline that can help develop political thinking among students and also lead to a fuller understanding of political phenomena.
  • Politics is the process through which a society settles its conflicts. Those who win in political conflict are said to have power, and those leaders that have gained the legitimacy to use that power have authority. The play of politics in the United States takes place in the context of democratic procedures, constitutionalism, and the free market system. Theorists differ in explaining how power is wielded, using elements of majoritarianism, pluralism, corporate power, and elite rule as explanatory models.
  • Politics in the United States is characterized by a widespread sharing of power through a highly fragmented governing system with extensive checks and balances, a high degree of pluralism, and an extraordinary emphasis on individual rights.

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Having read Chapter 1, you should be able to do each of the following:

  1. Describe the importance of political thinking in a democracy and the current barriers to political thinking among the public.
  2. Describe the discipline of political science and how it can contribute to political thinking.
  3. Explain the nature of politics in the U.S. and how it is a struggle for power among competing groups and interests.
  4. Discuss how the culture of individualism developed in the S. and how it has affected some public issues like taxation or social welfare policy.
  5. Discuss the major rules of American politics: democracy, constitutionalism, and the free market system, and why rules are necessary in politics.
  6. Explain differing theories of political power, including majoritarianism, pluralism, corporate power, and elitism, and how they may undercut the ideals of democracy in the S.
  7. Discuss the nature of the free market system in the S. and how it compares to European and other economic systems.

Homework:
Chapter 1 Quiz I on Monday Sept. 14

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