by Rod Hague and Martin Harrop

Chapter One: Political Concepts

Chapter Notes

  • Concepts as terms or ideas, briefly defined. Conceptions as broader interpretations or understandings of a concept.
  • Politics as the activity by which groups reach binding collective decisions through attempting to reconcile differences among their members. Politics as the pursuit of the interests of the community or of groups within it.
  • Government as an institution for making and enforcing collective decisions - ‘the authoritative allocation of values’. More narrowly, the top political tier within such institutions.
  • Governance as the activity, process or quality of governing, a task in which government may not play a leading role, as with regulation of the internet. More broadly, we can speak of ‘international governance’ but not ‘international government’.
  • The political system: all interactions and organizations (not just government) through which collective decisions are reached and enforced.
  • Hobbes’s case for government: it offers security against each other as well as from external attack.
  • Advantages of comparison: learning about other governments, improving our classifications of politics, testing hypotheses and giving some potential for prediction and control.
  • Governments as liberal democratic or authoritarian, including competitive authoritarian (hybrid regime). Totalitarian states treated as a form of authoritarianism.
  • Power as the capacity to produce intended effects. Lukes’s three faces: first, who prevails when preferences conflict? Second, who controls whether preferences are expressed? Third, who shapes preferences? The difficulty of working with the third face.
  • Authority as the right to rule, existing when subordinates acknowledge the right of superiors to give orders. Exerted through tradition, charisma or a set of rules.
  • A legitimate system of government as one based on authority; those subject to the state recognize its right to make collective decisions. Legitimacy as the concept of authority applied to the system of government as a whole.
  • The state as a political community formed by a territorially-defined population subject to one government. The capacity of the state to regulate the legitimate use of force within its boundaries.
  • Sovereignty as the highest form of authority within the state, combining internal sovereignty (law-making power) and external sovereignty (international recognition of the sovereign's jurisdiction).
  • The citizen as a full member of a state, possessing rights and duties. The distinction between residence and citizenship, not least in an age of migration.
  • The nation as a people inhabiting a defined territory seeking political expression of its shared identity, usually through a claim to statehood. Nations as ancient, primordial entities vs. nations as modern, state-dependent loyalties – the latter to be preferred.
  • Nationalism as the doctrine that nations are entitled to self-determination. Nation-states and multinational states.
  • Ideology as a system of ideas offering and propagating an explicit account of human nature, the state and society, and the position of the individual. The decay of ideology.
  • Left and right as opposed positions on an ideological dimension. The left favours equality, human rights and reform. The right supports tradition, authority and the nation. Content of these containers varies over time.


Multiple choice questions


Essays and term papers

  1. In your view, is the essence of politics to be found in making public choices or pursuing private interests?
  2. Was the twentieth century the age of nationalism or the age of ideology?

Hague & Harrop, 2013 edn, ch. 1.

H. Arendt, On Violence
B. Crick, In Defence of Politics
C. Hay, Political Analysis: A Critical Introduction
A. Heywood, Political Ideologies: An Introduction
W. Shively, Power and Choice: An Introduction to Political Science
A. Smith, Nationalism



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