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Understanding political ideas and movements

A guide for A2 politics students

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

In liberal democracies there is a belief that citizens ought to take an active interest in what is happening in the political world. Political debate in modern Western democracies is a complex and often rowdy affair. There are three fundamental political issues: 'politics', 'power' and 'justice', which feature in almost all political discussions and conflicts. The book assesses the degree to which the state and state sovereignty are disappearing in the modern world of 'globalised' politics, economics and culture and new international institutions. The main features of the nation and the problems of defining it are outlined: population, culture, history, language, religion, and race. Different types of democracy and their most important features are discussed. 'Freedom' is usually claimed to be the prime objective of political activity. The book discusses equality of human rights, distributional equality, equality before the law, the claims for group equality on the grounds of race, gender, class. Rights, obligations and citizenship are closely associated. Ideology is the driving force of political discourse. The book also discusses nationalism's growth and development over the last two centuries with particular reference to its main features and assumptions. It outlines the development of conservatism as a political ideology and movement in Britain during the last two centuries. An overview of liberalism, socialism, Marxism, anarchism, and Fascism follows. Environmentalism and feminism are also discussed. Finally, the book talks about how ideological change occurs and stresses the importance of rationality in politics.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

This chapter discusses the concept of the nation first in general terms and then in relation to the nations of the United Kingdom (UK). The United Kingdom has great difficulty in being identified as a 'nation-state'. For most of its people there are two competing 'national' identities: 'British', associated with the UK, and 'English', 'Welsh', 'Scottish', and in Northern Ireland 'Loyalist British' and 'Irish'. The problem of nation and national identity can be investigated through a study of Northern Ireland, where issues of national and state identity have contributed to the political crisis. The chapter focuses on some features associated with the nation, identifying cultural and political aspects of nationhood: nation and state; race and nation; language and the nation; religion and national identity; government and nation; common historical and cultural ties; and a sense of 'nationhood'.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

Most people have some idea of what the word 'freedom' means, and most approve of it. This chapter examines the term more closely, exploring such themes as freedom of opinion, freedom under the law and economic freedom. It presents brief summaries of the ideas of a number of political philosophers on the subject. The chapter analyses the views of John Stuart Mill and Isaiah Berlin on 'negative' and 'positive' freedom. It focuses on the central issue of freedom and the state, concentrating on three major areas of dispute: conscientious objection, state acquisition of private property, civil disobedience and terrorism. The chapter concludes with some observations on the cultural environment conducive to freedom and reflects on the problems of freedom in the modern world.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

This chapter focuses on 'liberal democracy', and examines the idea of democracy as 'the sovereign people' governed by consent. It explores arguments for and against democracy, and some reflections on the future of democracy in the twenty-first century. The chapter identifies a number of features of democracy. These features include democracy as a system of government, democracy and legitimising government, majority rule and democracy, equality of citizenship rights, public opinion in democracies, and the rule of law and democracy. There are two forms in democracy, including 'defensive democracy' and 'citizen democracy'/'republican democracy'. Defensive democracy sees a tension between citizens and the state, and a distinction between public and private spheres of life. Citizen democracy assumes greater involvement than merely voting with citizens taking an active part in the political system.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

This chapter attempts to examine one's own ideological beliefs, to better understand the role of ideology in politics and society. It examines its relevance to modern history both in Britain and in other parts of the world. The chapter analyses the situation in contemporary Britain and considers whether it can be reasonably asserted that there is an ideological consensus in Britain or whether we are now 'beyond ideology'. It distinguishes between 'dominant ideologies' and 'ideologies of resistance', and also between 'restrictive' and 'relaxed' ideologies. The term 'restrictive ideologies' conjures up the image of rigidity, narrowness and bigotry in the ideological cause. Liberalism, conservatism, socialism, Marxism, fascism and the other ideological traditions and movements all have a recognised body of literature expounding the main tenets of their ideological belief systems.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

This chapter distinguishes a number of varieties of nationalism: liberal, reactionary and radical. It provides a brief history of nationalism from the pre-Renaissance period to the twentieth century. Then the psychological appeal of nationalism is examined, as is its impact on international politics, and on empires and multi-national states. The chapter considers the elements of nationalism: sovereignty of the people; ethnic nationalism and civic nationalism. It identifies a number of stages in the development of nationalism: proto-nationalism; early modern nationalism; nationalism in the age of revolutions; twentieth-century nationalism; and post-Cold War nationalism. The chapter also considers whether nationalism as an ideology serves particular political interests. Nationalism can fulfil a number of political functions such as promoting social change, creating social cohesion, or strengthening the hold of the ruling class. The chapter offers a critique of nationalism and some reflections on its possible future.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

This chapter explores socialism, an ideology that sprang from the industrial revolution and the experience of the class that was its product, the working class. Though a more coherent ideology than conservatism, socialism has several markedly different strands. In order to appreciate these, and the roots of socialism in a concrete historical experience, the chapter also explores its origins and development, giving particular attention to the British Labour Party. Utopian socialism, Marxism, nonconformist Christianity, class struggle, trade unionism, Fabianism, vegetarianism, pacifism and New Liberalism all contributed to the development of British socialism in the form of the Labour Party. The Labour Party is one of the least ideological socialist parties in Europe but, arguably, one that has changed its society the most. The chapter concludes with some reflections on 'Blairism' and the 'Third Way', and the possible future of socialism as an ideology.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

Feminism is one of the most important ideologies to emerge, although its origins can be traced far back into history. This chapter examines its historical roots and discusses the different forms of feminism. Female emancipation requires an analysis of the power relations between men and women in all areas of society. One can see this in a number of areas: sex, gender and 'sexism'; public and private spheres of life; and patriarchy. The chapter focuses on three 'waves' of feminism. The first, of about 1830-1930, was concerned chiefly with legal and political rights. The second, in the 1960s and 1970s, focused on much more fundamental personal and relationship issues. The 'third wave' in the last decade or so has been essentially a reflection on and reappraisal of what has been achieved. The chapter identifies four major strands of feminist thinking: liberal feminism; socialist feminism; conservative feminism; and radical feminism.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

Events have made 'fascism' a term of political abuse rather than one of serious ideological analysis. Moreover, self-proclaimed fascists have claimed that fascism is beyond intellectual analysis and have despised those who favour rational examination of their beliefs. Fascism is particularly resistant to rational enquiry, partly because fascists themselves scorn the intellect and partly because it has become a portmanteau term of political abuse. This chapter examines fascist values and the concrete actions of some of the regimes that have declared themselves fascist, notably Adolf Hitler's Germany and Benito Mussolini's Italy. It considers movements often described as fascist in modern Britain and elsewhere and consider whether facism is still a viable political creed. Fascist ideas can be grouped under the following: conflict, struggle and war; non-materialism; irrationalism and anti-intellectualism; nation and race; the leader and the elite; the state and government; and fascist economic and social theory.

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Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

Politics takes place within a framework of ideas and concepts, ideological and religious beliefs, and social and political institutions moulded by the struggles arising from their interplay. This chapter focuses on religion and politics, disabled rights movements, gay rights movements and animal rights movements. Religious identity plays a very important role in the creation of the national identity of most countries. 'Fundamentalism' was originally applied to an approach to religion in which it was assumed that the original purity of the faith had been compromised and that purification by means of a return to the well springs was required. In Europe and particularly in Britain, fundamentalism seems to have virtually no mainstream political impact. Radical secularism and the political pseudo-religions of fascism and communism have created as much misery and death as has religion during the twentieth century.