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CPW4U1 Unit 1

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on April 12, 2010 at 11:05:47 am



Lesson 1:  Introduction 

To begin, how do we define "politics"? 


The word has its origin in the Greek language, as one of the earliest thinkers in the subject of politics was the Greek philosopher Plato.


the Greek city-state was known as a polis

the citizens of those city-states were known as polites

the word politikos was used to describe things "civic" or things "related to citizens or the city"


For Plato and Aristotle, politics was all about civic engagement - people being engaged in the place where they lived and actively involved in the decisions that needed to be made.  Politics was all about improvement of society and contributing positively to their community for the benefit of all.  A happy, flourishing place leads to happy, flourishing residents.  Just like politics today, right?


That leaves us with an understanding that politics is something about people, government, and their relationship.  From what was learned in grade 10 Civics, you likely understand that government provides a decision-making structure for decisions that involve large groups of people.  The form this government takes, how leadership is organized, and the role of the population in decision-making can vary greatly from place to place, but they are all aspects of politics


The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Politics as:


Main Entry: pol·i·tics

Pronunciation: \ˈpä-lə-ˌtiks\

Function: noun plural but singular or plural in construction

Etymology: Greek politika, from neuter plural of politikos political

Date: circa 1529

1 a : the art or science of government b : the art or science concerned with guiding or influencing governmental policy c : the art or science concerned with winning and holding control over a government

2 : political actions, practices, or policies

3 a : political affairs or business; especially : competition between competing interest groups or individuals for power and leadership (as in a government) b : political life especially as a principal activity or profession c : political activities characterized by artful and often dishonest practices  [this seems very different from Plato's view!!]

4 : the political opinions or sympathies of a person

5 a : the total complex of relations between people living in society b : relations or conduct in a particular area of experience especially as seen or dealt with from a political point of view <office politics> <ethnic politics>


According to Plato and Aristotle, governments could be classified the following ways:


Government Type



Rule by one

Monarchy (a ruler who rules for the common good within the laws of the polis)

Tyranny (a ruler who rules for private interest outside of any legal framework)

Rule by few

Aristocracy (a small group of the nobility or the wealthy hold and exercise political power under law, for the common good)

Oligarchy (a small group who rules for its own interests)

Rule by many

Polity (government in the hands of the many when political power is exercised within a constitutional framework that prevented the oppression of minorities)

Democracy (a type of mob rule, with the rule of the many outside of any legal structure)




(i) Can you think of modern examples of the types of governments included in Plato's and Aristotle's classification of governments (known as a "typology") above?  Write your answers in the comments section below.


(ii) Read Formal and Informal Politics (pages 4 and 5 of the textbook).  In the comments section below, explain how formal and informal politics are different.


(iii) Read Divisions of Government (pages 5 and 6 of the textbook).  Design a chart that defines the roles of the three branches of government.  Post it in the Canadian Politics Assignments folder.


Political Science


What is political science?

Political science is the systematic study of government and politics.  It can include the study of politics in individual countries (at the local, regional, or national level), comparisons of the government systems of different countries, and the field of international relations.  Political science also examines "the impact of religion, nationalism, and other belief systems on human actions" and "the impact of economic development and of major events on citizens and governments." (textbook, page 7)


In the Enlightenment period (the 17th and 18th centuries), three political thinkers presented theories that still encourage much debate among political scientists today about the purpose of government and the relationship between the governing and the governed.


(i) Thomas Hobbes - He argued that  human beings exist in a state of constant warfare and need to surrender their freedoms to a powerful ruler in exchange for peace and the rule of law.  (click here for more information on Hobbes' absolutism)


(ii) John Locke - He argued that people have certain natural rights (such as life, liberty, property) and that people make a contract with the government to maintain order and protect them.  If the government fails in its task, the people can replace the government.  (click here for more information on Locke's constitutionalism)


(iii) Jean-Jacques Rousseau - He argued that people are born innocent and then corrupted by society.  The social contract between the governed and the ruler that had existed needed in most societies needed to be replaced by one that protected the rights, liberty, and equality of all, not just the few.  The new contract would be between the people themselves, not with a ruler. (click here for more information on Rousseau's social contract)


Other important thinkers that influenced political science in the 18th century were Adam Smith and Baron de Montesquieu.  Their writings do not discuss the relationship between the ruler and the people, but about the purpose and organization of government instead.  Smith argued in The Wealth of Nations that the purpose and scope of government should be limited, such as defence of the country, and not involved in the economy.  Montesquieu wrote about how government powers should be balanced and separated to prevent tyranny in The Spirit of Laws.  




(i) Read New Disciplines and Modern Political Science (pages 10 and 11 of the textbook).  In the comments section below, summarize some of the questions and issues being raised in modern political science.


(iii) Read Political Ideals and Political Realities (pages 11 and 12 of the textbook).  In the comments section below, briefly explain the difference between the real and the ideal in politics.


(iii) Niccolo Machiavelli is briefly mentioned in the textbook on page 8.  Research Machiavelli and his book The Prince and write a short paragraph describing his contribution to political science.  Do you think his advice to rulers was positive? accurate?


Lesson 2:  Political Power and Authority


Part One:  Political Power


What is political power?


According to the textbook, "political power is the ability of those in authority to induce members of the polis to do what they want them to do." 


Political influence, on the other hand, is different.  One may not have the direct authority to make political change, but they attempt to influence decision making.  Individuals or groups may have more or less political influence than the general public, but all play a role in influencing the decisions of those in authority.


There are three kinds of authority that will be looked at in this lesson:

(i)   traditional authority

(ii)  legal authority

(iii) autocratic authority


Form of Authority

How the leader is chosen



Traditional Authority

The authority has been inherited from a parent or relative.

-believed to be divinely selected

-modern monarchies wield very little real power

The British monarchy

Legal Authority

A set of laws creates a framework for the exercise of power.  In the past, power was inherited, but today, most leaders are elected.

-the Magna Carta (signed in 1215 C.E.) established limits to a rulers power

-many countries today have constitutions that describe powers and responsibilities of the branches of government

The United States

Autocratic Authority

Authority is obtained by the use of force.

-ideological or religious beliefs often form basis of leader’s power

-military support also seen as very important

-may be popular with the public

-while a constitution may exist, leaders not seen as accountable to the law and so are not legitimate





Part Two:  Political Leadership and Political Change


Political leaders attain power and keep it by being charismatic (and appealing emotionally to the public) and by providing the country with clear directions.  In states with legal authority, the normal route for changing leadership is to have an election and to vote a leader out.  An election process should be orderly, reliable, and respected by all parties for it to be seen as legitmate. In monarchial systems, such as a hereditary monarchy, the order of succession (and who will assume leadership) is clearly marked out.  For countries where there has been autocratic rule, there are rearely rules of succession.  This has often left power vacuums where there can be a violent competition for the role of leader, even within the group holding power. 


One violent form of leadership change is a coup d'etat, where an existing government is overthrown to form an autocratic government.  There are countless examples of this form of regime change in the last century in many parts of the world, including a recent example in Kyrgyzstan.



Assignment:  The recent political history of Kyrgyzstan reveals that the state has experienced more than one form of political authority.  Using some of the links below (click on the picture to access the article or weblink) and some of your own research,. in a brief timeline (from 1990 until 2010), list and explain the forms of leadership (and the leaders) that have existed in Kyrgyzstan at the national level.





Canadian and World Politics

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