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2.1: Module Introduction

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    Politics and Government

    Module Introduction

    Topics Covered

    • Politics versus Government
    • American Democracy
    • Citizen Democracy

    The terms “politics” and “government” are often used interchangeably in American polity; yet, the two words are remarkably distinct from one another. (1) “Politics,” as Harry Lasswell so artlessly defined, concerns itself with “who gets what, when, and how.” (78) This simple approach to public policy finds its roots in the idea that, in any society, resources are scarce at best. Such scarcity, then, is the primary purpose behind the formation of governments.

    Government serves as the conduit for the distribution of common goods. As such, many seek to influence and control it. To this end, “government;” that is, institutions—Executive Branch, Legislative Branch, Judicial Branch, the Media, etc.—exist to maintain order in an otherwise “state of nature,” wherein lawlessness abounds. Thus, the absence of government necessitates the very presence thereof. (1) Thomas Hobbes advocated this view in the classical piece, Leviathan (1651) in which he casts government—in particular, the reigning British Monarch of the day—as a benevolent order, working to save the people from themselves. (80) John Locke (1689) would later go on to challenge Hobbes’ position in his Second Treatise of Government. Denouncing the absolutism of the monarch, Locke would revolutionize the political doctrine of the day with the notion of popular sovereignty. While recognizing the sovereignty of the monarch, Locke, likewise, acknowledged the autonomy of the people to have a say in the governance of themselves. (79)

    Locke’s concept of citizen democracy would go to become the most prevailing influence on American political thought. The “will of the people” is enshrined in American democracy and is captured in our republican form of government. Overall, America’s political landscape is comprised of a system wherein sovereignty is divided between the people, the states, and the national government. This is the essence of American Federal Government. (1)


    Saylor Academy. (2016). Introduction to Political Science: Unit 1, Foundational Concept of Political Science. Retrieved from on December 18, 2017

    Locke, John. (1689). John Locke, “Of Civil Government” (The Second Treatise of Government) . Retrieved from on December 18, 2017

    Hobbes, Thomas. (1651). Leviathan (Book I and II) . Retrieved from on December 18, 2017

    Learning Outcomes

    1. Students will be able to articulate an understanding of the individual in society.
    2. Students will be able to think critically about institutions, cultures, and behaviors in their local and/or national environment.
    3. Students will be able to think critically about institutions, cultures, and behaviors of the peoples of the world.
    4. Students will develop a historical context for understanding current issues and events.
    5. Students will develop a greater understanding of world events.


    Upon completion of this module, the student will be able to:

    • Explain what government is and its role in society.
    • Identify the type of government the U.S. has.
    • Compare the U.S. government with other forms of government.
    • Explain democracy as the standard by which American government and politics can be evaluated.
    • Explain the role of citizen engagement in democratic institutions. (1)

    Readings & Resources:

    Supplemental Material/Resources

    (Note: This material, in the media form of online videos, is considered supplemental and thus is not used for assessment purposes.)

    Assignments & Learning Activities

    • Read the syllabus
    • Review Readings & Resources
    • Review Module 1 Learning Unit
    • Participate in Greetings & Introductions
    • Participate in Module 1 Discussion
    • Take Quiz 1

    2.1: Module Introduction is shared under a not declared license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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