POLITICS AND GOVERNMENT IN GLOBAL PERSPECTIVE
is the social institution through which power is acquired and exercised by
some people and groups. Political science primarily focuses on power and the
distribution of power in different types of political systems. By contrast, sociologists
are interested in the nature and consequences of power within or between
societies. As such, they focus on the social circumstances of politics and the
interrelationships between politics and social structures.
In contemporary societies, the primary political system is the government. The
government generally is the largest bureaucratic organization in society. The
primary functions of the government include the arbitration of conflict, the creation
and enforcement of legal norms, the planning and directing of relationships
between institutions, organizations and members within the society, and the
maintenance of relationships with other societies. If each of these five functions are
met, the society will achieve stability and order. Sociologists who are interested in
politics and the exercise of power, often refer to the government as the state.
According to these sociologists, the
is the political entity that possesses a
legitimate monopoly over the use of force within its territory to achieve its goals.
The primary goal of the state is maintaining social order.
Power and Authority
is the ability of persons or groups to achieve their goals despite opposition
from others. Power is a fundamental aspect of all social relationships and a source
of social order. However, social relationships that are based on power usually are
coercive in nature and quite unstable since dominant and subordinate groups in this
situation are, by definition, engaged in a struggle for control. For example, our
government could attempt to maintain order through the power of military force;
however, this relationship would prove to be quite unstable in the long run.
A more stable means to maintain social relationships between dominant and
subordinate groups occurs when each party enters into a social contract that
defines their rights and obligations with respect to the other. In this way, the
subordinate group recognizes, or legitimizes, the dominant group's right to rule. For
example, our government maintains order because the majority of society's
members recognize its right to make decisions and rules, which they agree to
follow. And, in exchange for recognizing this right to rule, we expect our
government to provide us with certain rights such as protecting our property and
person from harm. As long as each group fulfills its obligation in the contract,
dominance and subordinate relationships are legitimated and order is maintained.
Of course, if the relationship breaksdown in a society, the dominant group may rely