A guide for A2 politics students
Series: Understandings
Authors: 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.

Open Access (free)
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.

in Understanding political ideas and movements
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.

in Understanding political ideas and movements
Open Access (free)
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.

in Understanding political ideas and movements
Open Access (free)
Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

Conservatism is one of the major intellectual and political strains of thought in Western culture. Originating as something of a 'reaction' to the radical, liberal and, later, socialist movements during the early period of industrialisation in Britain and Europe, conservatism remains a powerful ideological force in Western societies. This chapter explores conservatism from its intellectual and cultural roots in the eighteenth century to developments in the early twenty-first century. Considerable attention is given to the historical experiences of conservative parties, especially in Britain, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, experiences that have been at least as significant in the development of conservative ideology as particular individual thinkers. The chapter emphasises conservative themes such as patriotism, freedom under the law, order, hierarchy, discipline, inequality and traditional institutions.

in Understanding political ideas and movements
Open Access (free)
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.

in Understanding political ideas and movements
Open Access (free)
Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

Liberalism has become the dominant ideology at the start of the third millennium. This chapter traces the origins of liberalism back to the late seventeenth century and the political turmoil in England that followed the civil wars of the middle of the century. It outlines and discusses the main themes of 'classical' and 'New' liberalism. The key themes include the individual and his/her rights; an optimistic view of human nature; a belief in progress; a commitment to freedom; limited government; the economy and liberalism; and a commitment to internationalism. The limitations of British liberalism began to become evident just before the First World War and it was almost eclipsed during the inter-war period. The chapter discusses the apparent renaissance of liberalism that followed the collapse of Soviet communism during the late 1980s and the apparent triumph of liberal capitalist democracy on a global scale.

in Understanding political ideas and movements
Open Access (free)
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.

in Understanding political ideas and movements
Open Access (free)
Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

This chapter explores the term 'equality', defined in two ways: first, that which concerns equality as a starting point to life; second, equality as an outcome. It considers equality before the law, equal political rights and equal social rights. The chapter examines individual and group equality, and equality in terms of the class structure and international relations. It discusses the position of 'equality': has its value decreased in general esteem because of the almost universal acceptance of liberal capitalism and its emphasis on 'freedom' as the prime political and social goal. The chapter presents some anti-egalitarian arguments against the idea of foundational equality and some of the relevant egalitarian retorts. The two major areas governed by distributional equality are equality of opportunity and equality of outcome. The chapter focuses on the concept of 'group rights' to tackle these forms of inequality in society: gender equality; racial equality; and class equality.

in Understanding political ideas and movements
Kevin Harrison and Tony Boyd

This chapter considers the development of the concept of 'rights' as being intrinsic to human beings because they are human. It focuses on various kinds of rights: 'natural' and 'human' rights; legal rights; civil rights; and welfare rights. The chapter analyses the idea of 'obligation' or 'duty', notably the obligations the citizen is said to owe to society and to the government. It examines various theories of such obligation. The obligations include moral obligations; legal obligations; civic obligations; and social obligations. The chapter looks at the fashionable idea of 'citizenship', and the various ways in which the term is used. It is a word capable of multiple meanings: legal citizenship; sociological citizenship; and participatory citizenship. The chapter reflects upon the implications of the British government's promotion of 'citizenship'.

in Understanding political ideas and movements