The European Enlightenment
* Grew out of the Scientific Revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries * Scientific success created confidence in the power of reason, which enlightenment thinkers believed could be applied to human nature in the form of natural laws. * Every social, political, and economic problem could be solved through the use of reason.
Social Contrast Theory
* 17th century English thinkers Thomas Hobbes and John Locke expand notions about the role of government and the relationship of the government to the people by proposing a social contrast theory. * Locke believed that in the “state of nature” people are naturally free and equal, but that freedom led inevitably to inequality and eventually chaos. * Hobbes believed that the “state of nature” changes because humans are basically self-centered. * While Locke agreed with Hobbes on this notion, he also believed that humans could be rational and moral * Locke argued that people have natural rights from the state of nature that include the right to “life, liberty, and property” * In his “Second Treatise of Government,” Locke states that people form governments to protect these natural rights, giving up their freedom to govern themselves through a social contract between government and the governed-this consent creates a social contract. * Locke also believed that if for any reason the government breaks the contract through neglect of natural rights, the people have the right to dissolve the government * Social contract: the belief that people are free and equal by natural right, and that this freedom, in turn, requires that all people give their consent to be governed * Two French political philosophers, Montesquieu and Rousseau also had significant impacts on the theoretical foundations of American government. * Montesquieu in the “Spirit of the Laws” adopted Hobbes’s and Locke’s concepts of the social contract; his most critical contribution was his theory of liberty, which held that governmental power was best when divided into distinct branches that provided a system to check power with power. * Rousseau’s “Social Contract” argued that feeling, not reason, is what draws people to life in a community; he contended that property rights, the freedoms of speech and religion, and other basic rights come from society, not a state of nature.
Democratic Theory: a democracy is a form of government that places ultimate political authority in the hands of the people and has two basic models: direct democracy and representative democracy.
Direct Democracy: in this form of democracy, citizens debate and vote directly on all laws; it requires a high level of participation and is based on a high degree of confidence in the judgment of ordinary people.
Representative Democracy: the Founders chose to establish a republic in which people elect representatives to govern them and to make laws and set policies- this is also referred to as an indirect government.
Elite Theory: holds that a “representative democracy” is not really based on the will of the people, but that there is a relatively small, cohesive elite class that makes almost all the important decisions for the nation Elite theorists argue that the founders believed that a privileged majority should rule in the name of the people with a controlled amount of input from citizens.
Pluralist Theory: the argument that representative democracies are based on group interests that protect the individual’s interests by representing him/her to the government.
Rule by | In whose interest Public | Self |
One | Monarchy | Tyranny (totalitarianism) |
The Few | Aristocracy | Oligarchy |
The Many | Polity | Democracy |
- A democracy is a form of government that places ultimate political authority in the hands of the people - Is a system of selecting policymakers and of organizing government so that policy reflects citizens’ preferences - Is “government by the people”
Traditional Democratic Theory
An idea democratic process should satisfy five criteria:
1. Equality in voting
2. Effective participation
3. Enlightened understanding
4. Citizen control of the agenda
Additionally, democracies must also practice majority rule (policies should reflect the will of over the half the voters) while ensuring minority rules (restraints on the majority should be built into the American system in order to protect the minority).
Modern Theories of Democracy
Pluralism: policymaking is open to the participation of all groups with shared interests
Elitism: contends that our society, like all societies, is divided along class lines and that an upper class elite pulls the strings of government
Hyperpluralism: many competing groups are so ...