Course: Intro to Political Science and Comparative Politics 1
Instructor: Tom Hashimoto Date: 26 November, 2009
The concept of government is considered as one of the building blocks in the field of political science. This concept has been often the source for many polemics among domesticpolicy actors and foreign-policy ones. Also this concept has served as an incentive for many theories to develop over the times. So each theory has tried to give the most appropriate approach to the definition of government, but somehow we have to keep in mind that the theories in the sphere of the political science, unlike the natural sciences, emerge after the happening of political events, such as revolutions, wars, elections, turnovers, or other events that surround the politics (deLespinasse, 1990). This means that the definition of government is in a continuing change because of many internal (inside the political processes) and external factors. Also many debates among philosophers and active politicians are made due to the normative analyze of this concept. What should the government be? Which government is the best? Do we really need a government? So, as we might understand, government is a notion that arises many questions. Therefore, the scope of this paper stands in trying to analyze this concept in different perspectives. The first point deals with the question: how normative can the concept of Government be? So, analyzing the concept in a normative way means to identify all the characteristics it should own in order to be considered a value for the society, rather than just an imposed
element. Empirically speaking, government can be considered as an entire system in which there are embodied many institutions that altogether manage to run and supervise over a territory, people and assets. Gerry Stoker, a professor of Political Science in the Department of Government, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, gives this definition about the term, â€œGovernment is characterized by its ability to make decisions and its capacity to enforce them. In particular, government is understood to refer to the formal and institutional processes which operate at the level of the nation state to maintain public order and facilitate collective actionâ€? (Stoker,1998). Such positive statements cannot be segregated by the normative ones. What should a government be? So, government should be viewed as a legitimate authority responsible for ensuring safety, liberty and common good for all the people it governs upon. The government should protect the rights of all citizens by establishing and enforcing laws. Actually the government is the authority who makes the rules and the laws. But, each government should provide a set of rules and regulations which look after the common interests of its citizens. The government should be established by legitimate sources, which means that the government should be accepted widely by the governed. We can understand that the government is more than just an authoritative system--it is a value. So the government itself can be considered as a benign outcome of the efforts of the people in providing the common welfare. So far, we discussed whether the government was a value or not. But is it a necessary value? Nowadays, it doesnâ€™t exist any state or nation without a government. This is an empirical proof about the importance of having a government. The government provides such benefits that the individuals cannot obtain by themselves, such the justice system, police or the army. In the absence of an
army, everyone would be allowed to carry a gun and defend him/herself. But of course, this would cause a total chaos and would put in risk the lives of all people. Moreover, imagine how the economy would function without a government. From one side, people would be released from the obligation of paying taxes, but the loss is greater. Who would mind to build the roads? If there is a fire on your house, who would you call for help? So the government is an instrument for fulfilling the needs that people cannot guarantee by themselves, or let’s say that the outcome is more efficient if organized together. Last, the most important thing that a government ensures is the justice system. In the absence of a government, our life would be in continuing danger. Who would you refer to if you get fired unfairly? Who would you refer to if someone breaks into your house for robbery? Normatively speaking, the government is a fair and non-profitable authority, thus it is the only one who can exercise the right of judging people, according to the laws. I don’t think there is anyone who wants to be judged by a profitable private institution! So, the government is a normative concept and also an inevitable actor of the society. How has the concept changed its meaning over time? The notions of government and governance have not been the same as recently. Many theories have emerged and altered over time. This because even the framework, in which government function, has changed. What has mostly been changed over time is the reason for why establishing a government. In the Ancient Times, it was argued that governments were established to enforce the will of the strong and dominate the weak. As an example could serve the dialogue between the Athenians and Melians during the Peloponnesian War. The Athenians said: “…the strong do what they can and the
weak suffer what they must” (Thucydides). So the only source of power for the government was the capability to govern over as many territories as possible, thus expanding their authority beyond the boarder. The theory illustrating better that strategy was Anarchism. Anarchist support the idea of the “state of nature”, which means that each state has to worry only for the further existence and its preservation (Nye, 2007). According to the “anarchy style” of government, it implies that there is no government at all. Then in the Middle Ages, government was embodied with the religious power. The main tool that the pseudo-government used to control people and to provide widely the civil obedience was some kind of religious brainwashing. That is why the mediaeval is called the Dark Ages. Lately, other ideology emerged and therefore the concept of government was further elaborated. According to Conservatorism, the functions of a government are: exercise positive power to make possible the upstage of order over chaos, establish laws and rules to avoid war punish the bad ones and rewarding moral virtue (anarchistnews.org). So Conservatorism’s main scope is to maintain order and peace, because the human nature is imperfect, that is why they argue against rationalism. Michael Oakeshott, a twentieth-century conservative, asserts, “A rationalist stands for independence of mind on all occasions, for thought free from obligation to any authority save the authority of reason” (Garner, pg126, 2008). Liberalism is another branch of ideology which gives a different explanation to the concept of government. The main element in the center of their ideology is the human rights. They pretend that the natural rights of human beings should be protected by the government. In the modern theories, the governments are created by the people in order to provide them with communal needs, which cannot be provided merely by individualistic effort.
In the center of these theories stands the notion of social contract, which means that the relationship between the government and the people is regulated through a constitution and a set of laws (anarchistnews.org). Both government and people have to put up with this contract. Each of the ideologies mentioned above advocate a different form of government, such as communism, socialism, democracy, which will be analyzed below. So, how is government different in different countries and why? Nowadays there are no two identical types of government. Even within the same range, for example democratic countries do exist differences. Matt Andrews, assistant professor in Harvard Kennedy School of Government, maintains that, â€œGood government means different things in different countriesâ€? (Andrews, 2008). This means that the government gets established according to a governing contextual. The economic challenges, demographic realities and socio-political structures are all elements that shape the form and content of a government. But what are some of the main types of government and how are they incorporated into some countries? One form is dictatorship, which means rule by a single leader who has not been elected and may use force to keep control. For example, the military dictatorship means that the army is the one who has the power. Usually there is little or no attention to public opinion or individual rights. Iraq, for example, was a dictatorial state. A totalitarian state, such as China, is ruled by a single political party. People are forced to do what the government tells them. Then, a republic is led by representatives of the voters. Each is individually chosen for a set period of time, for example the USA. Albania is a parliamentary republic, meaning that people elect their representatives by voting. The parliament is formed and it is considered to be legitimate.
How can this concept be understood scientifically? So far, we have made a travel among different times and among different philosophies that give definitions about the government. But if we apart from the philosophic circle, we can find a way in analyzing the government more scientifically. So the question stands: Is the government a process, an input or an output of social dynamics? In my opinion government can be considered even as an input or an output or a process itself, depending in which point you see it and in which context you put it. First, if we consider as inputs the demands of people for having an authority that would look after their interests and defend their rights, then the output is the government. So the government is not created in vain, but it comes out as a result of people’s needs and by people’s choices. For example people vote, elect, protest, and decide about the form of the government that suits them best or in some countries they have the right of the referendum. These are all processes that lead to the formation of the government. On the other hand, government can be considered as a process itself, which objective is to provide what people want. Many actors working in the governmental institutions are responsible for producing outputs, such laws, and policies. Now the final one--can the government be considered as an input and if yes, in which context? I think that the government is an important input in the international processes. Let’s explain it with the example of the football game. So to judge if the game is fair or not, it is the main referee. Its role is to observe the game, to see if the rules are respected and also to punish the rule breakers. Then there are the side-referees, whose role is to inform the main referee about any unfair movement that escaped his eyes. But the side-referees don’t have the right to judge. Then, there is FIFA’s highest authority that has the right to judge both the players and the referees. Now let’s see how
the football match serves as symbolism for the political sciences. The main referee represents the domestic governments. So each state is led by a certain type of government, whose duty is to make sure that the laws are respected, therefore it sanctions whoever breaks them. The sidereferees represent the NGOs, who try to observe and control how the government is accomplishing its roles and if it is looking after the people’s benefit and interest. The FIFA’s highest authority represents the international organizations that control the domestic governments. So the government serves as an incentive or input for the establishment of this whole system made by NGOs, international organizations, international law, international supreme courts, which all have the purpose in observing the processes of each domestic government and regulating the foreign policy. Who is the performer of this concept and why? Well, in the case of the government, we cannot give a clear-cut answer. It depend what type the government is, what philosophical strategy it lays upon and what are the sources of its legitimacy. Let’s take the two extremes-democracy and dictatorship. In a democracy, people are the ones who exercise the power to govern themselves. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people”. So the main actors in a democratic government are the people, who elect some representatives to perform their will. In a dictatorship, the government is in the hands of only one person or an autocratic group, which own total power in the three branches, so they make the rules, exercise them and judge them. The interests of the people are not taken into account, thus the government do not reflect the will of people. So the dictatorial government oppresses people in order to maintain their obedience. Thus, force is the source of their
“legitimacy”. But in the real political context, it is difficult to find these governments in their pure form. This means, for example, that democracy is not exercised as it is supposed to be. Let’s take the example of the US, which alternates the form of democracy with the plutocracy. Plutocracy is considered to be a form of government in which there is an elite group that rule in their interest (“Description of”, 2002). Of course, US represent a democratic government, as far as the people are free to vote and express their will. But this duopoly partial system is often a fight between elites, which aim to have the power and then rule according to their interest. Thus the usual outcome of a democracy is not really expressed, because according to the elitism (dominance of elites) the government is the duty of those who are superior in intellect, social status or financial status. Plato, a philosopher, is the main advocate of elitism (answers.com). In conclusion, analyzing the concept of government requires a good knowledge in history, philosophy and political science. But this paper answered some of the questions about how normative this concept can be by listing some of the duties the government ought to do. Then, it provides some evidence how the concept has changed over time, by introducing some philosophical theories. Moreover, it analyzed some of the types of government in different causes, by trying to give an explanation why these differences occur. Then it makes a scientific description of the government by comparing it with the football match, which served as a symbolism. Finally, it concludes by introducing some examples of what the performers of the concept can be. However, the concept of government is very related to other political concepts such as freedom, justice, balance of power etc. Because government influences and gets influenced by other political factors, it is a continuing changing concept.
References Stoker, G. (1998). Governance as theory: five propositions. Retrieved from http://www.robertoigarza.files.wordpress.com/2009/04 (2006, September). What is government and why do we need it? Message posted to anarchistnews.org (2002). Descriptions of governments can be based on. Retrieved from http://www.stutzfamily.com/mrstutz/WorldAffairs/typesofgovt.html Joseph, N. (2007). Understanding international conflicts: An introduction to theory and history, New York: Pearson Longman. Andrew, M. (2008). Good government means different things in different countries. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the APSA 2008 Annual meeting, Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, Retrieved from http://www.allacademic.com/meta/p279355_index.html Garner, R., Ferdinand, P.,& Lawson, S. (2008). Introduction to politics. Oxford University Press. deLespinasse, P. (1990). Basic political concepts, Retrieved from globaltext.terry.uga.edu/userfiles/pdf/political%20concepts.pdf
What do we understand by government, a theoretical and analytical approach