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A political system is a system of politics and government. It is usually compared to the legal system, economic system, cultural system, and other social systems. However, this is a very simplified view of a much more complex system of categories involving the questions of who should have authority and what the government's influence on its people and economy should be.
Anthropologists generally recognize four kinds of political systems, two of which are uncentralized and two of which are centralized.
- Uncentralized systems
- Band society
- Small family group, no larger than an extended family or clan; it has been defined as consisting of no more than 30 to 50 individuals.
- A band can cease to exist if only a small group walks out.
- Generally larger, consisting of many families. Tribes have more social institutions, such as a chief or elders.
- More permanent than bands. Many tribes are sub-divided into bands.
- Band society
- Centralized governments
- More complex than a tribe or a band society, and less complex than a state or a civilization
- Characterized by pervasive inequality and centralization of authority.
- A single lineage/family of the elite class becomes the ruling elite of the chiefdom
- Complex chiefdoms have two or even three tiers of political hierarchy.
- "An autonomous political unit comprising a number of villages or communities under the permanent control of a paramount chief"
- Sovereign state
- A sovereign state is a state with a permanent population, a defined territory, a government and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states.
- Supranational Political Systems
Supranational political systems are created by independent nations to reach a common goal or gain strength from forming an alliance.
- Empires are widespread states or communities under a single rule. They are characterized by the rulers desire for unanimous religious affiliation or posing as threat for other empires in times of war.* Empires often made considerable progress in ways of democratic structures, creating and building city infrastructures, and maintaining civility within the diverse communities. Because of the intricate organization of the empires, they were often able to hold a large majority of power on a universal level.*
- Leagues are international organizations composed of states coming together for a single common purpose.* In this way leagues are different from empires, as they only seek to fulfill a single goal. Often leagues are formed on the brink of a military or economic downfall. Meetings and hearings are conducted in a neutral location with representatives of all involved nations present.
Political systems do not inherently require the institution of political parties to advance the politics of the political system. Political parties are formed after political systems are put in place.
American political parties
In the case of American politics, Article Two of the United States Constitution, specifically Section I, gives no mention to political parties when describing the presidential election process. It was only after the establishment of the government that the first political parties formed.
George Washington, the first U.S. president was against the establishment of political parties in most circumstances and therefore belonged to no party. In his Farewell Address Washington gives reason for his distrust in political parties, specifically in the newly formed United States. Washington does endorse political parties in some political systems however, specifically monarchies.
Washington was the only President not to be elected through a party oriented election process. Because of this, it is difficult to comment on an America without political party institutions. Washington’s case does point to the original path of the American political system however, one lacking political parties.
Both the U.S. Constitution and Washington provide support for the American political system, a Democracy and Republic, to be founded without political parties. The past has shown this type of system to work well with parties, but nonetheless, these two systems do not require political parties in their institutions.
Over the years the American political system has seen a sharp decline in voter turnout. In 1960, over 63% of the American population cast their presidential votes, whereas by 1996, there were less than 50% of Americans showing up to the polls.
The sociological interest in political systems is figuring out who holds the power in the relationship of the government and its people and how the government’s power is used. There are three types of political systems that sociologists consider.
- In authoritarian governments, the people have no power or representation and it is characterized by absolute or blind obedience to [formal] authority, as against individual freedom and related to the expectation of unquestioning obedience. The elite leaders handle all economic, military, and foreign relations. Dictatorships are examples of authoritarianism.
- Totalitarianism is the most extreme form of authoritarianism because it controls all aspects of life including communication between citizens, censors the media, and threatens by means of terror.
- A monarchy is a government controlled by a king or queen determined by a predisposed line of sovereignty. In the modern world there are two types of monarchies, absolute monarchies and constitutional monarchies. An absolute monarchy works like a dictatorship in that the king has complete rule over his country. A constitutional monarchy gives the royal family limited powers and usually works in accordance with an elected body of officials. Social revolutions of the 18th, 19th, and 20th century overthrew the majority of existing monarchies in favor of a more democratic governments and the rise of the middle class.
- A democracy is a form of government in which the citizens create and vote for laws directly, or indirectly via representatives (representative democracy). The idea of democracy stems back from ancient Greece and the profound works of ancient academics. However, the presence of democracy does not always mean citizen’s wishes will be equally represented. For example, in many democratic countries immigrants, and racial and ethnic minorities do not receive the same rights as the majority citizens.
- Political structure
- Voting system
- Ming Dynasty
- Tractatus Politicus
- Haviland, W.A. (2003). Anthropology: Tenth Edition. Wadsworth:Belmont, CA.
- Almond, Gabriel A., et al. Comparative Politics Today: A World View (Seventh Edition). 2000. ISBN 0-316-03497-5.
- Ferris, Kerry, and Jill Stein. The Real World An Introduction to Sociology. 3rd ed. New York City: W W Norton & Co, 2012. Print.
- "political system". Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica Inc., 2012. Web. 02 Dec. 2012.
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- For further resources on political theory and the mechanics of political system design, see the Governance and Social Development Resource Centre's topic guide on political systems