PHI 2604 The Entitlement Theory of Justice
PHI 2604 The Entitlement Theory of Justice
“The Entitlement Theory of Justice” by Robert Nozick (starting on page 122)
Write a short, objective summary of 250-500 words which summarizes the main ideas being put forward by the author in this selection.
The entitlement theory of justice of Robert Nozick
Nozick’s vision of legitimate state power thus contrasts markedly with that of Rawls and his followers. Rawls argues that the state should have whatever powers are necessary to ensure that those citizens who are least well-off are as well-off as they can be (though these powers must be consistent with a variety of basic rights and freedoms). This viewpoint is derived from Rawls’s theory of justice, one principle of which is that an unequal distribution of wealth and income is acceptable only if those at the bottom are better off than they would be under any other distribution. Nozick’s response to such arguments is to claim that they rest on a false conception of distributive justice: they wrongly define a just distribution in terms of the pattern it exhibits at a given time (e.g., an equal distribution or a distribution that is unequal to a certain extent) or in terms of the historical circumstances surrounding its development (e.g., those who worked the hardest have more) rather than in terms of the nature of the transactions through which the distribution came about. For Nozick, any distribution of “holdings,” as he calls them, no matter how unequal, is just if (and only if) it arises from a just distribution through legitimate means. One legitimate means is the appropriation of something that is unowned in circumstances where the acquisition would not disadvantage others. A second means is the voluntary transfer of ownership of holdings to someone else. A third means is the rectification of past injustices in the acquisition or transfer of holdings. According to Nozick, anyone who acquired what he has through these means is morally entitled to it. Thus the “entitlement” theory of justice states that the distribution of holdings in a society is just if (and only if) everyone in that society is entitled to what he has.
To show that theories of justice based on patterns or historical circumstances are false, Nozick devised a simple but ingenious objection, which came to be known as the “Wilt Chamberlain” argument. Assume, he says, that the distribution of holdings in a given society is just according to some theory based on patterns or historical circumstances—e.g., the egalitarian theory, according to which only a strictly equal distribution of holdings is just. In this society, Wilt Chamberlain is an excellent basketball player, and many teams compete with each other to engage his services. Chamberlain eventually agrees to play for a certain team on the condition that everyone who attends a game in which he plays puts 25 cents in a special box at the gate, the contents of which will go to him. During the season, one million fans attend the team’s games, and so Chamberlain receives $250,000. Now, however, the supposedly just distribution of holdings is upset, because Chamberlain has $250,000 more than anyone else. Is the new distribution unjust? The strong intuition that it is not unjust is accounted for by Nozick’s entitlement theory (because Chamberlain acquired his holdings by legitimate means) but conflicts with the egalitarian theory. Nozick contends that this argument generalizes to any theory based on patterns or historical circumstances, because any distribution dictated by such a theory could be upset by ordinary and unobjectionable transactions like the one involving Chamberlain. Nozick concludes that any society that attempted to implement such a theory would have to intrude grossly on the liberty of its citizens in order to enforce the distribution it considers just. “The socialist society,” as he puts it, “would have to forbid capitalist acts between consenting adults.”
Nozick emphasizes that his vision of the minimal state is inclusive and is compatible with the existence of smaller communities based on varying theories of justice. A group that wished to form a socialist community governed by an egalitarian theory would be free to do so, as long as it did not force others to join the community against their will. Indeed, every group would enjoy the same freedom to realize its own idea of a good society. In this way, according to Nozick, the minimal state constitutes a “framework for utopia.”
Anarchy, State, and Utopia has generated an enormous secondary literature, much of it critical. Unlike Rawls, however, Nozick did not attempt to defend or revise his political views in published work. Nozick’s other books include Philosophical Explanations (1981), The Nature of Rationality (1993), and Invariances: The Structure of the Objective World (2001).
philosophy, (from Greek, by way of Latin, philosophia, “love of wisdom”) the rational, abstract, and methodical consideration of reality as a whole or of fundamental dimensions of human existence and experience. Philosophical inquiry is a central element in the intellectual history of many civilizations.
The subject of philosophy is treated in a number of articles. For discussion of major systems of Eastern philosophy, see Buddhism; Chinese philosophy; Confucianism; Daoism; Hinduism; Indian philosophy; Jainism; Japanese philosophy; Shintō; Sikhism.
For biographies of major Eastern philosophers, see Buddha; Confucius; Dai Zhen; Han Feizi; Laozi; Mencius; Mozi; Nichiren; Nishida Kitarō; Wang Yangming; Xunzi; Zhu Xi.
For historical coverage of Western philosophy, see Western philosophy. For discussion of philosophies associated with the major religious traditions of the West, see Christianity: Christian philosophy; Islam: Islamic philosophy; Judaism: Jewish philosophy.
For discussion of major Western schools, movements, and systems, see atomism; analytic philosophy; Continental philosophy; deconstruction Eleaticism; empiricism; existentialism; idealism; materialism; phenomenology; positivism; postmodernism; pragmatism; rationalism; realism; Scholasticism; skepticism; Stoicism; utilitarianism.
For biographies of major Western philosophers and treatment of their associated movements, see Aristotle and Aristotelianism; René Descartes and Cartesianism; Epicurus and Epicureanism; Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and Hegelianism; Immanuel Kant and Kantianism; Karl Marx and Marxism; Plato and Platonism; Pythagoras and Pythagoreanism.
For discussion of other major Western philosophers, see Peter Abelard; St. Anselm; St. Thomas Aquinas; St. Augustine; Noam Chomsky; Jacques Derrida; Duns Scotus; Michel Foucault; Jürgen Habermas; Martin Heidegger; David Hume; William James; Saul Kripke; Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz; John Locke; John Stuart Mill; Friedrich Nietzsche; Hilary Putnam; Jean-Jacques Rousseau; Bertrand Russell; Jean-Paul Sartre; Socrates; Benedict de Spinoza; Bernard Williams; Ludwig Wittgenstein.
For coverage of the particular branches of Western philosophy, see aesthetics; epistemology; ethics; ideology; logic; metaphysics; philosophical anthropology; philosophy of biology; philosophy of education; philosophy of history; philosophy of language; philosophy of law; philosophy of logic; philosophy of mathematics; philosophy of mind ; philosophy of physics; philosophy of religion; philosophy of science.
political system, the set of formal legal institutions that constitute a “government” or a “state.” This is the definition adopted by many studies of the legal or constitutional arrangements of advanced political orders. More broadly defined, however, the term comprehends actual as well as prescribed forms of political behaviour, not only the legal organization of the state but also the reality of how the state functions. Still more broadly defined, the political system is seen as a set of “processes of interaction” or as a subsystem of the social system interacting with other nonpolitical subsystems, such as the economic system. This points to the importance of informal sociopolitical processes and emphasizes the study of political development.
Traditional legal or constitutional analysis, using the first definition, has produced a huge body of literature on governmental structures, many of the specialized terms that are a part of the traditional vocabulary of political science, and several instructive classifying schemes. Similarly, empirical analysis of political processes and the effort to identify the underlying realities of governmental forms have yielded a rich store of data and an important body of comparative theory. The third definition has inspired much scholarly work that employs new kinds of data, new terms, and some new concepts and categories of analysis. The discussion that follows draws on all three approaches to the study of political systems.
PHI 2604 The Entitlement Theory of JusticeTypologies of government
The most important type of political system in the modern world is the nation-state. The world today is divided territorially into more than 190 countries, in each of which a national government claims to exercise sovereignty—or the power of final authority—and seeks to compel obedience to its will by its citizens. This fact of the world’s political organization suggests the distinction employed in the following section among supranational, national, and subnational political systems.
Supranational political systems
The formation of supranational relationships is a principal result of the division of the world into a number of separate national entities, or states, that have contact with one another, share goals or needs, and face common threats. In some cases, as in many alliances, these relationships are short-lived and fail to result in significant institutional development. In other cases, they lead to interstate organizations and supranational systems. The discussion below examines several types of supranational political systems, together with historical and contemporary examples of each.
Because they are composed of peoples of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds, all empires are ultimately held together by coercion and the threat of forcible reconquest. Imposing their rule on diverse political structures, they are characterized by the centralization of power and the absence of effective representation of their component parts. Although force is thus the primary instrument of imperial rule, it is also true that history records many cases of multiethnic empires that were governed peaceably for considerable periods and were often quite successful in maintaining order within their boundaries. The history of the ancient world is the history of great empires—Egypt, China, Persia, and imperial Rome—whose autocratic regimes provided relatively stable government for many subject peoples in immense territories over many centuries. Based on military force and religious belief, the ancient despotisms were legitimized also by their achievements in building great bureaucratic and legal structures, in developing vast irrigation and road systems, and in providing the conditions for the support of high civilizations. Enhancing and transcending all other political structures in their sphere, they could claim to function as effective schemes of universal order.
In contrast to the empires of the ancient world, the colonial empires of more recent times fell far short of universal status. In part, these modern European empires were made up of “colonies” in the original Greek sense; peopled by immigrants from the mother country, the colonies usually established political structures similar to those of the metropolitan centre and were often able to exercise a substantial measure of self-government. In part, also, the European empires were composed of territories inhabited by native populations and administered by imperial bureaucracies. The government of these territories was generally more coercive than in the European colonies and more concerned with protection and supervision of the commercial, industrial, and other exploitative interests of the imperial power. The disintegration of these empires occurred with astonishing speed. The two world wars of the 20th century sapped the power of the metropolitan centres, while their own doctrines of democracy, equality, and self-determination undermined the principle of imperial rule. Powers such as Britain and France found it increasingly difficult to resist claims to independence couched in terms of the representative concepts on which their home governments were based, and they lacked the military and economic strength to continue their rule over restive native populations. In the two decades after 1945, nearly all the major colonial territories won their independence; the great colonial empires that had once ruled more than half the world were finally dismembered.
One of the commonest forms of supranational organization in history is that of leagues, generally composed of states seeking to resist some common military or economic threat by combining their forces. This was the case with the early city leagues, such as the Achaean and Aetolian leagues in ancient Greece and the Hanseatic and the Swabian leagues in Europe; and to a great extent it was the case with the League of Nations. Other common features of leagues include the existence of some form of charter or agreement among the member states, an assembly of representatives of the constituent members, an executive organ for the implementation of the decisions of the assembly of representatives, and an arbitral or judicial body for adjudicating disputes.
The League of Nations was one of the great experiments in supranational organization of the 20th century and the predecessor in several important respects of the United Nations. The Covenant of the League was drafted by a special commission of the Peace Conference after World War I, with Pres. Woodrow Wilson of the United States as its leading advocate, and approved by a plenary conference of the victorious powers in 1919. The initial membership of the League consisted of 20 states. The United States failed to take membership in the League, but by 1928 the organization had a total membership of 54. The machinery of the League consisted of an Assembly of all the member countries, acting through agents of their governments; a council on which the great powers were permanently represented and to which the other member powers were elected by the Assembly for three-year terms; a Secretariat to administer the internal affairs of the League; and a number of specialized agencies, such as the International Labour Organisation, that were responsible for implementing various economic and humanitarian programs on an international basis. The Covenant required that international disputes be submitted to peaceful settlement with a provision for adjudication or arbitration by the Permanent Court of International Justice or for intervention by the Council of the League. The Covenant also provided for the use of financial and economic penalties, such as embargoes, to enforce the decisions of the League and for joint military action against convicted aggressors. In practice, however, the League failed its most important tests and was unable to master the crises that led to World War II and its own collapse.
Confederations and federations
Confederations are voluntary associations of independent states that, to secure some common purpose, agree to certain limitations on their freedom of action and establish some joint machinery of consultation or deliberation. The limitations on the freedom of action of the member states may be as trivial as an acknowledgment of their duty to consult with each other before taking some independent action or as significant as the obligation to be bound by majority decisions of the member states. Confederations usually fail to provide for an effective executive authority and lack viable central governments; their member states typically retain their separate military establishments and separate diplomatic representation; and members are generally accorded equal status with an acknowledged right of secession from the confederation. The term federation is used to refer to groupings of states, often on a regional basis, that establish central executive machinery to implement policies or to supervise joint activities. In some cases such groupings are motivated primarily by political or economic concerns; in others, military objectives are paramount.
Historically, confederations have often proved to be a first or second step toward the establishment of a national state, usually as a federal union. Thus, the federal union of modern Switzerland was preceded by a confederation of the Swiss cantons; Germany’s modern federal arrangements may be traced to the German Confederation of the 19th century (the Deutsche Bund); and the federal constitution of the United States is the successor to the government of the Articles of Confederation. In some other cases, confederations have replaced more centralized arrangements, as, for example, when empires disintegrate and are replaced by voluntary associations of their former colonies. The Commonwealth, formerly (1931–49) the British Commonwealth of Nations, and the French Community are cases of this type.
An example of confederal arrangements that gave birth to a federal union is the Articles of Confederation (1781–89) that preceded the Constitution of the United States. The Articles established a Congress of the confederation as a unicameral assembly of ambassadors from the 13 states, each possessing a single vote. The Congress was authorized to appoint an executive committee of states
to execute, in the recess of Congress, such of the powers of Congress as the United States, in Congress assembled, by the consent of nine States, shall from time to time think expedient to vest them with;
in turn, the committee of states could appoint a presiding officer or president for a term of one year. The Congress could also appoint such other committees and “civil officers as may be necessary for managing the general affairs of the United States” and was given the authority to serve as “the last resort or appeal in all disputes and differences, now subsisting or that hereafter may arise between two or more states.” Although the Congress was given authority in important areas such as the regulation of foreign affairs, the establishment of coinage and weights and measures, the appointment of officers in the confederation’s land and naval forces, and the issuance of bills of credit, all its powers were in fact dependent for their enforcement upon the states. The Congress lacked both an independent source of revenue and the executive machinery to enforce its will directly upon individuals. As the language of the Articles summarized the situation,
each State retains its sovereignty, freedom and independence, and every power, jurisdiction and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States in Congress assembled.
The Commonwealth is an example of a confederation born as the result of the decentralization and eventual disintegration of an empire. The original members in 1931 were the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, the Irish Free State (Ireland), Newfoundland, New Zealand, and the Union of South Africa. In 1949 Newfoundland became a province of Canada, and Ireland withdrew from the Commonwealth. In 1961 South Africa also withdrew from the organization, although it rejoined in 1994. Several new Commonwealth members in the latter half of the 20th century were newly independent former British colonies, such as Malaysia (1957), Cyprus (1961), Kiribati (1979), and Brunei (1984). Namibia joined in 1990 upon gaining independence from South Africa. By the early 21st century, the Commonwealth had grown to include more than 50 members. It also had embraced countries—i.e., Mozambique (1995) and Rwanda (2009)—that lacked colonial ties to Britain.
The Statute of Westminster (1931) established that all members were equal in status. The London Declaration (1949) permitted members to be republics, although all member countries must recognize the British monarch as the symbolic head of the Commonwealth. Commonwealth governments are represented in the capitals of other Commonwealth countries by high commissioners equal in status to ambassadors. The Commonwealth Secretariat organizes meetings, keeps the membership informed, and implements its collective decisions. Member countries have benefited from trade privileges, technical assistance, and educational exchanges. In the second half of the 20th century, the Commonwealth formulated a mission of promoting democracy, economic development, and human rights.
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The European Union (EU) is a supranational organization that, while resisting strict classification as either a confederation or a federation, has both confederal and federal aspects. Its predecessor, the European Communities (EC)—comprising the European Coal and Steel Community, established in 1952; the European Economic Community (Common Market), established in 1958; and the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom)—quickly developed executive machinery exercising significant regulatory and directive authority over the governments and private business firms of the member countries. When the communities were subsumed under the EU in 1993, the EU inherited this executive authority. Yet, despite the EU’s central executive machinery (a key feature of a federal system), each of the member governments retains a substantial measure of national sovereignty—an important aspect of confederal arrangements.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a military alliance established in April 1949, also is endowed with complex and permanent executive machinery, employing multilateral procedures and involving the continuous elaboration of plans for the conduct of joint military action by its member states. As stated in its treaty, the purpose of NATO is to maintain the security of the North Atlantic area by exercise of the right of collective security recognized in the Charter of the United Nations. An impressive array of institutional mechanisms was established, including a secretary-general and a permanent staff, a council, a military command structure, and liaison staffs; and an ongoing system of collaboration in planning and joint military exercises was brought into being. With the continued development of its organization, NATO gradually added a number of economic and cultural activities to its functions until it came to possess several of the features of a multipurpose supranational organization. As in the EU, however, membership in NATO does not override national sovereignty.
The United Nations organization
Another supranational political system that does not precisely fit any of the conventional classifications of such systems is the United Nations, a voluntary association of most of the world’s nation-states. Its membership had grown from an original 51 states to more than 190 by the early 21st century. (The government of the People’s Republic of China was admitted in place of the government of Taiwan in 1971.) The United Nations was founded in 1945 at a conference in San Francisco that was attended by representatives of all the countries that had declared war on Germany or Japan. The purposes of the organization are declared in its Charter to be the maintenance of international peace and security, the development of friendly relations among states, and international cooperation in solving the political, economic, social, cultural, and humanitarian problems of the world. Its organizational structure consists of a Security Council of five permanent members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and 10 nonpermanent members elected for two-year terms, a General Assembly, a secretary-general and a Secretariat, an Economic and Social Council, a Trusteeship Council, and the International Court of Justice. Attached to the United Nations are a number of specialized agencies, including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the International Civil Aviation Organization, the International Labour Organisation, the International Monetary Fund, the International Telecommunications Union, the Universal Postal Union, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, the World Health Organization, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank).
Aside from the rather generally stated and decidedly elusive aims of the Charter, the member states of the United Nations cannot be said to have any common goal, and they have often failed to unify in the face of common external threats to security. There also has been difficulty in reaching and implementing decisions. Two different formulas are employed for voting in the two principal organs, the General Assembly and the Security Council. In the General Assembly a two-thirds majority decides on important matters, but, since the Assembly’s decisions are not binding and are merely recommendations, this qualified majority principle must be viewed as of little significance. Although, on the other hand, the decisions of the Security Council may be binding, a unanimous vote of all five of the permanent members joined by the votes of at least four of the nonpermanent members is required; whenever important questions of peace and security are at stake, it has rarely been possible to achieve agreement among the five great powers of the council. Although these difficulties might be fatal to the survival of many supranational organizations, they are not in fact totally debilitating for the United Nations. The United Nations continues to serve as a very important forum for international debate and negotiation, and its specialized agencies play an important role in what is sometimes referred to as “the functional approach to peace.”
National political systems
The term nation-state is used so commonly and yet defined so variously that it will be necessary to indicate its usage in this article with some precision and to give historical and contemporary examples of nation-states. To begin with, there is no single basis upon which such systems are established. Many states were formed at a point in time when a people sharing a common history, culture, and language discovered a sense of identity. This was true in the cases of England and France, for example, which were the first nation-states to emerge in the modern period, and of Italy and Germany, which were established as nation-states in the 19th century. In contrast, however, other states, such as India, the Soviet Union, and Switzerland, came into existence without a common basis in ethnicity, culture, or language. It must also be emphasized that contemporary nation-states are creations of different historical periods and of varied circumstances. Before the close of the 19th century, the effective mobilization of governmental powers on a national basis had occurred only in Europe, the United States, and Japan. It was not until the 20th century and the collapse of the Ottoman, Habsburg, French, and British empires that the bulk of the world could be organized on a national basis. This transformation continued with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, which ceased to exist in 1991, and Yugoslavia, which finally disappeared from the map in 2003. In 1920 the League of Nations had recognized seven nation-states as “Great Powers”—the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Germany, Italy, Japan, and Russia—and it eventually admitted more than 40 other states to membership. Its successor, the United Nations, had more than 190 member states in the early 21st century. States in the post-Cold War world include the Great Powers, which, along with Canada, now constitute the highly industrialized countries known as the Group of Eight (G8); numerous other populous and prominent countries, such as Argentina, Australia, Brazil, China, Egypt, Greece, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Kenya, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Poland, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and Venezuela; and a host of other states, from the tiny Pacific island country of Nauru to the vast Central Asian country of Kazakhstan.
The characteristics that qualify these variously composed and historically differing entities as nation-states and distinguish them from other forms of social and political organization amount in sum to the independent power to compel obedience from the populations within their territories. The state is, in other words, a territorial association that may range in size from Russia to Singapore, in population from China to Luxembourg, and that claims supremacy over all other associations within its boundaries. As an association, the state is peculiar in several respects: membership is compulsory for its citizens; it claims a monopoly of the use of armed force within its borders; and its officers, who are the government of the state, claim the right to act in the name of the land and its people.
A definition of the state in terms only of its powers over its members is not wholly satisfactory, however. Although all states make a claim to supremacy within their boundaries, they differ widely in their ability to make good their claims. States are, in fact, often challenged by competing associations within their boundaries; their supremacy is often more formal than real; and they are sometimes unable to maintain their existence. Moreover, a definition in terms of power alone ignores the fact that there are great differences among states in the structures they employ for the exercise of power, in the ways they use power, and in the ends to which they turn their power. Some of these differences are explored in the discussion that follows of two general categories of nation-states: the unitary state and the federal state. Partly from administrative necessity and partly because of the pressures of territorial interests, nearly all modern states provide for some distribution of governmental authority on a territorial basis. Systems in which power is delegated from the central government to subnational units and in which the grant of power may be rescinded at the will of the central government are termed unitary systems. Systems in which a balance is established between two autonomous sets of governments, one national and the other provincial, are termed federal. In federal systems, the provincial units are usually empowered to grant and take away the authority of their own subunits in the same manner as national governments in unitary systems. Thus, although the United States is federally organized at the national level, each of the 50 states is in a unitary relationship to the cities and local governments within its own territory.
A great majority of all the world’s nation-states are unitary systems, including Bulgaria, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Japan, Poland, Romania, the Scandinavian countries, Spain, and many of the Latin American and African countries. There are great differences among these unitary states, however, specifically in the institutions and procedures through which their central governments interact with their territorial subunits.
In one type of unitary system, decentralization of power among subnational governments goes so far that in practice, although not in constitutional principle, they resemble federal arrangements. In Great Britain, for example, there are important elements of regional autonomy in the relationship between Northern Ireland, Wales, and Scotland and the national government in London; and the complex system of elected local governments, although in constitutional theory subject to abrogation by Parliament, is in practice a fixed and fairly formidable part of the apparatus of British government. In other unitary systems of this type, decentralization on a territorial basis is actually provided for constitutionally, and the powers of locally elected officials are prescribed in detail. Thus, the Japanese constitution, for example, specifies certain autonomous functions to be performed by local administrative authorities.
A second type of unitary system makes less provision for territorial decentralization of authority and employs rather strict procedures for the central supervision of locally elected governments. The classic example of this type is pre-1982 France. Until March 1982, when a law on decentralization went into effect, the French administrative system was built around départements, each headed by a préfet, and subdivisions of the départements, termed arrondissements, each headed by a sous-préfet. The préfets and sous-préfets were appointed by the government in Paris to serve as agents of the central government and also as the executives of the divisional governments, the conseils généraux, which were composed of elected officials. The system thus combined central supervision of local affairs through appointed officials with territorial representation through locally elected governments. (Following the passage of the decentralization law, the executive powers of the préfets were transferred to the elected conseils généraux; moreover, many functions previously performed by the central government were devolved to the newly created régions, units of local government that each encompassed a number of départements and that were overseen by directly elected regional councils.)
Yet a third type of unitary system provides for only token decentralization. In such cases, the officials responsible for managing the affairs of the territorial subdivisions are appointees of the central government, and the role of locally elected officers is either minimal or nonexistent. Examples of this kind of arrangement include Germany under Adolf Hitler and also several formerly communist countries. The Third Reich was divided into 42 Gaue, each headed by a gauleiter chosen for his personal loyalty to Hitler. In eastern Europe, the people’s councils or people’s committees were named by the centrally organized communist parties; their appointment was confirmed by elections with one slate of candidates.
In federal systems, political authority is divided between two autonomous sets of governments, one national and the other subnational, both of which operate directly upon the people. Usually a constitutional division of power is established between the national government, which exercises authority over the whole national territory, and provincial governments that exercise independent authority within their own territories. Of the eight largest countries in the world by area, seven—Russia, Canada, the United States, Brazil, Australia, India, and Argentina—are organized on a federal basis. (China, the third largest, is a unitary state.) Federal countries also include Austria, Belgium, Ethiopia, Germany, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, Pakistan, Switzerland, the United Arab Emirates, and Venezuela, among others.
The governmental structures and political processes found in these federal systems show great variety. One may distinguish, first, a number of systems in which federal arrangements reflect rather clear-cut cultural divisions. A classic case of this type is Switzerland, where the people speak four different languages—German, French, Italian, and Romansh—and the federal system unites 26 historically and culturally different entities, known as cantons and demicantons. The Swiss constitution of 1848, as modified in 1874, converted into the modern federal state a confederation originally formed in the 13th century by the three forest cantons of Uri, Schwyz, and Unterwalden. The principal agencies of federal government are a bicameral legislature, composed of a National Council representing the people directly and a Council of States representing the constituent members as entities; an executive branch (Bundesrat) elected by both houses of the legislature in joint session; and a supreme court that renders decisions on matters affecting cantonal and federal relations.
The Russian Federation’s arrangements, although of a markedly different kind, also reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of the country. Depending on their size and on the territories they have historically occupied, ethnic minorities may have their own autonomous republic, region, or district. These divisions provide varying degrees of autonomy in setting local policies and provide a basis for the preservation of the minorities’ cultures. Some of these areas were integrated into the Russian Empire centuries ago, after the lands were taken from the Mongols of the Golden Horde, and others resisted occupation even late in the 19th century. It is not uncommon for Russians to constitute a plurality of the population in these areas. The national government consists of the executive branch, led by the nationally elected president; the parliament; and a judicial branch that resolves constitutional matters.
In other systems, federal arrangements are found in conjunction with a large measure of cultural homogeneity. The Constitution of the United States delegates to the federal government certain activities that concern the whole people, such as the conduct of foreign relations and war and the regulation of interstate commerce and foreign trade; certain other functions are shared between the federal government and the states; and the remainder are reserved for the states. Although these arrangements require two separate bodies of political officers, two judicial systems, and two systems of taxation, they also allow extensive interaction between the federal government and the states. Thus, the election of Congress and the president, the process of amending the Constitution, the levying of taxes, and innumerable other functions necessitate cooperation between the two levels of government and bring them into a tightly interlocking relationship.
Subnational political systems
Although national government is the dominant form of political organization in the modern world, an extraordinary range of political forms exists below the national level—tribal communities, the intimate political associations of villages and towns, the governments of regions and provinces, the complex array of urban and suburban governments, and the great political and administrative systems of the cities and the metropolises. These subnational entities are, in a sense, the basic political communities—the foundation on which all national political systems are built.
The typical organization of humankind in its early history was the tribe. Today, in many parts of the world, the tribal community is still a major form of human political organization. Even within more formal political systems, traces can still be found of its influence. Some of the Länder of modern Germany, such as Bavaria, Saxony, or Westphalia, have maintained their identity since the days of the Germanic tribal settlements. In England, too, many county boundaries can be explained only by reference to the territorial divisions in the period after the end of the Roman occupation.
In many African countries the tribe or ethnic group is still an effective community and a vehicle of political consciousness. (Some African scholars, viewing the term tribe as pejorative and inaccurate, prefer to use ethnic group or other similar terms to describe such communities.) Most African countries are the successors to the administrative units established by colonial regimes and owe their present boundaries to the often arbitrary decisions of imperial bureaucracies or to the territorial accommodations of rival colonial powers. The result was often the splintering of the tribal communities or their aggregation in largely artificial entities.
Tribal loyalties continue to hamper nation-building efforts in some parts of the world where tribes were once the dominant political structure. Tribes may act through formal political parties like any other interest group. In some cases they simply act out their tribal bias through the machinery of the political system, and in others they function largely outside of formal political structures.
In its primary sense, the tribe is a community organized in terms of kinship, and its subdivisions are the intimate kindred groupings of moieties, gentes, and totem groups. Its territorial basis is rarely defined with any precision, and its institutions are typically the undifferentiated and intermittent structures of an omnifunctional social system. The leadership of the tribe is provided by the group of adult males, the lineage elders acting as tribal chiefs, the village headmen, or the shamans, or tribal magicians. These groups and individuals are the guardians of the tribal customs and of an oral tradition of law. Law is thus not made but rather invoked; its repository is the collective memory of the tribal council or chief men. This kind of customary law, sanctioned and hallowed by religious belief, nevertheless changes and develops, for each time it is declared something may be added or omitted to meet the needs of the occasion.
PHI 2604 The Entitlement Theory of JusticeRural communities
The village has traditionally been contrasted with the city: the village is the home of rural occupations and tied to the cycles of agricultural life, while the inhabitants of the city practice many trades, and its economy is founded on commerce and industry; the village is an intimate association of families, while the city is the locus of a mass population; the culture of the village is simple and traditional, while the city is the centre of the arts and sciences and of a complex cultural development. The village and the city offer even sharper contrasts as political communities. Historically, the village has been ruled by the informal democracy of face-to-face discussion in the village council or by a headman whose decisions are supported by village elders or by other cooperative modes of government; urban government has never been such a simple matter, and monarchical, tyrannical, aristocratic, and oligarchic forms of rule have all flourished in the city. In the village, the boundaries among political, economic, religious, and other forms of action have not been as clearly drawn as in cities.
The origins and development of the apparatus of government can be seen most clearly in the simple political society of the rural community. The transformation of kin-bound societies with their informal, folk-sustained systems of sociopolitical organization into differentiated, hierarchical societies with complex political structures began with the enlargement of the rural community—an increase in its population, the diversification of its economy, or its interaction with other communities. The rudimentary organs of communal government were then elaborated, the communal functions received more specialized direction, and leadership roles were institutionalized. This was sometimes a process that led by gradual stages to the growth of cities. Elsewhere, however, as in the case of ancient Attica, the city was established as the result of a process of synoikismos, or the uniting of a number of tribal or village communities. This was undoubtedly the origin of Athens, and, according to its legendary history, Rome also was established as a result of the forcible unification of the tribes that dwelt on the hills surrounding the Palatine Hill.
Even in the nation-states of today’s world, the contrasts between the village or the town and the city as centres of human activity are readily apparent. In the country, life is more intimate, human contacts more informal, the structure of society more stable. In the city, the individual becomes anonymous, the contacts between people are mainly formal, and the standing of the individual or the family in society is subject to rapid change. In many contemporary systems, however, the differences in the forms of government of rural and urban communities appear to be growing less pronounced. In the United States, for example, rural institutions have been seriously weakened by the movement of large numbers of people to the city. The township meeting of New England and other forms of direct citizen participation in the affairs of the community have declined in importance and have often been displaced by more formal structures and the growth of local governmental bureaucracies.
Cities first emerged as complex forms of social and political organization in the valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris, the Nile, the Huang He, and the Yangtze. These early cities broke dramatically with the patterns of tribal life and the rural societies from which they sprang. Kinship as the basis of society was replaced by status determined by class and occupation; the animistic or shamanistic leaders of the tribe were displaced by temple priesthoods presiding over highly developed religious institutions and functioning as important agencies of social control; earlier systems of rule by the tribal chieftains and the simple forms of communal leadership gave way to kingships endowed with magical powers and important religious functions; and specialized functionaries in the royal courts became responsible for supervising new kinds of governmental activity. Many other developments contributed to the growing centralization of power in these city civilizations. Barter was replaced by more effective systems of exchange, and the wealth generated in commerce and the specialized city trades became both an object of taxation and an instrument of power. Class distinctions emerged as the result of a division of labour and advances in technical development. A military order and a professional soldiery were created and trained in new techniques of warfare, and a class of enslaved persons provided the workforce for large-scale projects of irrigation, fortification, and royal architecture. As these developments proceeded, the city was able to project its power even further into the surrounding countryside, to establish its rule over villages and other cities in its sphere, and finally to become the centre of such early empires as those of Sumer, Egypt, China, Babylonia, Assyria, and Persia.
A very different form of city life emerged among the Greeks. The Greek polis also broke with the folkways of tribal society, but its political development was in striking contrast to the despotism of the Oriental city empires and their massive concentrations of power in the hands of king and priest. As the polis transcended its origins in village life, the powers of the tribal chief dwindled and passed into the hands of aristocratic families. The kingship of Homeric tradition vanished, the “kings” who remained became mere dignitaries in the religious and ceremonial life of the city, and new magistracies and other civic offices were founded. These offices became the focus of factional struggle among the aristocratic families and later, with the weakening of aristocratic rule, the chief prizes in a contest of power between the nobility and the common citizens. Eventually, these developments issued in the characteristic form of Greek city government. A citizen body, always a much narrower group than the total population but often as numerous as the population of freeborn males, acquired power in the direction of the city government through the election of its officers and direct participation in the city councils. Although often interrupted by episodes of oligarchic or tyrannical rule and by periods of civic dissension and class rivalry, the main theme of governmental development in the Greek city was the elaboration of structures that permitted the control of political affairs by its citizens.
Autonomous cities also sprang up in Europe in the later Middle Ages. Medieval city life, although it differed from that of the polis and was coloured by the forms of feudal society, also emphasized the principle of cooperative association. Indeed, for the first time in the history of city civilization, the majority of the inhabitants of the city were free. The development of trades, the growth of commerce, and the mobilization of wealth emancipated the city from its feudal environment, and the merchant and craft guilds became the matrices of a new kind of city democracy. In time, the guilds were transformed into closed corporations and became a basis for oligarchic control; and the city’s independence was threatened by the rise of the new nation-states. Tempting targets for the ambition of kings, Venice, Genoa, Florence, Milan, Cologne, Amsterdam, Hamburg, and other free cities of Europe eventually succumbed to monarchical control. Theirs was an important legacy, however, for the political order of the medieval city was a powerful influence in the development of the constitutional structures of the modern democratic state.
Although cities are no longer independent, the almost universal increase in urban population has made them more important than ever before as centres of human activity. The political organization of modern cities differs from country to country. Even within the same nation-state, there are often important contrasts in the structures of city government. In the United States, for example, three principal types of city government are usually distinguished: the council-manager form, the mayor-council form, and the commission form.
Many American cities with populations over 10,000 operate under council-manager governments. In council-manager systems the council is generally small, elected at large on a nonpartisan ballot for overlapping four-year terms; no other offices are directly elected, and the mayor, who presides at council meetings and performs mainly ceremonial functions, is chosen by the council from among its members. The manager, a professional city administrator, is selected by the council, serves at the council’s pleasure, and is responsible for supervising the city departments and municipal programs, preparing the budget, and controlling expenditures.
Mayor-council governments are found in two basic forms, the “weak” mayor and the “strong” mayor. The former was typical of the 19th-century municipal organization and is now mainly confined to smaller cities; the latter is a common arrangement in cities with significantly larger populations. In weak-mayor–council governments, a number of officials, elected or appointed for lengthy terms, wield important administrative powers; the council, typically elected by divisions of the city called wards, is responsible for the direction of the major city agencies; and the mayor’s control over the city budget and powers of appointment and removal are severely limited. In many cases, strong-mayor–council governments evolved from weak-mayor–council systems as independently elected mayors won the power of veto over council ordinances, strengthened their control over appointment and removal, and established themselves as their cities’ chief budgetary officers; at the same time, also, the elective administrative officers and the semi-autonomous appointive boards and commissions were often eliminated and the number of council members reduced.
The commission plan, which has declined in popularity since the early 20th century and is found mainly in smaller cities, concentrates legislative and executive powers in the hands of a small group of commissioners. The commissioners serve individually as the heads of administrative departments and choose one of their number to act as a ceremonial mayor without executive authority.
The variety in the governmental structures of American cities is paralleled in many other countries, for everywhere in the modern world the government of the city continues to challenge man’s political invention. Although no longer sovereign, cities are the centres of modern civilization and—both in terms of the services demanded of them and the range and importance of the functions they exercise—the most important of contemporary subnational political systems. Moreover, it is in the cities that most of the problems of modern industrial society seem to have their focus. These problems are not only governmental but also technological, cultural, and economic. They are found in their most acute form in the great metropolitan centres and in that vast urban agglomeration known as the megalopolis. In political terms, the issue that is posed appears to be whether these huge centres of population can continue as effective communities with democratically manageable governments.
In many contemporary national political systems the forces of history and administrative necessity have joined to produce regional communities at an intermediate level between the local and the national community. In some cases—the Swiss canton, the English county, the German Land, and the American state—these regional communities possess their own political institutions and exercise governmental functions. In other cases, however, the territorial community is a product of ethnic, cultural, linguistic, physiographic, or economic factors and maintains its identity without the support of political structures.
As subnational political systems, regional communities are sometimes based in tradition, even tracing their origin to a period prior to the founding of the country; in other cases, they are modern administrative units created by national governments for their own purposes. Examples of both types may be found in the history of regionalism in France and its complex pattern of internal territorial divisions. Before the French Revolution, France was divided into ancient provinces—Burgundy, Gascony, Brittany, Normandy, Provence, Anjou, Poitou, and others. After the Revolution, in what seems to have been an effort to discourage regional patriotism and threats of separatism, the Napoleonic government superimposed a new regional structure of départements on the old provincial map. More than a century and a half later, in the era of rapid communications and national economic planning, the French national government announced a regrouping of the Napoleonic départements into much larger Gaullist régions. Recognizing, perhaps, the continuing strength of the provincial attachments of Gascon, Breton, Norman, and Provençal and the survival of old regional folk cultures with their distinctive patterns of speech, the new régions were given boundaries similar in many cases to the traditional provincial boundaries of pre-republican France.
The history of the French regional communities is not a special case, for political, administrative, economic, and technical forces have led many other national governments to replace traditional territorial divisions with new regional units. In England, for example, the traditional structure of county governments was replaced in the late 19th century by a system of administrative counties, many of which in turn lost area to other units of local government in the 1970s and the 1990s. Attempts have also been made to use older regional communities as the infrastructure for new systems of regional government. Thus, the Italian constitution provides for a number of regions, five of which—Valle d’Aosta, Sardinia, Sicily, Trentino–Alto Adige, and Friuli–Venezia Giulia—enjoy a special autonomous status and which, in different ways, are historically distinct from the rest of Italy. In yet other cases the fear of competition from regional governments or of separatist movements has led national governments to make various efforts to resist the development of regional political structures. Again, Italy provides a convenient example, for Italian governments refused to establish all the regions provided for in the 1948 constitution until 1970. It should be noted that the Italian republic of 1870–1922 and its fascist successor state also made similar efforts to combat regional political development, the former by the creation of a large number of administrative provinces and the latter by establishing corporazione to represent occupations regardless of geographic location.
In several modern states the growth of vast conurbations and the rise of the megalopolis have prompted the development of other kinds of regional governmental structures. The Port of London Authority and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey are examples of regional systems designed to serve the needs of urban communities that have outgrown the boundaries of existing city governments. Other regional structures have also resulted from the increased responsibility of national governments for the administration of comprehensive social and economic programs. The Tennessee Valley Authority, for example, is both a national agency and a regional government whose decisions affect the lives of the inhabitants of all the states and cities in its sphere. Further examples of such regional administrative structures include zonal councils established in India for social and economic planning purposes, as well as governmental and economic units established in Britain to deal with the problems of industrially depressed areas.
Issues of classification
Types of classification schemes
The almost infinite range of political systems has been barely suggested in this brief review. Confronted by the vast array of political forms, political scientists have attempted to classify and categorize, to develop typologies and models, or in some other way to bring analytic order to the bewildering variety of data. Many different schemes have been developed. There is, for example, the classical distinction between governments in terms of the number of rulers—government by one person (monarchy or tyranny), government by the few (aristocracy or oligarchy), and government by the many (democracy). There are schemes classifying governments in terms of their key institutions (for example, parliamentarism, cabinet government, presidentialism). There are classifications that group systems according to basic principles of political authority or the forms of legitimacy (charismatic, traditional, rational-legal, and others). Other schemes distinguish between different kinds of economic organization in the system (the laissez-faire state, the corporate state, and socialist and communist forms of state economic organization) or between the rule of different economic classes (feudal, bourgeois, and capitalist). And there are modern efforts to compare the functions of political systems (capabilities, conversion functions, and system maintenance and adaptation functions) and to classify them in terms of structure, function, and political culture.
Although none is comprehensive, each of these principles of analysis has some validity, and the classifying schemes that are based on them, although in some cases no longer relevant to modern forms of political organization, have often been a major influence on the course of political development. The most influential of such classifying schemes is undoubtedly the attempt of Plato and Aristotle to define the basic forms of government in terms of the number of power holders and their use or abuse of power. Plato held that there was a natural succession of the forms of government: an aristocracy (the ideal form of government by the few) that abuses its power develops into a timocracy (in which the rule of the best, who value wisdom as the highest political good, is succeeded by the rule of those who are primarily concerned with honour and martial virtue), which through greed develops into an oligarchy (the perverted form of government by the few), which in turn is succeeded by a democracy (rule by the many); through excess, the democracy becomes an anarchy (a lawless government), to which a tyrant is inevitably the successor. Abuse of power in the Platonic typology is defined by the rulers’ neglect or rejection of the prevailing law or custom (nomos); the ideal forms are thus nomos observing (ennomon), and the perverted forms are nomos neglecting (paranomon).