Week 10 – Starting Points Ch. 15

Estimated Reading Time 00:16:25

Starting Points

Chapter 15
Politics and Ideologies

Political sociology ≠ political science. Sociologists study how power is converted into authority.

Canadian politics has been messy prior to 2009, before Stephen Harper’s majority government. Campaigns focused on dividing Canadians rather than uniting. How can politicians win back the trust of citizens? How can Canadians regain interest in the state?


Barrington Moore (critical theorist), Talcott Parsons (functionalist), Seymour Martin Lipset (functionalist), and George Homans (functionalist) are some important people.

Talcott Parsons is a leading functionalist. Wrote about politics in his book The Social System. Argues that families, small groups, large organizations, empires, etc. all have a political process — the goal attainment function — which is not so much tyrannical as functional. (Well, he’s a functionalist). These social systems need this function to survive.

Parsons is being philosophical rather than quantitative. But what he’s saying makes sense. Politics is everywhere. You think you can buy a cup of coffee without invoking politics? Think again.

Seymour Martin Lipset’s book Political Man is more quantitative. Deals with questions like “what social conditions and processes promote democracy?” It’s so political, man!

Michael Adams of Environics (a public polling firm) is well known for his many books of political commentary and analysis including Sex in the Snow and American Back Lash.
(“Political commentary”? …Yeah right.)
His beliefs are like Lipset’s. What are his lips set on?

George Homans is a functionalist who focuses more on the microstructure of politics. Homans studies humans and wrote The Human Group. Responsible for social exchange theory. Showed that small groups rule themselves through informal control — “small group politics”. These control include exclusion or ridicule towards anyone who deviates too much. Homans looked for the payoff — why people value such self government in small groups. In this sense he’s not unlike Erving Goffman.

Functionalists are all nice and cool but we’re gonna be critical. Here comes Barrington Moore. Essentially his argument runs as follows:
During modernization, if the majority is:
-middle class, you will get democracy.
-peasant/proletarian class, you will get communism
-traditional ruling class, you will get fascism.

Classic Studies: The First New Nation

What distinguishes the Canadian society and what role does politics play? Lipset compares US and Canada and tells us the answer in The First New Nation. What he’s really interested in was in the US but hey, at least he talks about Canada!

Lipset compares US to Canada, Australia and the UK and found several important US features. US is the only one to have a revolutionary war. It is founded on a contradiction: the contradiction between equality and achievement. Indeed both values are equally present and both were, in a sense, born in the American revolution.

The American Revolution came to symbolize the birth of the world’s “first new nation”.
(With the then young, vibrant humanist idea that all (hu)man are born equal. Until the fall of the US dollar of course. The privatization of the Fed Reserve paved the way to manipulation.)
Religions and the labour movement were both important driving forces. Religious fervour stimulated morality, and trade union movements stimulated class awareness and moved the American society into a more egalitarian one.

In comparison, UK is super elitist. Those British snobs. Canada is pretty elitist too and as a result don’t put much emphasis on equality of opportunity. Australia, on the other hand, is more egalitarian but with less populist politics (because it never had a revolution).
Elitism ranking: UK > Canada > Aussies > US

Why is Canada less egalitarian than the US?
“The US was born in blood.” Revolution followed by a civil war.
“Canada was founded in peace.” Pro-English Loyalists fled US to found Canada.

Lipset rooted his study in the humanist tradition of Max Weber. His analysis sheds light on newly emerging nations in Africa, Asia, South America, etc. Influential and praised by Parsons.

McCormack says Canada isn’t elitist at all. Cunliffe wonders Lipset’s correlation of war and the American character. “A third critic” (sic!) wonders how much Americans value equality.

Political Science and Political Sociology

It’s easy to confuse the two. Both study the state and social policy. Political science deals mainly with machinery of government and public admin. They read in libraries and philosophize.
Political sociology deals with the relations between politics, social institutions, ideologies, and culture. Sociologists also study POWERRRRRRRR. They do surveys and talk to people.

Political Authority

Authority is good for politics. Weber classified it into three: traditional (how’s it’s always done), charismatic (hey babay, gimme everythang tonight), rational-legal (what makes sense and is lawful).
Charismatic subverts traditional. Rational-legal is formalism (i.e. bureaucracy).
Rule of law is the reasons modern states much follow strict rules to preserve public legitimacy.

The State

Three types of modern states: authoritarian (Mumbarak), totalitarian (Stalin), and liberal-democratic (Obama).

Authoritarian and totalitarian are both dictatorships but totalitarian is harsher and often more stable. Democracy is modelled on ancient Greek city-states and is (supposedly) run by the people. Athens at the height of its democracy had 300,000 people and about 30,000 adult male citizens.

Canada is a representative democracy. We vote for a person to vote for us. It is also a constitutional monarchy which means the Queen is inherited but controlled by Parliament. This is in contrast to la république.

Canada has constituencies. Candidates has to win the constituency to win a seat in the Parliament. Sometimes this means that a minor party is not represented. In Italy they have proportional representation, where vote total is tallied up, and the Parliament chairs are divided up according to popular vote, not according to constituencies.

We also have lobby groups and stuff. Next chapter.
People’s political participation is a function of demography, social elements, and psychology.

According to democratic pluralism, all citizens have the chance to voice their views and pursue their interests in a democracy. State should be neutral. But there are still problems.

Gender and the State

The feminists strike! State is an institution permeated by gender inequality. McIntosh (1978) says state encourages employers to take advantage of women’s free services. Brodie (1996) says state policies promote women’s subordination. Beaujot and Ravanera (2009) say that lack of childcare prevents women from working outside the home in Canada.

Women are under-represented in the government. In 1918 (1940 in Quebec) women gained suffrage. In 1929 women were declared “persons” and were given rights that men enjoyed theretofore.
Today women make up 22.1% of Parliament with 68 MPs. The higher the position the less likely a woman will occupy it. There has been one prime minister in Canada — Kim Cambell. Also our governor general were women. Three of them in fact. Look we are being to nice to the women.

Poli. sic. Bashevkin (2009) bashes Canadians for being uncomfortable to put a women in a position of power. Incidentally when voter turnout is high more women are elected into office.
Women’s lack of participation is not by choice but by a glass ceiling. Also family takes time. Most Canadians want more women in politics. Canada is behind in proportion of female politicians. (Well what you do expect, Canada is traditional.) Sweden for example achieved gender equality in politics.

Politics in Canada: a Primer

The Canadian state is a complex system not unlike the DNA polymerase which needs primers. Jk lols I don’t know what I’m talking about. Power of legislation is divided between federal and provincial governments. Federal-provincial relations tend to dominate Canadian political discussions.

As of now only Liberal and Conservative parties have governed federally. NDP is socialist and wins 10-20%. Bloc Québécois, Alberta Alliance (conservative), and Green Party are some more parties. Yay parties. I love parties.

In practice many voters are unrepresented. First of all, not all voters vote. Second, ridings vary in size. Third, it’s not the party that wins most overall votes win, but the party that wins the most seats.
(Kind of like in tennis how you can win more points and still lose a match. It’s the set points and break points that truly matter).

A party that wins 40% of votes usually wins. In 2008 the Green Party won 6.8% of votes but no seats. Research shows that the more visible a party is the more likely it’s gonna win. Voter turnout has been decreasing. Young people less likely to vote. Canadian voting is kinda boring. Obama on the other hand is a whole other sensation.

Classic Studies: Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison

Foucault shows that even democratic states can be dangerously powerful. One trend in modern states is increased surveillance. Punishment has a long and illustrious history beginning with the Code of Hammurabi. It punished crimes with death, dismemberment, or exile. There were no prisons though. Even in medieval Europe punishments had to be quick and inexpensive. There were public displays of torture.

But what if the victims gain sympathy? That’s not good. So prison was invented. Critics say that punishment is supposed to deter crime, not cause unrest. People kept criminals behind bars and out of public attention.

But there is physical discipline in prison, often for extended time. Record-keeping became an important part of control and punishment, with the people in power set about to record as much information as they can, to better regulate and examine criminals. Knowledge was used not to empower people, but to control and disempower them.

Another technique for discipline was surveillance. Echoing Jeremy Bentham’s idea of the Panopticon — a prison where guards can always see the prisoners, but prisoners cannot see the guards, so that they do not know if they are watched. This uncertainty leads to self-regulation.

But we can extend this analogy. From the moment we are born, we are disciplined and socialized — especially by “total institutions” (à la Erving Goffman). Today we are constantly monitoring and disciplining each other. (Somebody’s always watching youuuu……) So contrary to Marx’s prediction, our alienation lies not in isolation but in engagement with one another as guards and prisoners.

As a result, we get political stability! We think of the criminal as a deviant, and we should fix the criminal and not the government. Additionally, the class basis of punishment is driven underground. Rule breaking is bad. Rule making and rule enforcing is good and people respect you for it.

Goldstein (1979) says that some observations in the book are unsupported by evidence. Evidence is ethnocentric and of French origin (Shelly, 1979). Garland (1986) doesn’t like Foucault “for this and other reasons” (sic!).

But still, Foucault’s theory of power is real good. Power is progressive as well as oppressive. And Foucault can be considered a logical successor to Weber.

The Political Role of Ideology

As Antonio Gramsci noted, capitalism maintains control not just through violence, threat, and coercion, but also throughout he manipulation of ideas and ideologies. The bourgeoisie set the standards of normality and morality. So the working class thinks what’s best for themselves is the same as what’s best for the bourgeoisie.

To change this situation, the working class must develop its own culture. This culture would attract the oppressed and the intellectual classes to the cause of the proletariat. You must break out from the dominant ideology.

Whether an ideology is “dominant” is something we can learn only through research. But American culture, for example, places high values on heroism and war.
Most modern people believe “I choose my own path”. This can be related to (perhaps) Darwin’s survival of the fittest or the Calvinist work ethic. Ideologies explain how society is organized — who gets rewarded and why.

This ideology tends to focus on individual problems and often does not notice a social trend (microscopic). Some that this ideology blames the victim for social inequality. In the end, this ideology makes people politically inactive — why does others’ lives matter to yours?
This ideology though is dominant in Canada.

Ideologies and Public

One approach to politics distinguishes between the ruling and the ruled. What is the public? Any given public is an unstructured set of people who hold certain interests in, views on, or concerns about a particular issue. Ideologies structure this public’s participation in society.

Normally public members don’t talk to each other but they are the vox populi. The media spews out news in clusters to move the public into the decisions the media wants. The bandwagon effect is present which encourages journalists to report propaganda under the guise of news.

Ideologies and Action

Ideologies that propose change are either radical or reformist. Reformist is minor while radical is major. Providing health care/child care/etc. would be a reform. Changing the government from a capitalist one to a socialist one would be radical. Killing off every other human being on Earth to make sure that you are the sole ruler is a pretty radical idea indeed.

These ideologies are also called counter ideologies. They usually arise from inequality or abuse. They spread through the educated — the intelligentsia. These counter ideologies challenge the harm done by the dominant one.
The dominant ideology, for example, instills false consciousness — leading people to blame themselves after losing an unfair game.

They that are discontented under monarchy call it tyranny, and they that are displeased with aristocracy call it oligarchy; so also, they which find themselves grieved under a democracy call it anarchy.

-Thomas Hobbes.


Coolest name in the book, hands down.
I’m just gonna spell out his full name every time I mention him. Can’t help it — it’s too much fun!

Frankfurt school. Criticizes capitalism, science for destroying nature, religion for not making sense. Argued that the process of social learning is dynamic and unpredictable from one epoch to another, not linear and progressive as Marx said.

To Jürgen Habermas, rationality must go beyond strategic calculations. We must form a community and seek mutual agreement. This is “communicative action”.
(Kind of like how Khas united the Protoss with Khala. Or if you are mathematically inclined, like what Nash’s game theory did to Adam Smith.)

Jürgen Habermas suggests that in a “deliberative democracy”, citizens would thoughtfully debate and rationality would prevail. But such a process could be skewed by the inequalities and divided interests created by private ownership.

Jürgen Habermas’s invented terminologies:
-“communicative action”: process through which actors in society seek to reach common understanding and to co-ordinate actions by reasoned argument, consensus, and cooperation rather than strategic actions for their own goals.
-“lifeworld”: term invented by German Edmund Husserl. For Jürgen Habermas the lifeworld consists of informal, culturally grounded understandings and mutual accommodations, rooted in widely shared social and cultural arrangements.

-Muller-Doohm (2009) notes that Jürgen Habermas does what’s described above. Doohm is a pretty fun name too though gotta say.
-Pederson (2009) describes how rational reconstruction is used in Jürgen Habermas’s political theory.
-Roth (2009) notes that defining “truth” can be troublesome, and sociologists should look for understanding rather than truth.
-Heath (2009) notes that the social science that underpins Marxism is obsolete, and analytical Marxism by Jürgen Habermas seeks to update it.
-Keat (2008) (his plural form would be a British poet) says that Jürgen Habermas contributed quite a but but fails to show how political ethics can truly be independent of other moral and practical concerns.
-Hall (2009) (his plural form would be cough drops) asserts that methods of historical sociology face research problems. To solve them we need to “analyze the interplay of multiple social temporalities”.
-Benson (2009) notes that the reach and influence of media is described by Jürgen Habermas. But criticizes that Jürgen Habermas takes the media as a given. Media is changing too.
-Edwards (2009) (his single form would be a glittering vampire) explores how Habermas’s concepts of communicative action and colonization might aid in the revival of UK public sector unions.
-Wicks and Reason (2009) daw on Jürgen Habermas’s reasonings and Reason that success or failure of a research project often depends on what happens at the beginning of the inquiry process.

So Jürgen Habermas made the Frankfurt School part of C. Wright Mills’s “sociological imagination”.


What more can be said of politics, after giants like Marx, Weber, Gramsci, Foucault, and Habermas have spoken?

Vampiric-Politician Hunter
Rosemary Hunter (2007) has a name befitting of 19th century Transylvania. Instead of fighting Dracula, she notes that even though policy makers label themselves as non-theoretical, but there are major debates between critical theorists and postmodern theorists in the political realm. What kind of theory would we like? How can policy makers make reliable decisions if they can’t even explain their theories effectively?

A Real Man Fears Not His Past
Zizek (2008) writes that in this era of rapid change we abandon old social forms. We think we are in the postmodern era. But in fact the old can survive. Quotes Blaise Pascal’s question: how can we remain faithful to the old in new conditions? It is only through addressing this question can be create something new.

Start Anew
Cassinari and Merlini (2007) has names that sound like cocktails in a chic jazz bar. They note that “modern West” include characteristics like free-market capitalism, individual property, democratic rule, civil society, etc. But the postmodern West is ahistorical. There is no temporality. This poses problems of belonging and continuity.

High Five!
Fives (2009) say that while post modernists defend democracy, they do so in relativistic terms, not absolute modernist tones. Liberal democracy is not good in itself, it’s just better than everything else.

Ha, We Told You So
Kurnik (2009) notes that the current crisis of capitalism (2009 financial crisis) highlights the troubled role of labour in modern society. Only “transformation of labour” can help you now. We call for a revolution.

A Nickel for Your Thoughts?
Nickel (2009) says it’s difficult of combine critical theory and postmodernism in political analyses of the modern welfare state (e.g. Canada, Norway, Luxembourg, Australia). Slogans obstruct critical thinking, yet slogans are pragmatic.

We Are Getting Soft
Rostboll (2008) note that efforts to combine political liberalism and critical theory obscures some important differences between the two traditions. The theory of deliberative democracy has converged around a less critical and more pragmatic view of freedom: the acceptance of status quo. Critical theorists need to resist this convergence.

Do Not Compromise
Tassone (2008) notes that critical thinkers like Habermas have tried to find a place for morality and ethics in a capitalist society. But capitalism is fundamentally immoral. There can be no right way of living in a wrong society.

The World as a Colosseum
Baral (2008) analyzes the 9/11 and terrorism. In a tone reminiscent of Baudrillard, he argues that human degradation has become a violent spectacle in which we all participate at least as spectators. Every local, wrongful death, however minute, stands as a representative of the mass, global destruction that results from a violent exercise of state power.

Look at It Another Way
Kristjanson-Gural (2008) wants to merge critical and postmodern approaches. “Postmodern Marxism” isn’t morally relativist, but it offers new insights.

Once Bitten, Twice Shy
Grosfoguel (2007) suggests that “radical colonial critical theory” can provide a southern, thither than capitalist, perspective on Third World colonialism and nationalism. In this view, there is no postcolonial era, the legacy of formal colonial rule lives on as “coloniality”, or continued domination. Yes, we are still subordinates to the Queen.

Eddy Says
An important figure is Edward Said, discussed in “an earlier chapter” (huh?). His work is on Orientalism and the “Other”-ing of non-Western peoples. Lima (2008) says Said shed further insight into imperialism: 1) the US hegemony works against a democratic world order, 2) fights for independence and liberation carries moral risks for less developed countries, and 3) Westerners is still prejudiced against Arabs and Muslims because they don’t understand the Muslim culture.


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