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Introduction to Political Science

1.4 Normative Political Science

Introduction to Political Science1.4 Normative Political Science

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Table of contents
  1. Preface
  2. Introduction to Political Science
    1. 1 What Is Politics and What Is Political Science?
      1. Introduction
      2. 1.1 Defining Politics: Who Gets What, When, Where, How, and Why?
      3. 1.2 Public Policy, Public Interest, and Power
      4. 1.3 Political Science: The Systematic Study of Politics
      5. 1.4 Normative Political Science
      6. 1.5 Empirical Political Science
      7. 1.6 Individuals, Groups, Institutions, and International Relations
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  3. Individuals
    1. 2 Political Behavior Is Human Behavior
      1. Introduction
      2. 2.1 What Goals Should We Seek in Politics?
      3. 2.2 Why Do Humans Make the Political Choices That They Do?
      4. 2.3 Human Behavior Is Partially Predictable
      5. 2.4 The Importance of Context for Political Decisions
      6. Summary
      7. Key Terms
      8. Review Questions
      9. Suggested Readings
    2. 3 Political Ideology
      1. Introduction
      2. 3.1 The Classical Origins of Western Political Ideologies
      3. 3.2 The Laws of Nature and the Social Contract
      4. 3.3 The Development of Varieties of Liberalism
      5. 3.4 Nationalism, Communism, Fascism, and Authoritarianism
      6. 3.5 Contemporary Democratic Liberalism
      7. 3.6 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Left
      8. 3.7 Contemporary Ideologies Further to the Political Right
      9. 3.8 Political Ideologies That Reject Political Ideology: Scientific Socialism, Burkeanism, and Religious Extremism
      10. Summary
      11. Key Terms
      12. Review Questions
      13. Suggested Readings
    3. 4 Civil Liberties
      1. Introduction
      2. 4.1 The Freedom of the Individual
      3. 4.2 Constitutions and Individual Liberties
      4. 4.3 The Right to Privacy, Self-Determination, and the Freedom of Ideas
      5. 4.4 Freedom of Movement
      6. 4.5 The Rights of the Accused
      7. 4.6 The Right to a Healthy Environment
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 5 Political Participation and Public Opinion
      1. Introduction
      2. 5.1 What Is Political Participation?
      3. 5.2 What Limits Voter Participation in the United States?
      4. 5.3 How Do Individuals Participate Other Than Voting?
      5. 5.4 What Is Public Opinion and Where Does It Come From?
      6. 5.5 How Do We Measure Public Opinion?
      7. 5.6 Why Is Public Opinion Important?
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  4. Groups
    1. 6 The Fundamentals of Group Political Activity
      1. Introduction
      2. 6.1 Political Socialization: The Ways People Become Political
      3. 6.2 Political Culture: How People Express Their Political Identity
      4. 6.3 Collective Dilemmas: Making Group Decisions
      5. 6.4 Collective Action Problems: The Problem of Incentives
      6. 6.5 Resolving Collective Action Problems
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
    2. 7 Civil Rights
      1. Introduction
      2. 7.1 Civil Rights and Constitutionalism
      3. 7.2 Political Culture and Majority-Minority Relations
      4. 7.3 Civil Rights Abuses
      5. 7.4 Civil Rights Movements
      6. 7.5 How Do Governments Bring About Civil Rights Change?
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
    3. 8 Interest Groups, Political Parties, and Elections
      1. Introduction
      2. 8.1 What Is an Interest Group?
      3. 8.2 What Are the Pros and Cons of Interest Groups?
      4. 8.3 Political Parties
      5. 8.4 What Are the Limits of Parties?
      6. 8.5 What Are Elections and Who Participates?
      7. 8.6 How Do People Participate in Elections?
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  5. Institutions
    1. 9 Legislatures
      1. Introduction
      2. 9.1 What Do Legislatures Do?
      3. 9.2 What Is the Difference between Parliamentary and Presidential Systems?
      4. 9.3 What Is the Difference between Unicameral and Bicameral Systems?
      5. 9.4 The Decline of Legislative Influence
      6. Summary
      7. Key Terms
      8. Review Questions
      9. Suggested Readings
    2. 10 Executives, Cabinets, and Bureaucracies
      1. Introduction
      2. 10.1 Democracies: Parliamentary, Presidential, and Semi-Presidential Regimes
      3. 10.2 The Executive in Presidential Regimes
      4. 10.3 The Executive in Parliamentary Regimes
      5. 10.4 Advantages, Disadvantages, and Challenges of Presidential and Parliamentary Regimes
      6. 10.5 Semi-Presidential Regimes
      7. 10.6 How Do Cabinets Function in Presidential and Parliamentary Regimes?
      8. 10.7 What Are the Purpose and Function of Bureaucracies?
      9. Summary
      10. Key Terms
      11. Review Questions
      12. Suggested Readings
    3. 11 Courts and Law
      1. Introduction
      2. 11.1 What Is the Judiciary?
      3. 11.2 How Does the Judiciary Take Action?
      4. 11.3 Types of Legal Systems around the World
      5. 11.4 Criminal versus Civil Laws
      6. 11.5 Due Process and Judicial Fairness
      7. 11.6 Judicial Review versus Executive Sovereignty
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 12 The Media
      1. Introduction
      2. 12.1 The Media as a Political Institution: Why Does It Matter?
      3. 12.2 Types of Media and the Changing Media Landscape
      4. 12.3 How Do Media and Elections Interact?
      5. 12.4 The Internet and Social Media
      6. 12.5 Declining Global Trust in the Media
      7. Summary
      8. Key Terms
      9. Review Questions
      10. Suggested Readings
  6. States and International Relations
    1. 13 Governing Regimes
      1. Introduction
      2. 13.1 Contemporary Government Regimes: Power, Legitimacy, and Authority
      3. 13.2 Categorizing Contemporary Regimes
      4. 13.3 Recent Trends: Illiberal Representative Regimes
      5. Summary
      6. Key Terms
      7. Review Questions
      8. Suggested Readings
    2. 14 International Relations
      1. Introduction
      2. 14.1 What Is Power, and How Do We Measure It?
      3. 14.2 Understanding the Different Types of Actors in the International System
      4. 14.3 Sovereignty and Anarchy
      5. 14.4 Using Levels of Analysis to Understand Conflict
      6. 14.5 The Realist Worldview
      7. 14.6 The Liberal and Social Worldview
      8. 14.7 Critical Worldviews
      9. Summary
      10. Key Terms
      11. Review Questions
      12. Suggested Readings
    3. 15 International Law and International Organizations
      1. Introduction
      2. 15.1 The Problem of Global Governance
      3. 15.2 International Law
      4. 15.3 The United Nations and Global Intergovernmental Organizations (IGOs)
      5. 15.4 How Do Regional IGOs Contribute to Global Governance?
      6. 15.5 Non-state Actors: Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs)
      7. 15.6 Non-state Actors beyond NGOs
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
    4. 16 International Political Economy
      1. Introduction
      2. 16.1 The Origins of International Political Economy
      3. 16.2 The Advent of the Liberal Economy
      4. 16.3 The Bretton Woods Institutions
      5. 16.4 The Post–Cold War Period and Modernization Theory
      6. 16.5 From the 1990s to the 2020s: Current Issues in IPE
      7. 16.6 Considering Poverty, Inequality, and the Environmental Crisis
      8. Summary
      9. Key Terms
      10. Review Questions
      11. Suggested Readings
  7. References
  8. Index

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify what normative political science seeks to do.
  • Discuss the primary methods political philosophers use to answer their questions.
  • List the three main ways normative political scientists have tried to answer questions like “What is a good citizen?”

In politics, what is good and what is right? How should power be used? What is the public interest? These are tricky questions with multiple answers. One might think of the “good” as that which is beneficial or helpful and “right” as what is true or just. Power should be used to promote the public interest so that those in power use it to benefit the people. Normative political science seeks to understand the meaning, purposes, and goals of politics. It seeks to define how individuals should behave or how institutions should be constituted. Those who study these issues are referred to as political philosophers and share common interests with the broader discipline of philosophy.

Normative political science considers an endless array of questions. What is a good citizen? Do human rights exist and, if so, what are they? Who should rule? What purpose should governments serve? Is there an ideal constitution and, if so, what is it? What is social justice?

These questions cannot be answered by presenting evidence alone: there is no test that would prove beyond a reasonable doubt what a good citizen is or that any constitution is in fact ideal. So normative political science typically proceeds primarily by appealing to logic and reason. Consider the question “What is a good citizen?” Evidence alone cannot tell us what constitutes a good citizen. Is a good citizen the one who always obeys the laws or the one who challenges the laws they see as unjust? Reasonable people can—and do—disagree on this and almost all other questions in political theory. But in order to determine through logic and reason what it means to be a good citizen, evidence can guide judgments of whether citizens are good (for example, if citizens are observed doing bad things, they would not be good citizens).

Normative theorists have tried to answer questions like “What is a good citizen?” in three main ways: focusing on the consequences of behavior, moral rules, or virtue.

A group of people stand in rows, raising their right hands and holding papers in their left hands.
Figure 1.9 These new American citizens are being sworn in at a naturalization ceremony. What is a good citizen? (credit: “‘Celebrate Citizenship, Celebrate America’ Naturalization Ceremony at College of DuPage 2015 48” by COD Newsroom/Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

One definition of a good citizen is someone who acts in ways that benefit society; that is, the benefits are a consequence of the citizen’s actions. A good citizen votes and pays taxes, for example, because both actions help to create stable and prosperous societies. In contrast, a bad citizen is one who breaks the law, to the extent that breaking the law harms other people. In this view, someone who speeds would be a bad citizen because speeding increases the likelihood of causing a crash and harming others, but someone who commits a “victimless crime,” such as smoking marijuana, would not be a bad citizen because they would not be harming anyone else. According to normative political science, a person should behave in ways that benefit society and do not harm it, and individuals should strive to be good citizens. A good ruler is one who helps the ruled rather than harming them. According to Aristotle, constitutions that “aim at the common advantage are correct and just . . . whereas those which aim only at the advantage of the rulers are deviant and unjust, because they involve despotic rule which is inappropriate for a community of free persons.”29

Video

Philippines: What It Takes to Be a Good Citizen

In this clip from the World Bank, Filipinos attending a conference answer the question “What does it take to be a good citizen?”

Two challenges are central to this type of theorizing. What actions produce more benefit than harm, and what evidence supports these claims? For example, speeding is a risk to the driver and to others, but it may bring pleasure to the driver and enables them to get where they are going faster. Do the costs outweigh the benefits? Moreover, what counts as a benefit or a harm? Is it beneficial or harmful for citizens to monitor one another’s behavior for potential lawbreaking, for example?

Philosophers, and not just political philosophers, attempt to identify a set of moral principles that good citizens should adopt.30 Similarly, they have attempted to identify principles governments should adhere to because those principles are moral. For example, a good citizen would treat others as they themselves would want to be treated (the so-called Golden Rule). A good citizen would not lie because lying is wrong. In practice, it has proven hard to identify rules that are universally consistent or accepted. Is it always wrong to lie? What if a government decides it must lie to an adversary in order to protect its own citizens? Does a good government not, as a rule, have an obligation to do just that? But does this then create a slippery slope in which governments believe they are justified in lying as a matter of course?

Some normative political scientists seek to identify and understand character traits that are admirable in their own right. Rather than arguing that good citizens should tell the truth because lying harms the public interest or violates a universal moral principle, they argue that good citizens should tell the truth because a good person does not lie. According to this line of thinking, a government protects its citizens because doing so improves their lives and because it fulfills the duties of government, but also because doing so is what makes a good government. That is what good governments do.

Political philosophers studying virtue seek to identify and define the virtues, as well as to discover their limits.31 For example, traits like bravery, integrity, humility, and kindness have been identified as possible sources of virtue. A good person, and a good citizen, is brave enough to stand up for the right, in opposition to the wrong. To do otherwise would be a sign of cowardice. But can a person be too brave, becoming foolhardy or rash, when standing up for what is right?

These three types of normative reasoning—emphasizing consequences, rules, and virtue—overlap, but they represent distinctly different ways of thinking about politics and what ideal politics would be like. Although the questions they raise have been studied since ancient times, they remain relevant for us today and are still worthy of careful reflection.

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