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Power, Politics, and Government



Power, the ability to impose one's own goals, needs, values, and interests on others, is a major factor in the structure of a society. Those in power can achieve their goals despite resistance from others. Access to power determines many factors of everyday life, including access to resources, life experiences, and even life and death. Power in most societies is given a legitimate form, called authority, generally wielded by governments. Politics can be understood in several ways. In one sense, politics refers to the activities of running a country, state, city, or other administrative division of a society. The activities and structures of governments are at the heart of politics. More broadly, political behavior involves the attempt to gain power or to convince those who hold power to make certain choices. Political choices and behavior are part of how individuals and groups can try to advance an agenda, a plan that is based on a particular ideology or set of values. Power, politics, and government are closely connected in all societies. Sociologists offer several models of power, including how power is gained, the impact of power, and the relation of power and politics. In the United States, a central question in politics is how power should be distributed and especially how much influence should be allowed for powerful interests such as the military and large corporations. Terrorism and militarism are also issues connected to power, politics, and government. Terrorism involves violence linked to political goals. Militarism also includes violence for political purposes. Both terrorism and militarism are related to a desire for power.

At A Glance

  • Power is the ability of individuals or groups to impose their goals, needs, values, and interests on others.
  • Authority is a type of power granted by society and exercised over people; members of society recognize and accept authority as legitimate.
  • The Marxist model of power explains politics in terms of the operation of a society's economic system.
  • Pluralism describes power as spread throughout society among many competing interest groups, resulting in an overall balance of power.
  • The power elite model describes power as concentrated among a few elite members of corporations, the military, and the government.
  • The military-industrial complex refers to the conjunction of federal funding, the military, and businesses that work with and supply the military.
  • Policies that favor investment in the military can impact investment in other areas, such as education and health care.
  • Social and cultural beliefs, values, and traditions shape policies on military intervention.
  • Terrorism is violence linked to political ideas and goals.
  • A country's level of militarism is highly correlated with its tendency to exert power in multiple spheres on the global stage.