Political Power and Governance Systems

A political system is a cultural universal and a social institution formed in every society. Each society must have a political system because politics is deciding who gets what, when and how.

Power is at the heart of a political system, for it is defined as the ability to exercise one's will over others. Power relations can involve large organizations, small groups, or even people in an intimate association.

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 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 political position because of the newspaper editorial, an expert testimony, or a stirring speech at a rally by a political activist.

The term authority refers to power that has been institutionalized andisrecognized by the people over whom it is exercised. Sociologists commonly use this term in connection with those who hold legitimate power through elected or publicly acknowledged positions. Each society establishes a political system by which it is governed. In modern industrial societies there are five basic types of government: 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, or a queen. At present, monarchs hold true governmental power in only a few nations, such as Monaco. Most monarchs have little practical power and primarily serve ceremonial purposes.

Oligarchy is a form of government in which a few individuals rule. Today, it usually takes the form either of military rules, like in the developing nations of Africa, Asia and Latin America, or of a ruling group as is the case with the Communist Parties of some countries in Europe and Asia.

A dictatorship is a government in which one person has nearly total power to make and enforce laws. Typically, dictators seize power by force and are usually bitterly hated by the population over whom they rule with an iron hand.

Frequently, dictatorships develop such overwhelming control over people's lives that they are called totalitarian. Totalitarianism involves complete governmental control over all aspects of social and political life in a society. Both Nazi Germany under Hitler and the Soviet Union after the October Revolution are classified as totalitarian states.

Political scientists have identified six basic characteristics of a totalitarian state: 1) large-scale use of ideology; 2) one-party system; 3) control of weapons; 4) terror; 5) control of the media; 6) control of the economy. Through such methods totalitarian governments have complete control over people's destinies.

In a literal sense, democracy means government by the people. The word «democracy» is originated in two Greek roots — «demos», meaning «the common people», and «kratia», meaning «rule». Of course, it would be impossible for all the people of a country to vote on every important issuethat comesabout. Consequently, democracies are generally maintained through a mode of participation known as representative democracy, in which certain individuals are selected to speak for the people.

Each society has its own ways of governing itself and making decisions, and each generation must be encouraged to accept a society's basic political values and its particular methods of decision making.




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