Summary of chapter 11
Citizens can participate in politics in a variety of legal ways: conventionally, by voting and taking part in public opinion polls; organizationally, by joining political parties or interest groups; or professionally, by working full time for such organizations. Street demonstrations and economic boycotts are unconventional forms of participation. Illegal participation runs the gamut from nonviolent actions (civil disobedience) to extremely violent acts (terrorism).
Public opinion polls can influence the political process in various ways. Elections, despite inherent limitations, are the democratic way to translate mass preferences into public policy. The two major types of electoral systems are first past the post (found in the United States and Great Britain) and proportional representation (used in most representative democracies). In democratic republics, voters elect legislators, chief executives, and sometimes judges. Forms of direct democracy include referendums, initiatives, and recalls.
Voting rates in the United States are low, especially in midterm elections. Voters are generally ill informed. According to elitist theories, political power is always concentrated in the hands of the few. Madisonian pluralists, who argue that power in democratic societies is diffused, dispute this elitist theory.
Political parties perform several key functions in republics. They facilitate participation, aggregate interests, recruit qualified candidates for office, raise money for political campaigns, and help organize governments by building a national consensus and offering alternatives, especially during the election process. One-party systems are generally associated with authoritarianism. Multiparty systems typically offer voters clearer alternative than do two-party systems. The type of party system found in a given country is determined by its traditions, constitution, and culture.
In modern democracies, interest groups and lobbies play an important role in influencing public policy. Some say they distort the democratic process and serve special interests rather than the public interest. Defenders say they offset one another and ensure a competitive political system.
The Internet has transformed politics. It both facilitates popular participation and places a new control tool in the hands of governments.
Summary of chapter 12
We can classify political leaders who occupy government positions as statesmen, demagogues, or ordinary politicians. Citizen-leaders hold no official office but can exert significant political influence.
Exceptional leaders who display an overriding concern for the public good, superior leadership skills, and keen practical wisdom in times of crisis were long called statesmen; today this term is not considered politically correct in some quarters, so it has fallen into disuse. The lure of fame has been one of the motivating forces for many great leaders. Modern neglect of the concept of statecraft has led some observers to view it as a dying art.
Most prevalent in representative democracies are ordinary politicians. All elected officials must decide whether to exercise positive leadership or merely represent the views of their constituents. According to the delegate theory of democratic representation, politicians should act primarily as conduits for the expressed wishes of the electorate; the trustee theory, by contrast, stresses the importance of independent judgment in political office. Politicians who seek to combine these two concepts of representation are called solons in the text, in honor of the Roman statesman and lawgiver, Solon. The demagogue combines reckless personal ambition, unscrupulous methods, and charismatic appeal. Demagogues are most prevalent in democracies, and their fall is often as sudden and spectacular as their rise to power.
Citizen-leaders combine dedication to a cause, personal ability or magnetism, and opposition to governmental policy (or established practice). They inspire others and attract a sympathetic following, frequently on a worldwide scale. They exert a moral force generated by the power of the cause they personify.