Essentials of Political Ideas

For A-Level

by Andrew Heywood


Absolutism A form of government in which political power is concentrated in the hands of a single individual or small group, in particular, an absolute monarchy.
Affirmative action Policies or programmes that are designed to benefit disadvantaged minority groups (or, potentially, women) by affording them special assistance.
Alienation To be separated from one’s genuine or essential nature; used by Marxists to describe the process whereby, under capitalism, labour is reduced to being a mere commodity.
Altruism Concern for the interests and welfare of others, based either on enlightened self-interest or on a belief in a common humanity.
Androgyny The possession of both male and female characteristics; used to imply that human beings are sexless ‘persons’ in the sense that sex is irrelevant to their social role or political status.
Animal rights Moral entitlements that are based on the belief that as animals are non-human ‘persons’, they deserve the same consideration (at least in certain areas) as human beings.
Anomie A weakening of values and normative rules, associated with feelings of isolation, loneliness and meaninglessness.
Anthropocentrism A belief that human needs and interests are of overriding moral and philosophical importance; the opposite of ecocentrism.
Anti-politics A rejection of, and/or alienation from, conventional politicians and mainstream political parties.
Assimilation The process through which immigrant communities lose their cultural distinctiveness by adjusting to the values, allegiances and lifestyles of the ‘host’ society.
Atomism A belief that society is made up of a collection of self-interested and largely self-sufficient individuals, or atoms, rather than social groups.
Austerity Sternness or severity; as an economic strategy, austerity refers to public spending cuts designed to eradicate a budget deficit, and underpinned by faith in market forces.
Authority The right to exert influence over others by virtue of an acknowledged obligation to obey.
Biocentric equality The principle that all organisms and entities in the biosphere are of equal moral worth, each being an expression of the goodness of nature.
Biodiversity The range of species within a biotic community, often thought to be linked to its health and stability.
Bioregionalism The belief that the territorial organisation of economic, social and political life should take into account the ecological integrity of bioregions.
Bourgeois ideology A Marxist term denoting ideas and theories that serve the interests of the bourgeoisie by concealing the contradictions of the capitalist class system.
Bourgeois state A Marxist term denoting the state that is bound by the interests of the bourgeoisie and so perpetuates the system of unequal class power.
Bourgeoisie A Marxist term denoting the ruling class of a capitalist society, the owners of productive wealth.
Chauvinism Uncritical and unreasoned dedication to a cause or group, typically based on a belief in its superiority, as in ‘national chauvinism’ or ‘male chauvinism’.
Citizenship Membership of a state: a relationship between the individual and the state based on reciprocal rights and responsibilities.
Civic nationalism A form of nationalism that emphasises political allegiance based on a vision of a community of equal citizens, allowing for significant levels of ethnic and cultural diversity.
Civil liberty The private sphere of existence, belonging to the citizen, not to the state; freedom from government.
Civil society A sphere of autonomous groups and associations, such as businesses, pressure groups, clubs, families and so on.
Civil society A realm of autonomous associations and groups, formed by private citizens and enjoying independence from the government; civil society includes businesses, clubs, families and so on.
Class consciousness A Marxist term denoting an accurate awareness of class interests and a willingness to pursue them; a classconscious class is a class for-itself.
Classical liberalism A tradition within liberalism that seeks to maximise the realm of unconstrained individual action, typically by establishing a minimal state and a reliance on market economics.
Collectivisation The abolition of private property and the establishment of a comprehensive system of common or public ownership, usually through the mechanisms of the state.
Communism The principle of the common ownership of wealth, or a system of comprehensive collectivisation; communism is often viewed as ‘Marxism in practice’ (see p. 71).
Competition state A state whose principal role is to pursue strategies for national prosperity in conditions of intensifying global competition.
Consciousnessraising Strategies to remodel social identity and challenge cultural inferiority by an emphasis on pride, self-worth and self-assertion.
Constitutionalism The theory or practice of limiting government power through the use of external (legal) and internal (institutional) constraints.
Constructivism The theory that meaning is imposed on the external world by the beliefs and assumptions we hold; reality is a social construct.
Consumer sovereignty The notion, based on the theory of competitive capitalism, that consumer choice is the ultimately determining factor within a market economy.
Cooperation Working together; collective effort intended to achieve mutual benefit.
Cultural feminism A form of feminism that emphasises an engagement with a woman-centred culture and lifestyle, and is typically repelled by the corrupting and aggressive male world of political activism.
Cultural nationalism A form of nationalism that places primary emphasis on the regeneration of the nation as a distinctive civilisation, rather than on self-government.
Culturalism The belief that human beings are culturally defined creatures, culture being the universal basis for personal and social identity.
Culture Beliefs, values and practices that are passed on from one generation to the next through learning; culture is distinct from nature.
Deep diversity Diversity that rejects the idea of objective or ‘absolute’ standards and so is based on moral relativism.
Deep ecology A green ideological perspective that rejects anthropocentrism and gives priority to the maintenance of nature, and is associated with values such as biocentric equality, diversity and decentralisation.
Democracy Rule by the people; democracy implies both popular participation and government in the public interest, and can take a wide variety of forms (see p. 19).
Democratic centralism The Leninist principle of party organisation, based on a supposed balance between freedom of discussion and strict unity of action.
Dialectic A process of development in which interaction between two opposing forces leads to a further or higher stage; historical change resulting from internal contradictions within a society.
Dialectical materialism The crude and deterministic form of Marxism that dominated intellectual life in orthodox communist states.
Dictatorship of the proletariat A Marxist term denoting the transitionary phase between the collapse of capitalism and the establishment of full communism, characterised by the establishment of a proletarian state.
Difference feminism A form of feminism which holds that there are deep and possibly ineradicable differences between women and men, whether these are rooted in biology, culture or material experience.
Direct action Physical action taken outside the constitutional and legal framework; direct action may range from passive resistance to terrorism.
Direct democracy Popular self-government, characterised by the direct and continuous participation of citizens in the tasks of government.
Discourse Human interaction, especially communication: discourse may disclose or illustrate power relations.
Divine right The doctrine that earthly rulers are chosen by God and thus wield unchallengeable authority; divine right is a defence for monarchical absolutism.
Ecocentrism A theoretical orientation that gives priority to the maintenance of ecological balance rather than the achievement of human ends.
Ecological consciousness An awareness of the oneness or interconnectedness of all things, allowing people to move beyond narcissistic selfishness and egoism.
Ecology The study of the relationship between living organisms and the environment; ecology stresses the network of relationships that sustains all forms of life.
Economic liberalism A belief in the market as a self-regulating mechanism that tends naturally to deliver general prosperity and opportunities for all (see pp 23–4).
Egalitarianism A theory or practice based on the desire to promote equality; egalitarianism is sometimes seen as the belief that equality is the primary political value.
Egoism A concern for one’s own welfare or interests, or the theory that the pursuit of self-interest is an ethical priority.
Empire A structure of domination in which diverse cultural, ethnic or nation groups are subjected to a single source of authority.
Enlightenment An intellectual movement that reached its height in the eighteenth century which challenged traditional beliefs in religion, politics and learning in general in the name of reason and progress.
Entropy A tendency towards decay or disintegration, exhibited by all ‘closed’ systems.
Equality feminism A form of feminism that aspires to the goal of sexual equality, whether this is defined in terms of formal rights, the control of resources, or personal power.
Equality of opportunity Equality defined in terms of life chances or opportunities, allowing people to rise or fall but only on the basis of personal differences.
Essentialism The belief that things have a core or fundamental nature, or ‘essence’; the term is often used to suggest that biological factors are crucial in determining psychological and behavioural traits.
Ethnic nationalism A form of nationalism that is fuelled primarily by a keen sense of ethnic distinctiveness and the desire to preserve it.
Ethnicity A sentiment of loyalty towards a particular population, cultural group or territorial area; bonds that are more often cultural rather than racial.
Ethnocultural nationalism A form of nationalism that is fuelled primarily by a keen sense of ethnic and cultural distinctiveness and the desire to preserve it.
Eurocentrism The application of values and theories drawn from European culture to other groups and peoples, implying a biased or distorted world-view.
Euroscepticism Hostility to European integration based on the belief that it is a threat to national sovereignty and/or national identity.
Feudalism A system of agrarian-based production that is characterised by fixed social hierarchies and a rigid pattern of obligations.
First-wave feminism The early form of feminism which developed in the mid-nineteenth century and was based on the pursuit of sexual equality in the areas of political and legal rights, particularly suffrage rights.
Fiscal conservatism A political-economic stance that prioritises the lowering of taxes, cuts in public spending and reduced government debt.
Fiscal stimulus An economic strategy designed to promote growth by either, lowering taxes or increasing government spending, or both.
Formal equality Equality based on people’s status in society, especially their legal and political rights (legal and political equality).
Fossil fuels Fuels that are formed from the decomposition of buried dead organisms, making them rich in carbon; examples include oil, natural gas and coal.
Fraternity Literally, brotherhood; bonds of sympathy and comradeship between and among human beings.
Free market The principle or policy of unfettered market competition, free from government interference.
Free trade A system of trading between states that is unrestricted by tariffs or other forms of protectionism.
Freedom (or liberty) The ability to think and act as one wishes, a capacity that can be associated with the individual, a social group or a nation.
Fundamentalist socialism A form of socialism that seeks to abolish capitalism and replace it with a qualitatively different kind of society.
Gender A social and cultural distinction between males and females, as opposed to sex, which refers to biological and therefore ineradicable differences between women and men.
General will The genuine interests of a collective body, equivalent to the common good; the will of all, provided each person acts selflessly.
Government The machinery through which collective decisions are made on behalf of the state, usually comprising a legislature, an executive and a judiciary.
Gradualism Progress brought about by gradual, piecemeal improvements, rather than dramatic upheaval; change through legal and political reform.
Green capitalism The idea that a reliance on the capitalist market mechanism will deliver ecologically sustainable outcomes, usually linked to assumptions about capitalism’s consumer responsiveness.
Hierarchy A pyramidically ranked system of command and obedience, in which social position is unconnected with individual ability.
Historical materialism A Marxist theory that holds that material or economic conditions ultimately structure law, politics, culture and other aspects of social existence.
Holism A belief that the whole is more important than its parts; holism implies that understanding is gained by studying relationships among the parts.
Homeostasis The tendency of a system, especially the physiological systems of higher animals, to maintain internal equilibrium.
Human nature The essential and innate character of all human beings: what the individual owes to nature rather than to society.
Human rights Rights to which people are entitled by virtue of being human; human rights are universal, fundamental and absolute.
Humanism A philosophy that gives moral priority to the satisfaction of human needs and aspirations.
Humanism A philosophy that gives moral priority to the achievement of human needs and ends.
Hybridity A condition of social and cultural mixing in which people develop multiple identities.
Independence The process through which a nation is liberated from foreign rule, usually involving the establishment of sovereign statehood.
Individuality Selffulfilment achieved through the realisation of an individual’s distinctive or unique identity qualities; what distinguishes one person from all others.
Inflation A rise in the general price level, leading to a decline in the value of money.
Integral nationalism A form of nationalism which emphasises the overriding importance of the nation, seen as possessing an existence and meaning beyond the life of any single individual.
Intersectionality A framework for the analysis of injustice and social inequality that emphasises the multidimensional or multi-faceted nature of personal identity and of related systems of domination.
Jingoism A mood of nationalist enthusiasm and public celebration provoked by military expansion or imperial conquest.
Justice A moral standard of fairness and impartiality; social justice is the idea of a morally justifiable distribution of wealth and rewards in society.
Knowledge economy An economy in which knowledge is supposedly the key source of competitiveness and productivity, especially in the form of information and communication technology.
Laissez-faire Literally, ‘leave to do’; the doctrine that economic activity should be entirely free from government interference.
Leninism Lenin’s theoretical contributions to Marxism, notably his belief in the need for a revolutionary or ‘vanguard’ party to raise the proletariat to class consciousness.
Liberal feminism A form of feminism that is grounded in the belief that sexual differences are irrelevant to personal worth, and calls for equal rights for women and men in the public sphere.
Liberal multiculturalism A form of multiculturalism that is committed to toleration and seeks to uphold freedom of choice and of moral sphere, especially in relation to culture and religion.
Libertarianism A belief that the individual should enjoy the widest possible realm of freedom; libertarianism implies the removal of both external and internal constraints upon the individual (see p. 48).
Managerialism The theory that a governing class of managers, technocrats and state officials – those who possess technical and administrative skills – dominates both capitalist and communist societies.
Market A system of commercial exchange between buyers and sellers, controlled by impersonal economic forces: ‘market forces’.
Market fundamentalism An absolute faith in the market, reflecting the belief that the market mechanism offers solutions to all economic and social problems.
Materialism An emphasis on material needs and their satisfaction, usually implying a link between pleasure or happiness and the level of material consumption.
Mercantilism A school of economic thought that emphasises the state’s role in managing international trade and delivering prosperity.
Meritocracy Literally, rule by those with merit, merit being intelligence plus effort; a society in which social position is determined exclusively by ability and hard work.
Metaphysics The branch of philosophy that is concerned with explaining the fundamental nature of existence, or being.
Militarism The achievement of ends by military means, or the extension of military ideas, values and practices to civilian society.
Millenarianism A belief in a thousand-year period of divine rule; political millenarianism offers the prospect of a sudden and complete emancipation from misery and oppression.
Mixed economy An economy in which there is a mixture of publicly owned and privately owned industries.
Modern liberalism A tradition within liberalism that provides (in contrast to classical liberalism) a qualified endorsement for social and economic intervention as a means of promoting personal development.
Modernist ecology A reformist tendency within green politics that seeks to reconcile ecology with the key features of capitalist modernity.
Mutualism A system of fair and equitable exchange, in which individuals or groups bargain with one another, trading goods and services without profiteering or exploitation.
Nation A collection of people bound together by shared values and traditions, a common language, religion and history, and usually occupying the same geographical area (see p. 117).
National conservatism A form of conservatism that prioritises the defence of national, cultural and, sometimes, ethnic identity over other concerns, often based on parallels between the family and the nation.
Nationalisation The extension of state or public ownership over private assets or industries, either individual enterprises or the entire economy (often called ‘collectivisation’).
Nation-state A sovereign political association within which citizenship and nationality overlap; one nation within a single state.
Natural aristocracy The idea that talent and leadership are innate or inbred qualities that cannot be acquired through effort or self-advancement.
Natural rights God-given rights that are fundamental to human beings and are therefore inalienable (they cannot be taken away, as discussed later in the chapter).
Negative freedom The absence of external restrictions or constraints on the individual, allowing freedom of choice.
Neo-Marxism An updated and revised form of Marxism that rejects determinism, the primacy of economics and the privileged status of the proletariat.
New Right An ideological trend within conservatism that embraces a blend of neoliberalism (see p. 51) and neoconservatism (see p. 55).
Nihilism Literally a belief in nothing; the rejection of all moral and political principles.
Offence (In this sense) to feel hurt, even humiliated; an injury against one’s deepest beliefs.
Organicism A belief that society operates like an organism or living entity, the whole being more than a collection of its individual parts.
Pacifism A commitment to peace and a rejection of war and violence in any circumstances (‘pacific’ derives from the Latin, and means peace-making).
Pan-nationalism A style of nationalism that is dedicated to unifying a disparate people through either expansionism or political solidarity (‘pan’ means all or every).
Pastoralism A belief in the virtues of rural existence: simplicity, community and a closeness to nature, in contrast to the allegedly corrupting influence of urban and industrialised life.
Patriarchy Literally, rule by the father; often used more generally to describe the dominance of men and subordination of women in society at large.
Permissiveness The willingness to allow people to make their own moral choices; permissiveness suggests that there are no authoritative values.
Pluralist multiculturalism A form of multiculturalism that is committed to ‘deep’ diversity, based on the benefits of cultural entrenchment and the need to resist cultural imperialism.
Political myth A belief that has the capacity to provoke political action by virtue of its emotional power rather than through an appeal to reason.
Political nationalism A form of nationalism that treats the nation as a natural political community, usually expressed with the idea of national selfdetermination.
Positive discrimination Preferential treatment towards a group designed to compensate its members for past disadvantage or structural inequality.
Positive freedom Selfmastery or self-realisation; the achievement of autonomy or the development of human capacities.
Poststructuralism An intellectual tradition, related to postmodernism, that emphasises that all ideas and concepts are expressed in language that itself is enmeshed in complex relations of power.
Preservationism The disposition to protect natural systems, often implying keeping things ‘just as they are’ and restricting the impact of humans on the environment.
Primordialism The belief that nations are ancient and deep-rooted, fashioned variously out of psychology, culture and biology.
Privatisation The transfer of state assets from the public to the private sector, reflecting a contraction of the state’s responsibilities.
Progress Moving forward; the belief that history is characterised by human advancement underpinned by the accumulation of knowledge and wisdom.
Progressive taxation A system of taxation in which the rich pay a higher proportion of their income in tax than the poor.
Proletariat A Marxist term denoting a class that subsists through the sale of its labour power; strictly speaking, the proletariat is not equivalent to the manual working class.
Property The ownership of physical goods or wealth, whether by private individuals, groups of people or the state.
‘Pro-woman’ feminism A form of feminism that advances a positive image of women’s attributes and propensities, usually stressing creativity, caring and human sympathy, and cooperation.
Radical feminism A form of feminism that holds gender divisions to be the most politically significant of social cleavages, and believes that they are rooted in the structures of domestic life.
Revisionist socialism A form of socialism that has revised its critique of capitalism and seeks to reconcile greater social justice with surviving capitalist forms.
Revolution A fundamental and irreversible change, often a brief but dramatic period of upheaval; systemic change.
Rights Entitlements to act or be treated in a particular way; rights may have a moral or legal character
Ruling class A Marxist term denoting the class that owns the means of production, and so wields economic and political power.
Scientism The belief that scientific method is the only value-free and objective means of establishing truth, and is applicable to all fields of learning.
Second-wave feminism The form of feminism that emerged in the 1960s and 1970s, and was characterised by a more radical concern with ‘women’s liberation’, including, and perhaps especially, in the private sphere.
Self-actualisation An ‘inner’, even quasi-spiritual, fulfilment that is achieved by transcending egoism and materialism.
Separation of powers The principle that legislative, executive and judicial power should be separated through the construction of three independent branches of government.
Separatism The quest to secede from a larger political formation with a view to establishing an independent state.
Shallow diversity Diversity that is confined by the acceptance of certain values and beliefs as ‘absolute’ and therefore non-negotiable.
Shallow ecology A green ideological perspective that harnesses the lessons of ecology to human needs and ends, and is associated with values such as sustainability and conservation.
Social class A social division based on economic or social factors; a social class is a group of people who share a similar socio-economic position.
Social conservatism The belief that society is fashioned out of a fragile network of relationships which need to be upheld through duty, traditional values and established institutions.
Social contract A (hypothetical) agreement among individuals through which they form a state in order to escape from the disorder and chaos of the ‘state of nature’.
Social democracy A moderate or reformist brand of socialism that favours a balance between the market and the state, rather than the abolition of capitalism.
Social ecology A broad tendency within green politics that links ecological sustainability to radical social change, or the ecoanarchist principle that human communities should be structured according to ecological principles.
Social inclusion The acquisition of rights, skills and opportunities that enable citizens to participate fully in their society.
Social justice A morally justifiable distribution of wealth, usually implying a commitment to greater equality.
Social revolution A qualitative change in the structure of society; for Marxists a social revolution involves a change in the mode of production and the system of ownership.
Socialist feminism A form of feminism that links the subordination of women to the dynamics of the capitalist economic system, emphasising that women’s liberation requires a process of radical social change.
Sovereignty The principle of absolute or unrestricted power expressed either as unchallengeable legal authority or unquestionable political power.
Speciesism A belief in the superiority of one species over other species, through the denial of their moral significance.
Stalinism A centrally planned economy supported by systematic and brutal political oppression, based on the structures of Stalin’s Russia.
State A political association that establishes sovereign jurisdiction over a defined territory and typically possesses a monopoly of the means of armed conflict.
State of nature A pre-political society characterised by unrestrained freedom and the absence of established authority.
State socialism A form of socialism in which the state controls and directs economic life, acting, in theory, in the interests of the people.
Status quo The existing state of affairs.
Supranationalism The ability of bodies with transnational or global jurisdictions to impose their will on nation-states.
Surplus value A Marxist term denoting the value that is extracted from the labour of the proletariat by the mechanism of capitalist exploitation.
Sustainability The capacity of a system to maintain its health and continue in existence over a period of time.
Syndicalism A form of revolutionary trade unionism that focuses on labour syndicates as free associations of workers and emphasises the use of direct action and the general strike.
System A collection of parts that operate through a network of reciprocal interactions and thereby constitute a complex whole.
Thatcherism The freemarket/ strong state ideological stance associated with Margaret Thatcher; the UK version of the New Right political project.
Third way The notion of an alternative form of economics to both state socialism and freemarket capitalism, sought at different times by conservatives, socialists and fascists.
Toleration Forbearance; a willingness to accept views or actions with which one is in disagreement.
Totalitarianism An allencompassing system of political rule, typically established by pervasive ideological manipulation and open terror.
Tradition Values, practices or institutions that have endured through time and, in particular, been passed down from one generation to the next.
Transfeminism A form of feminism that rejects the idea of fixed identities and specifically avows sexual and gender ambiguity.
Transgender A term denoting or relating to people who do not conform to prevailing expectations about gender, usually by crossing over or moving between gender identities.
Transphobia Prejudice against or dislike of people who do not conform to prevailing expectations about gender identity.
Transsexual A term denoting or relating to people who do not conform to the sex they were assigned at birth, and who may seek to realign their gender and their sex through medical intervention.
Tribalism Group behaviour characterised by insularity and exclusivity, typically fuelled by hostility towards rival groups.
Unification The process through which a collection of separate political entities, usually sharing cultural characteristics, are integrated into a single state.
Utility Use-value; in economics, ‘utility’ describes the satisfaction that is gained from the consumption of material goods and services.
Utopianism A belief in the unlimited possibilities of human development, typically embodied in the vision of a perfect or ideal society, a utopia (see p. 98).
Value pluralism The theory that there is no single, overriding conception of the ‘good life’, but rather a number of competing and equally legitimate conceptions.
Volksgeist (German) Literally, the spirit of the people; the organic identity of a people reflected in their culture and particularly in their language.
Welfare state A state that takes primary responsibility for the social welfare of its citizens, discharged through a range of socialsecurity, health, education and other services.
Written constitution A single authoritative document that defines the duties, powers and functions of government institutions and so constitutes ‘higher’ law.
Xenophobia A fear or hatred of foreigners; pathological ethnocentrism.