American Government Ch. 1 Notes

U.S. Government

Foundations 1

Essential Features of a State

n    Population, the most obvious essential feature of a state.

n    An area with fixed boundaries.

n    Sovereignty, or absolute authority, within its territorial boundaries.

n    A government which maintains order, provides public services, and enforces decisions that its people must obey.


Theories of the Origin of the State

n    The state evolved from the family group.

n    One person or a group used force to establish its authority to govern the people.

n    The rulers of the people were chosen by the gods to govern.

n    The people gave the government its power to rule them, and in return the government had to respect the people’s rights.

The Purposes of Government

n    maintain social order by making and enforcing laws.

n    provide essential services for people, such as promoting public health and safety.

n    protect people from attack by other states and from internal threats such as terrorism.

n    pass laws that shape and control the nation’s economy in various ways.

Government Systems

n    Unitary system: gives all key powers to the national or central government.

n    Federal system: divides the powers of government between the national government and state or provincial governments.

Constitutions and Government

n    A constitution is a plan that provides the rules for government.

n    Whether written or unwritten, a constitution organizes the structure of government and the way it operates.

n    Constitutions set out the goals and purposes of government as well as the ideals shared by the people.

n    Constitutions provide the supreme law for states and their governments.

Politics and Government

n    Politics is the effort to control or influence the policies and actions of government.

n    Individuals and groups use politics to seek benefits from government.

n    Although special interest groups seek special benefits, politics also provides benefits for all the people.

Governing in a Complex World

n    The world today is divided into industrialized nations, developing nations, and newly industrialized nations.

n    These groups of nations have many differences, but they are interdependent in many ways.

n    Other groups besides nations, including multinational corporations, political movements, terrorist groups and international organizations, are important in today’s world.

Major Types of Government

n    classified according to who governs the state.

n    Autocracy, dictatorship or absolute monarchy, power and authority reside in a single individual.

n    Oligarchy, small group holds power in the government.

n    Democracy, the people hold the sovereign power of government.

Characteristics of Democracy

n     Government works to secure an equal opportunity for people to develop their own abilities.

n     Government is based on majority rule through the people’s elected representatives, but respects the rights of minorities.

n     Government is based on free and open elections in which every citizen has the right to an equally weighted vote

n     Political parties choose candidates for office, respect the voters’ decisions in elections, and act as loyal opposition.

The Soil of Democracy

n    Citizens who participate fully in civic life.

n    Stable, growing economies with a large middle class.

n    A public school system.

n    A strong civil society with voluntary organizations (including economic groups, religious groups, and many others) existing independent of government.

n    The people accept democratic values such as individual liberty and equality for all.

The Role of Economic Systems

n    Economic systems make decisions about what goods and services should be produced, how they should be produced, and who gets them.

n    Capitalism

n    based on free enterprise, or individual economic choices.

n    Capitalism developed gradually in medieval and early modern Europe.

n    The U.S. has a capitalist economy, but government plays a role.

n    Government’s role in the U.S. economy has increased since the early 1900s.

n    Today the U.S. has a mixed market economy, incorporating both free enterprise and government regulation of business and industry.

n    Socialism

n    Government owns the basic means of production, plans the use of resources, distributes many products and wages, and provides basic social services.

n    Socialism developed in Europe during the nineteenth century.

n    Some socialists favored taking over the government by means of revolution, while other socialists believed in democratic socialism, in which economic conditions change peacefully and people have some freedoms and rights.

n    Socialist governments have taken power in several countries; however, critics argue that this economic system fails to solve most economic problems.

n    Communism

n    based on the nineteenth-century ideas of Karl Marx, who argued that capitalism exploited workers to benefit a small group of capitalists who controlled the economy.

n    Marx predicted workers would eventually rise in a violent revolution, which would result in government ownership of all means of production and distribution; when all property was held in common, there would be no need for government.

n    In communist nations, government makes all economic decisions; owns the land, natural resources, industry, banks, and transportation system; and controls all mass communication.