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Political terms and their definitions

Published Monday, June 06, 2005

Test your knowledge and see if you know the meaning of these political terms given below. You will sure learn a few terms and their meaning.

A

administration - The organized apparatus of the state for the preparation and implementation of legislation and policies, also called bureaucracy.

affirmative action - Laws mandating increased numbers of women and minorities, especially in employment.

amendment - An alteration proposed or put into effect by legislative or constitutional procedure

anarchism - Rejection of state and other forms of authority.

antifederalist - A person who opposed the adoption of the proposed U.S. Constitution.

aristocracy - A form of government in which a minority rules under the law.

asymmetrical federalism - A federal system of government in which powers are unevenly divided between provinces, i.e. some provinces have greater responsibilities or more autonomy than others.

attorney general - The chief law officer of a country or state and head of its legal department.

auction politics - A danger in democratic politics in which state power may be "sold" to the highest bidding groups.

authoritarianism - Government not dependent on the consent of society.

axis-of-evil - Any government that sponsors terror.


B

backbencher - Members of Parliament on the government side who sit on the backbenches and are not in cabinet, or those similarly distant from shadow cabinet posts in opposition parties.

bicameralism - A system of government in which the legislature is divided into two chambers, an upper and lower house.

bill - A draft of a proposed law presented for approval to a legislative body.

Bill of Rights - A summary of fundamental rights and privileges guaranteed to a people against violation by the government.

binational state - Two nations co-existing within one state.

bipolar - An international system in which there are two dominant nation-states. bourgeoisie. A Marxist term referring to those who own the means of production.

bureaucracy - Administration of a government chiefly through bureaus or departments staffed with non-elected officials.



C

cabinet solidarity A convention that all cabinet ministers publicly support whatever decisions the cabinet has taken, regardless of their personal views.

capitalism - An economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained by private individuals.

caucus - A meeting of legislators of any one party to discuss parliamentary strategy and party policy.

circuit court - The court of general jurisdiction in some states.

Civil rights - Rights guaranteed by a state to its citizens.

civil war - A war between political factions or regions within the same country.


congress - The national legislative body of the U.S. consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives.

coalition - An alliance between two or more political parties in response to opposing forces.

coalition government - A parliamentary government in which the cabinet is composed of members of more than one party.


code civil - The unique system of civil law used in Quebec.

code of law - A comprehensive set of interrelated legal rules.

coercion - A form of power based on forced compliance through fear and intimidation.

collective defence - An alliance among states against external threats.

collective security - A commitment by a number of states to join in an alliance against member states that threaten peace.

common law - The accumulation of judicial precedents as the basis for court decisions.

communism - A system of social organization in which a totalitarian state, run by a single self-appointed political party, controls all economic and social activity.

comparative politics - An area of political study concerned with the relative similarities and differences of political systems.

confederation - A federal system of government in which sovereign constituent governments create a central government but balance of power remains with constituent governments.

Confidence - Support for the government by the majority of the members of parliament.

consent of the governed - People's acceptance of the form of government under which they live.

conservatism - a political or theological orientation advocating the preservation of the best in society and opposing radical changes. Generally characterized by a belief in individualism and minimal government intervention in the economy and society; also a belief in the virtue of the status quo and general acceptance of traditional morality.

consociationalism - A form of democracy in which harmony in segmented societies is maintained through the distinctive roles of elites and the autonomy of organized interests.

constituency - A electoral district with a body of electors who vote for a representative in an elected assembly.

constitution - The fundamental rules and principles by which a state is organized and governed, usually in the form of a written document.

constitutionalism - The belief that governments will defer to the rules and principles enshrined in a constitution and uphold the rule of law.

constructive vote of confidence - A system in which the majority in the lower house can bring down the government, but not until that majority approves another government (e.g. in Germany).

convention - A practice or custom followed in government (members, representatives, or delegates) although not explicitly written in the constitution or in legislation.

corporatism - The organization of liberal democracies in such a way that the state is the dominant force in society and the activities of all interests in society are subordinate to that force.

coup d’état - A forceful and unconstitutional change of government, often by a faction within the military or the ruling party.


D

delegate - A person authorized to act as representative for another; a deputy or an agent.

democracy - A form of government to which the supreme power is vested in and exercised directly by the people or by their representatives elected under a free electoral system.

democrat - One who advocates social and economic equality and government efforts, through tax-supported programs, at achieving this equality.


democratic centralism - The concentration of power in the leadership of the communist party, which in theory acts in the interests of the people.

despotism - An individual ruling through fear without regard to law and not answerable to the people.

dictator - A person behaves in an tyrannical manner - An absolute ruler.

dictatorship - Rule by a single person, or several people ( e.g. military dictatorship),unelected and authoritarian in character.

diplomacy - A system of formal, regularized communication that allows states to peacefully conduct their business with each other.

direct democracy - A system of government based on public decisions made by citizens meeting in an assembly or voting by ballot.


dissidents - People who oppose a regime and may suffer discrimination.


E

Electoral College - The body which formally chooses the president of the United States.

empirical - Political analysis based on factual and observable data in contrast to thoughts or ideas.

equality of right - Application of the law in the same way to all.

executive - A small group of elected officials who direct the policy process, and oversee the vast array of departments and agencies of government.

executive federalism - A federal process directed by extensive federal-provincial interaction at the level of first ministers, departmental ministers, and deputy ministers.

extractive laws - Laws designed to collect taxes from citizens to pay for governing society.


F

fascism - An extreme form of nationalism that played on fears of communism and rejected individual freedom, liberal individualism, democracy, and limitations on the state.

federalism - A system of government in which sovereignty is divided between a central government and several provincial or state governments.

Feminism - The belief that society is disadvantageous to women, systematically depriving them of individual choice, political power, economic opportunity and intellectual recognition.

Filibuster - The use of obstructive tactics, such as an exceptionally long speech, by a member of a legislature, to prevent the adoption of a measure favored by a majority.


G

globalization - To make a worldwide government in scope or application for the purpose of increasing the interdependence of the world's markets and businesses.

government - The body of persons that constitutes the governing authority of a political unit.


H

head of government - The person in effective charge of the executive branch of government; the prime minister in a parliamentary system.

head of state - An individual who represents the state but does not exercise political power.

House of Representatives - The lower house of Congress, in which states are allocated seats according to their population. Members serve two years.

human rights - The basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled, often held to include the right to life and liberty, freedom of thought and expression, and equality before the law.


I

ideological party - A type of political party which emphasizes ideological purity over the attainment of power.

imperialism - Extension of state power through acquisition of other territories.

informal institutions - Institutions which are an integral part of the political process, but which are not established by a constitution.

initiative - The initiation of legislative action on a particular issue by way of a voters' petition.

institutional group - Groups which are closely associated with the government and act internally to influence public decisions.

interest (pressure) group - Organizations whose members act together to influence public policy in order to promote their common interest.

interest party - A political party with a single interest or purpose, such as the Green Party.

international law - The body of rules governing the relationships of states with each other.

international relations - An area of political study concerned with the interaction of independent states.

item veto - The power of an American president or state governor to veto particular components of a bill rather than reject the entire legislation.


J

judicial activism - The willingness and inclination of judges to overturn legislation or executive action.

judicial branch - The branch of the United States government responsible for the administration of justice.

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council - A British Court that functioned as Canada's final court of appeal until 1949.

judicial review - The power of the courts to declare legislation unconstitutional (ultra vires).

judiciary - The branch of government with the power to resolve legal conflicts that arise between citizens, between citizens and governments, or between levels of government.


K


L

labour party - A political party in Great Britain, formed in 1900 and characterized chiefly by broad social reforms.

labor union - Workers who organize in order to, among other things, promote higher wages and better working conditions.

laissez-faire - The theory that government should not interfere in the direction of economic affairs.

lame duck - An elected official or group continuing in office after election defeat but before a successor’s assumption of that office.

Left wing - Political position occupied by those with radical and reforming tendency toward social and political.

legislative branch - Congress, which is comprised of the Senate and the House of Representatives. One of the three main branches of the U.S. government consisting of elected officials empowered to make, change, or repeal laws.

legislature - The branch of government responsible for making laws for society.

liberal democracy - A system of government characterized by universal adult suffrage, political equality, majority rule and constitutionalism.

liberalism - Doctrine that urges freedom of the individual, religion, trade, and economics (laissez-faire)

Lobby - A group that seeks to influence members of a legislature to vote according to a group’s interest.

lobbyist - To promote (as a project) or secure the passage of (as legislation) by influencing public officials.


M

Marxism - A system of thought developed by Karl Marx, along with Friedrich Engels, which is the basis for the theoretical principles of communism. (see communism)

masculism - The ideological flip side of feminism. It teaches that sexual equality laws serve primarily women and have created significant unconstitutional discrimination against men. That these laws are "anti-male" discrimination laws have been used to justify the vilification of men and the curtailing of men's rights.

ministerial responsibility - The principle that cabinet ministers are individually responsible to the House of Commons for everything that happens in their department.

ministry - The entire group of MPs appointed by the Prime Minister to specific ministerial responsibilities.

minority government - A parliamentary government in which the government party has less than 50 percent of the seats in the legislature.

monarchy - A state in which the supreme power is vested in a hereditary sovereign such as king, queen, or emperor.

movement party - A type of political party which emerges from a political movement, such as a national liberation movement.

multinational state - Three or more nations co-existing under one sovereign government.

multiparty system - A party system in which there are three or more major contenders for power.

multi-polar - A system of actions involving several states.

N

nation building - Undertaken after war to help rebuild the political and economic infrastructure of a country.

nation-state - A state with a single predominant national identity

national interest - Interests specific to a nation-state, including especially survival and maintenance of power.

national socialism - a form of socialism featuring racism and expansionism.

nationalism - Doctrine that views the nation as the principal unit of political organization.

nationalization - Taking an industry into state ownership.


O

opposition - A political party opposed to the party in power and prepared to replace it if elected


P

parliament - The legislature of Great Britain made up of the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

parliamentary sovereignty - The supreme authority of parliament to make or repeal laws.

permanent secretary - The British equivalent of a Canadian deputy minister.

pluralism - Existence within a society of a variety of groups, limiting the power of any one group.

plurality - A voting decision based on assigning victory to the largest number of votes, not necessarily a majority.

political culture - Attitudes, values, beliefs, and orientations that individuals in a society hold regarding their political system.

political economy - The study of the involvement by the state in the economy of the nation-state.

political party - An organized group that makes nominations and contests elections in the hope of influencing the personnel and policy of government.

political patronage - Government appointments made as a payoff for loyal partisan activity.

political philosophy - An area of political study based on historical, reflective and conceptual methods.

politically correct - A speech code designed to limit free speech, conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated.

politically incorrect - Use of words deemed insensitive by the politically correct.

pragmatic party - A type of political party concerned primarily with winning elections.

pressure group - Organization formed to support a particular political interest.

Prime Minister’s Office - Support staff appointed by the Prime Minister to carry out political functions.

private member's bill - Public bills introduced in the legislature by members who are not in the cabinet.

Privy Council - A council of the British sovereign that until the 17th century was the supreme legislative body, that now consists of cabinet ministers ex officio and others appointed for life, and that has no important function except through its Judicial Committee, which in certain cases acts as a supreme appellate court in the Commonwealth.

Privy Council Office - A governmental department that supports the prime minister, cabinet, and cabinet committees in devising government policy.

proclamation - The announcement of the official date a new law will take effect.

proletariat - In socialist philosophy, term denoting working class.

proportional representation - Voting systen ensuring that the representation of voters is in proportion to their numbers.


Q


R

racism - Ideology alleging inferiority of racial or ethnic group.

radicalism - Ideology arguing for substantial political and social change.

referendum - A decision on policy proposals by a direct vote of the electorate.

republic - A state in which the supreme power is with the citizens entitled to vote and is exercised by representatives chosen by them.

republican - An advocate of conservatism

right wing - Political position of support for established institutions and opposition to socialist developments.

royal assent - The approval of a bill by the Crown.


S

sanction - Penalty imposed by one state against another, such as denial of trade.

scientific socialism - The term Marx and Engels used to stress that their ideology was based on analysis of class conflict.

senate - The upper house of Congress, in which each state is allowed two seats. Members serve six year terms.

separation of powers - The separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.

separatism - Demand for separation from territorial and political sovereignty of the state to which the separatists belong.

shadow cabinet - The cohesive group of specialized critics in the official Opposition party.

social democrat - One who advocates, through a democratic process, a slow transition to socialism.

socialism - A system of economic organization in which state owns and controls the basic means of production and where centralized planning, rather than market forces, determines the allocation of resources.

socialism - A leftist political ideology that emphasizes the principle of equality and usually prescribes a large role for government to intervene in society and the economy via taxation, regulation, redistribution, and public ownership.

sovereign - The highest or supreme political authority.

standing committee - Legislative committees that are set up permanently and parallel government functions.

state - Combination of people, territory, and sovereign government. state-centric. An approach to international relations positing the sovereign state as the focus for understanding the nature and workings of the international system.

state’s righter - A person who opposes federal intervention in the affairs of separate states, seeing this view as a strict interpretation of the Constitution.

statism - The heavy intervention of the state in societal affairs, especially in the economic system.

statute - A specific piece of legislation.

symbolic laws - Laws designed to create special meaning for society, such as the adoption of a national anthem.


T

terrorism - Violent behavior to promote a particular political cause, often aimed at overthrown of the established order.

totalitarianism - System in which political opposition is suppresses and decisionmaking is highly centralized.

Treasury Board - A cabinet committee and government department whose primary responsibility is to oversee government spending.

two-party system - A party system in which there are two credible contenders for power and either is capable of winning any election.

tyranny - A form of government in which one person rules arbitrarily.


U

unilateralism - A government acting on it's own, in it's own best interests. This would be opposed to going to the United Nations, to act jointly with other nations, on international principles designed to benefit "the many".

unitary system - A system of government in which a single sovereign government rules the country.

United Nations - An international organization, headquartered in New York City, formed to promote international peace, security, and cooperation under the terms of the charter signed by 51 founding countries in San Francisco in 1945.


V

veto - The authorized power of a president to reject legislation passed by Congress.

vote of censure - A motion of non-confidence requiring the prime minister and the cabinet to resign.


W

Watergate - An illegal break-in, by Republican campaign employees, at Democratic party national headquarters in Washington, D.C. during the 1972 presidential campaign.

Weapons of mass destruction - Often referred to as "WMD", they would include Chemical, Biological and Nuclear weapons.

Welfare state - System whereby the state assumes responsibility for protecting and promoting its citizen’s welfare in areas such as healthcare, employment, pensions, and education.


X


Y


Z

Zionism - Jewish nationalist movement advocating establishment of a Jewish nation-state.
Sources: ircpolitics.org, polisci.nelson.com, dictionary.reference.com, south western handbook.

Related articles:
The United States Government: Presidential Line of Succession
Presidents of the United State of America - from then to now
Interesting and shocking Facts - Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy
The United Nations in summary - who are they ?

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