Revision:Aqa a level politics - module 4 political ideas and concepts


Liberty is a highly contested concept and remains at the heart of much of today’s political debate. It is such an important concept there are pressure groups (such as LIBERTY) that are focused purely on the promotion of its cause.

Liberty may be defined as the absence of restraint, interference of impediment – many people then contest exactly what does constitute a ‘restraint or impediment.
    • Individuals should be free from coercion by the state or others. The state should play a minimal role in legislating individual action
    • Based on Mill’s HARM PRINCIPLE
    • Over himself, the individual is sovereign
      • Should this commitment to negative liberty be based on the intrinsic worth of negative liberty or in seeking a utilitarian outcome?
      • Is any action entirely self regarding?
    • Freedom from internal constraints of the irrational and immoral self
    • Internal liberation, moral freedom bringing about collective freedom
    • Obedience to the state is freedom
    • Forced to be free
      • Does this not create a paradox where coercion = freedom?
      • Is this just not the step toward a totalitarian state where everything is viewed as a collective?
    • Freedom from poverty, want, disease, squalor, ignorance
    • Collective state provision of these goods
    • The idea is that these ‘5 evils’ provide a restriction to freedom and thus must be combated by the state
      • Even if you think social liberty is good – is that liberty?
      • Rawls argued that they merely affect the worth of liberty.
      • This is not liberty but merely the conditions for its effective exercise
    • Complete absence of rules and restraints
    • Every law is an infraction of liberty (Bentham)
    • Autonomy is an absolute right
      • Could this be the only true version of liberty?
      • The empirical outcome of anarchy is not a ‘good’ one – should it therefore be rejected?
    • Active and constant participation in collective power
      • Tyranny of majority


Is all liberty negative?

    • The conception of positive freedom, for instance from Rousseau where we need to stop our immorality, irrationality and stupidity.
    • This is the freedom to do something by removing our inner constraints
    • Welfare liberty may also be viewed as freedom to do something because positive restricts the ability of someone to do something
      • Negative liberty is associated with freedom from
      • The individual is sovereign, and freedom is associated with the lack of coercion.
      • Mill wanted freedom from external constraints.
  • Is this distinction valid?
    • X = agent
    • Y = restraint
    • Z = possible action
      • X IS FREE FROM Y TO DO Z (McCallum)
    • Does this not indicate that any action can be deduced to a freedom from?


  • Critics have argued that maybe all freedom is positive, often citing mill’s commitment to a utilitarian outcome – but his utilitarian commitment is not intrinsic to the concept of liberty
  • The argument by Callum falls on the basis that he fails to take into account the different viewpoints entirely. The positive libertarian has the view point that it is the actuality of action (be that civic or whatever) that brings about freedom. However, the negative libertarian is only concerned with the possibility of action.
  • Someone staying in bed all day; a positive liberty approach is concerned with him doing something, while a negative liberty approach is concerned that is has the possibility to do something.
  • The issue concerning welfare liberty is that if they actually in count as a limit on liberty. Welfare liberals argue that things like poverty are a restriction on the ability to act freely. Are you actually free if your poverty stops you from buying a cup of coffee?
  • Again, I think this argument fails to really capture the heart of the issue. The ‘5 evils’ merely affect the range of possibilities that are actually open to you to enact your freedom. However, that is not what freedom is – it is merely having the possibility in the first place. There is a distinction to be made between intentional and impersonal restraints on actions.


Limitations on liberty

Any restrain can be placed on freedom – the question is what ought to be restricted on freedom.

  • External – competing concepts such as democracy and equality.
  • Internal – it depends on your definition. Anarchists think nothing, Classical on the harm principle etc


Equality also remains a contested concept, and once again is at the heart of political debate. The word equality carries differing interpretations about what counts as ‘equality’

  • Natural Inequality
    • Natural viewpoints such as those of Aristotle who claimed ‘it is unjust to threat unequal equally as equals unequally’. The old view focused on differences between men and women – which is obviously defunct today.
    • Natural inequality may be considered today to be intelligence as grounds for university admission.
  • Equality of treatment / opportunity / rights
    • The chance to develop individual powers or gifts without discrimination
    • Which allows people to achieve the scare social rewards – widening the competition for different positions
    • Citizens are treated equally unless good and relevant reasons are used to justify discrimination
    • Essentially, everyone is treated as an individual and the group they belong to (class, age, race, disability, gender, sexual orientation, religion) are not taken as grounds to discriminate – blind justice
      • Do inherent problems with different races culture not render some people unable to achieve certain outcomes?
      • Social mobility has narrowed since the adoption of this system – good or bad or indifferent?
      • Are some issues non-self inflicted (such as intelligence) that may call for a redistributive justice because these people have been dealt a ‘bad’ hand.
      • Can we maintain a society without civil unrest and resentment if we don’t have SOME measure of equal outcome?
  • Equal Outcomes
    • This type of equality is associated with outcome – ‘equal things’.
    • Power, Wealth, Redistributive justice, jobs, money etc.
    • This may involve positive discrimination, quota setting in order to ensure equal outcomes. **This is often seen in relation to ethnicity
    • In general, this view is associated with the idea that it brings about social justice
      • How can we seriously consider equality giving someone who is less able the chance to succeed over someone who is more able?
      • In economic terms, does equality of outcome not lead to fewer incentives to succeed – this is bad for growth.
      • Equal treatment allows social mobility without compromising the true meaning of equality

My personal opinion that that equality is primarily about equal treatment – it provides an incentive for people to succeed and provides true equality – no discrimination positive or negative. However, in terms of outcomes, as a society we must look at issues such as the poverty trap and realise that a partly redistributive tax system is required and a LIMITED measure of equality of outcome is desirable but it should never compromise the ideals of equality of treatment.

Liberty and Equality


Under the veil of ignorance, rational men would decide upon two principles

  1. Equal and maximal Liberty
  2. Arrangement of inequalities to benefit the worst off

Therefore, the social contract and rationality clearly shows that equality should be about outcomes at least in part. However, the extent to which we can consider this the outcome of rational men (greed?) and the amount we can trust a hypothetical contract is doubtful.



'If I have two children with the same disease, but one is dying while the other is merely uncomfortable. I do not flip a coin to decide who gets the last dose of medicine.’ -

Circumstance must play a key consideration within equality. Are these children really in an equal position anyway? Surely this is relevant and justified grounds for discrimination that does not really infringe on equality of treatment.


Are liberty and equality incompatible?

It is often assumed that these two concepts are in direct competition with one another, a view espoused by people such as Lord Acton – the passion for equality made vain the hope of freedom

  • Different definition of the concepts
    • Negative Liberty and Equal Treatment (freedom from external constraints, equality of treatment allows individuals to follow their own course and have the possibility of achieving scare social positions)
    • Positive Liberty (welfare) and Equality of Outcome (freedom from poverty and such can only be achieved by seeking some measure of equality of outcome etc.)
  • Problems of compatibility
    • Negative liberty and Equal Outcomes
      • Equal outcomes are associated with the ability to dine at the Ritz, while negative liberty only cares about the right to do so.
      • Taxes, in purely libertarian terms (cf. Nozik) are an infringement on liberty yet are required to achieve equality of outcome. Also positive discrimination.
    • Positive Liberty and Equal Treatment
      • Equal treatment means we ensure the procedures within society mean people are not discriminated against.
      • Positive liberty actually seeks action in order to help people be free – redistributive taxation etc
  • Personal Opinion
    • Negative liberty
      • Positive liberty confuses itself with notions of equality and fairness – even if we accept these to be desirable concepts they are not liberty and thus the viewpoint of positive liberty is ultimately confused and not about liberty at all
    • Equal Treatment
      • Positive Discrimination, large taxes are not desirable are warranted – especially the former as it is a direct contradiction of equality
      • Equality is not about making people equal, but allowing them the chance to be
        • There are some limited grounds (such as economic poverty traps) that mean simply cannot have the possible chance to be equal – then there may be a case for redistribution in taxation. These grounds remain limited.

In conclusion, it is possible to make liberty and equality compatible if you take certain definitions of it. However, as discussed the idea of positive liberty is simply confused, the only small incompatibly rests on very limited grounds mentioned above between negative liberty and equality of outcome - but for the vast majority the two concepts do cohere together – equal treatment and negative liberty work in tandem to ensure a society free from discrimination allowing maximal possibilities for individuals to succeed.

Political Obligation

Political obligation is not about why we obey the law but why we should obey the law.

  • Intrinsic
    • Associated with deontology, in which the consequences are irrelevant
    • Traditionalism – divine right, powers that be
    • Aristocracy – wisdom / breeding / heroism / money
      • Can we really count ‘tradition’ as a reason for authority remaining, especially if that is to trample of people’s rights etc?
  • Extrinsic
    • Associated with teleological accounts – leading to best outcome.
    • Social Contract
      • Hobbes – to keep security
      • Locke – protection of natural rights
      • Rousseau – common good, providing moral freedom
    • Tacit Consent
      • Being within a state you tacitly accept all its laws, no matter how unjust and must accept the punishment
    • Utilitarianism
      • Judging laws by consequences
      • Judged on criteria such as happiness, progress and truth
      • OUTCOME
  • Organic (REAL WILL THEORY)
    • Uniting both intrinsic (state) and extrinsic (citizen) theories
    • The obligation to obey the state is grounded it its ability in the role of development of MORAL FREEDOM
    • The state and citizen are intrinsically linked, the state allows your ‘real will’ to be realised by obeying its self prescribed laws – Similar to positive liberty.


Should obligation focus on the REGIME or LAWS

If the regime is just / produced by a just system do you have a duty to obey them?

  • Oppression of minorities?
  • The system is irrelevant if they act UNJUSTLY


Is political obligation absolute, conditional or non existent?

  • Absolute
    • Tacit consent – Plato
      • Tacit consent is not the same as consent. Reality may stop you leaving the state, commitments and such.
      • Does not take into account how the state is formed (may be unjust) and the laws its passes by be unjust
    • Social Contract
      • Hobbes – guarantees security and is better than state of nature
        • Hobbes’ Leviathan is able to do whatever it pleases as long as it guarantees security. It seems entirely possible to make things just as bad as a state of nature – removal of freedoms, arbitrary arrest etc and this would be justified.
        • Surely the state has more duties than just security?
      • Rousseau – general will (elections)
        • Tyranny of majority (does taking part in elections not mean we implicitly promise to accept the majority verdict?)
        • Do we have better?
  • Non Existent
    • Anarchist Thinking (Wolff)
      • Although we may obey the state out of prudence, the reality is that the state is unjust because our primary obligation is autonomy and the state infringes upon that. Thus, the actions of the state can never be viewed as legitimate
        • If our autonomy directs us towards a state, then surely it is legitimate?
        • What if a regime makes a just law – do we have a duty of disobedience against justice?
    • Thoreau
      • Conscience decides what is right and wrong, not majorities
        • This would allow terrorists who kill thousands to be considered ‘legitimate’
        • Empirically, the framework of society would break down if people acted how they pleased.
  • Conditional
    • Rawls
      • It is too hard to form a basis of disobedience on grounds of personal morality, because that is no sense objective. Therefore, we must look at grounds for justice – equal liberty and fair equality as our objective criteria, if the law contravenes these principles we must act
      • The law is to enact justice, and if it goes against the above principles we are in a paradoxical situation – thus we have a right to civil disobedience.

The State

The nature of the state can be roughly divided into 5 differing catergories. The most important remains the idea of a social contract.

  1. Contract
  2. Organic



  • Plato – Socratic Dialogues
  • Hobbes – Leviathan
  • Locke – 2 Treaties of Government
  • Rousseau – The Social Contract
  • Rawls – A Theory of Justice

A social contract is the decision to form a society; it is the justification for moving from a state of nature to the state of society. Differing conceptions place differing rules on how the society must act and government are ran in order to make this movement legitimate.



  • When Socrates was unjust condemned by the state, Plato asserts that by residence within the state there is an implicit contract between the state and the citizen
    • Does an aggregation of implicit promises constitute a real association of citizens?



  • The state of nature is barbaric, the people leave this state and pass power to an arbitrary despot. This body only has a requirement to give security to its citizens.
  • The alienation of peoples’ individual sovereignty to an arbitrary government
    • Is this contract a reciprocal contract? Although the government must provide security many would argue that this is insufficient grounds for the contact to be valid.



  • Double Contract
    • Social
    • Political – this is conditional on constitutional government protecting natural rights
      • Is this sufficiently reciprocal?
      • This contract lacks democracy, because it turns out only a limited group of people have the power to ‘withdraw consent’



  • Rousseau has a single social contract which reflects an optimistic view of human nature. The realisation to have a society implies a development in man’s moral development. The contract is made by rational men.
  • Rousseau says man is born free and everywhere he is in chains – the question is how they can be made legitimate – which is through the social contract.
    • Does Rousseau have a hopeful vision of human nature that the bringing into society will suddenly bring moral development? Is a political contract not required also?



  • Kant extended the idea of the social contract, saying it was a hypothetical ought, rather than an event in history. He followed similar lines to Rousseau.
  • “It is merely an idea of reason which has practical reality for it obliges legislation not incompatible with the general will”



  • Under a veil of ignorance in an original position people would decide on two principles to government society
    • Equal Liberty
    • Difference Principle (opportunities and redistributive justice)
      • Can we really consider society legitimate on a hypothetical ideal?
      • Is this what rational men would really decide upon? Is human nature not greedy?
      • In terms of game theory, Rawls assumes we would seek to maximise out minimum – however, would we not look at the strata of society and the possibility of where we would most likely end up and decide upon those grounds. That may mean we prefer an American style society (some very very poor, but a lot very well off) compared to a Scandinavian style government
      • Does Rawls suppress out ‘conception of good’ which is relevant grounds as to how we think society should be formed.


Utilitarian attacks on social contracts

  • We should not be focusing on original position, but instead we should be focuses on achieving the best outcome.
  • In common with social contract theorists they focus on rationalism within politics
    • If we agree with the premise of the original position then we necessarily agree with the outcome – unless that outcome is distorted, and therefore it is not the original position anyway!



  • Organic theories of the state are anti-rationalism. They focus on the evolutionary development that happens within society.
  • Organic theorists also reject the notion that man could ever exist in any pre-social state and thus the need for any contract seems voided
  • Burke – The great primeval contract of Eternal society
    • Bound together by traditions, through generations of those past/present and future
  • Oakeshott – Society is on intimations of experience, we don’t know where we have come from and we don’t know where we have come from. There is no original position or outcomes merely the mutual cooperation of citizens.
  • Hegel – man and the state are effectively fused together, there is an organic unity between the state and the citizen.

Essentially, organic theories of the state say that social contract is a merely abstraction of differing ideas, that cannot be realised in reality. The state is not formed on these different abstracts but through citizens continuing unity of the state in which we are binded with our past, present and future citizens in the evolutionary development of it.

  • What is this evolutionary development leads to the destruction of basic freedoms? Should this be tolerated?
  • Why can’t citizens exist in a pre-social state? We are born free individuals, there is no necessary need to have our autonomy restricted – a state of nature is a possible form.



  • David Hume argued that the social contract never happened, nor could of happened
  • All states are created purely by force
    • However, is political theory not concerned with ought rather that is? Hume accepts the social contract is the one just foundation of government.
    • Do written constitutions not mean we do have a social contract?

Role of the State

The state is an institution which claims a monopoly of legitimate power for a particular territory

  1. Minimal
  2. Developmental
  3. Totalitarian


Minimal State – Provides widest possible liberty

  • Laissez-Faire economics
  • Defence (internal and external)
  • Ultimate Safety Net (Night Watchman)
  • Voluntarism (collective action to promote common good)
    • People are more effectively helped by voluntary deeds – not really a practical reality in today’s world.


Neo-Liberalism – Provides widest possible liberty

  • Anarchy, State and Utopia
    • State as a form of theft
  • It was very influential on Thatcher’s economic policies
  • Possessive Individualism and atomistic view of individuals
    • There is no such thing as society
  • However, it was combined with social authoritarianism during the Thatcher era – surely this is intellectual incoherent? However, social and economic are two very distinct strands within society they don’t have to cohere.


Developmental State – Social Justice

  • There is a mistaken view that developmental state is one that promotes capital inflows with big business – this is merely what happens in modern more under developed neo-liberal states. Developmental refers not to economics but to the development of the individual.
  • Commonly associated with a social democratic version of the state.
  • Closely linked with positive liberty and freeing people from restraints of effective exercise of freedom. This is paid for via progressive taxation
  • State management and intervention within industry – perhaps some public ownership
  • Keynesian demand side macroeconomic management


Totalitarian State

  • It is a mistake to associate totalitarian with the way it is used in the media to indicate people who are dictators and abuse human rights
  • Single Interest in politics – MONOISM
  • Politics is Omnicompotent and influences all aspects of life and breadth
  • Single interest within society (general will)


  • Monopoly of coercive violence, extensive use of police/armed forces, brainwashing propaganda, antipathy to pluralism – one party state.


Characteristics of the State

  • Sovereignty
    • Other associations don’t claim sovereignty usually. Although the church (mainly Catholic Church) claims due to the pope that it has sovereignty.
      • Sovereignty internally is still present, although an overly dominant executive is making sovereignty lie in a smaller and smaller grasp
      • Does external sovereignty still exist? Specifically due to the fact that even after the 45minute claim was rubbished it was still justified because he was an evil man.
  • Territoriality
    • The world is divided by borders showing where this sovereignty operates in geographical terms
      • Disputed borders
  • Universal Jurisdiction
    • All humans resident within the territorial borders potentially come under the jurisdiction of the state
    • Diplomatic Immunity? – This could still be taken away.
  • Compulsory
    • People must do it
  • Coercion
    • The state must have the ability to ensure its laws are passed, and those who break them punished. Thus, the state has a monopoly of legitimate power.
  • Public
    • It is recognisable public. Its decisions are binding and legitimate because they work towards the common or public good.


Not covered – unlikely topic.


Originally the “the science of ideas” – whatever it means these days it is not that. It is now a seemingly coherent selection of ideas/ideals/values which provide a basis for a goal or programme of action/

There are certain ideologies which need to be discussion

  • Conservatism
  • Liberalism
  • Socialism
  • The End of Ideology



  1. Traditional Conservatism
  2. British Conservatism
  3. New Right (ideological conservatism?)
    • Neo Liberalism
    • Neo Conservatism


Traditional Conservatism

  • Traditional conservatism is firmly opposed to rationalism within politics and favours a sceptical pragmatic approach
  • Tradition, History, Experience are all firm dispositions of the conservatives
  • It is inherent and natural and a disposition about society rather than an ideological belief
  • Intimations of experience is what guides conservative thought, as evidence by their commitment toward an organic constitution which does not render history void and bring in rationalist positive values.
  • Conservatism is entrenched not in positive values to promote (like traditional ideologies) but about negative terms – as evidenced in On Human Conduct
  • Traditional conservatives value equality, family, property etc.
    • Are these not merely ideological viewpoints rather than dispositions?
      • However, these are the values gained from the intimations of experience of the past ages.
  • This view of conservatism is generally opposed to change.


British Conservatism

  • Compassionate conservatism
    • Presupposes the gap between rich and poor
    • Duty to bring about some equality
    • Didn’t let the weakest go to the well
  • Progressive Conservatism
    • Moving forward with a big leap forward showing them not opposed to change
      • Reform Act for Vote
      • Devolution
      • Council Houses
      • Second Reform Act


New Right

  • This is definitely an ideological viewpoint
    • Minimal State
    • Individualism
    • Tends to be socially authoritarian (as in Thatcher era)
    • Is this really conservatism or merely a form of classical liberalism?


Neo Conservatism

  • This is partly rational
    • Neo-Liberal Economics (RATIONALIST)
    • Traditional values – family religion (in a similar way to traditional conservatism)
    • Liberal Imperialism (RATIONALIST)

Is conservatism an ideology – depends which strand of conservatism you mean. We may not ‘know where we have come from or where we are going’ but surely someone must look after the boat? Perhaps all forms are ideological?

Is conservatism merely opposition to change – again, this depends on which strand of conservatism you mean. Although, I would be tempted to say that even traditional conservative though accepts some change that fall in line with the intimations of history.



Might be considered a contested concept


    • Not necessarily entrenched
    • Claimed from the state and society
    • Society as an aggregation of individual rights
    • Limited government
    • Tends to lead to liberal democracy
    • The state may be secular
    • Either original position or outcome based

Added to those fundamentals come two distinct strands of liberalism;


Neo Classical

  • Minimal State
  • Lassiez faire economy (maximises individual freedom)
  • Individuality
  • Anti Imperalist


Social Liberalism

  • Freedom needs social improvements
  • May call for a more maximising state to ensure these



  • Scientific
  • Utopian
  • Social democracy
  • Third Way


Scientific (Communism / Marxism)

Scientific socialism is the viewpoint of a communist and the viewpoint established by Karl Marx. It’s fundamental aim is the classless society

  • Economic determinism
    • Economics determines the general character socially and politically
  • Historical Materialism
    • Economic Base (techniques and methods of production which form relations between individuals)
    • Superstructure (Institutions and forms of consciousness)
  • The end of history will occur when economic determinism stops and we end with the classless society
  • The public power that will exist will lose its political character. Can you have public power with coercion?
  • The law of surplus value, and to stop the economic base from existing in conflict meant Marx advocated a planned economy



  • HUMANISTIC ASPECT (man as a human being
  • Historical change cannot happen through a scientific process but through the collective action. Neo Marxism focuses on human action.
  • Capitalism dehumanised the individual and social praxis is required to bring about the revolution of the proletariat.



This is essentially looking for a classless society but not through any scientific process but by promoting it on moral/subjective grounds that it was ethical. Often the only way these utopian socialist communities arose was when people went off specifically to form one. Empirical studies showed they generally failed.


Social Democracy

  • Revision was a fundamentalist viewpoint to work within the system to gain power by the ballot box and then to achieve the classless society.
  • However, as you enter the system your goals changed and thus it developed into what is commonly known as social democracy

Social democracy is using capitalism for the common good. It has a few key features;

    • State ownership of certain industries (usually coal etc.)
    • Large and usually generous
    • Focus on bring about some equality of outcome.

What all these forms of socialism have in common is that they view society as one for the common good rather than any individualist conception. They focus much more on more ‘positive liberties’ and ‘equality of outcome’ and working towards a common goal. It is my personal opinion that it is a mistake to think there is any common good – merely an aggregation of numerous different interests to a deduce a common good is not to realise there is no single dominant will in society.


Third Way Social-ism – Blair

  • Socialism in the form of top-down intervention is dead. This ideology accepts capitalism and globalisation that breeds a knowledge economy of individual skill and flexibility
  • Government has an economic and social role
    • Economic – Promotion of international competitiveness etc
    • Social – contain pressure due to capitalism. A form of liberal communitarism
    • It is a forge between rights and entrepreneurialism and social/moral duty on the other. INTERDEPENDENT
  • Equality of opportunity / meritocracy – ‘hand up, not hand out’

Is it incoherent to accept the notion of economic liberalism and then warn against the social disintegration it causes?

Does communitarianism not just lead to ‘creeping authoritarianism?’


The End of ideology?

Daniel Bell

  • Ideology has become irrelevant within the modern world. Parties no longer face each other from differing ideological viewpoints but instead they promise higher living standards and economic growth – economics had triumphed over politics. This can be seen in the UK in the 1950-60’s with the broad consensus on Keynesian welfarism. This can also been seen in the UK with the consensus on economically liberal policies which both conservatives and labour offer.


Francis Fukayama

  • Liberal democracy has become the final resting ideology of the world. His book ‘the end of history’ was written in the time when Marxism was slowly disintegrating within Eastern Europe and Liberal Democracy was the dominant force in the world.
  • It is the end of history in the sense that history is no longer going to be driven by ideological changes as one has triumphed. Although we may have some remnants of other ideologies history has come to a stasis while Liberal Democracy triumphs.
  • It is the end of man’s ideological evolution.
  • No furthering development in principles / institutions
    • How do we know Liberal Democracy will not fail?
    • Similar utopian ideals have been left in the ashes of history – Marxism
    • Liberal imperialism is still taking place
    • Liberal Democracy is still an ideology – so ideology has not ended. Considering liberal democracies ensure the right to free speech, it is impossible to ever end the ideology debate within a Liberal Democracy.

Anthony Giddens

  • The conventional ideologies of left and right have become redundant within a society that is characterised by globalisation, decline of tradition and social reflexivity (autonomy mixed with interdependence).

Democracy and Dictatorship

Is the distinction more subtle than accurate?


  • Democracy
    • Mixture of popular rule and liberal limitations on that rule. Essentially democracy has to be liberal democracy making democracy and liberty go hand in hand
  • Dictatorship
    • Autocratic rule and unlimited coercion. Dictatorships are above the law and beyond a constitution – form of rule strictly vested within one person.



  • Democracy
    • Democracy is merely a noun, there is no necessary requirement for it to have liberal elements. The only thing a democracy must have it majority rule. Liberal limitations are not intrinsic to the concept. Dictatorial democracy may exist. What is democracy but nothing than the tyranny of the majority?
  • Dictatorship
    • Dictatorships can be democratic. Communist uprisings within Russia (the general will be fulfilled). Blair’s seemingly unlimited powers as demonstrated when he pushes through legislation.



  • Traditional Dictatorships
    • Monopolize government power (MAY BE DEMOCRATIC)
  • Totalitarian
    • Extend political control to all areas of life (NOT USUALLY DEMOCRATIC UNLESS WE HAVE A SINGLE WILL IN SOCIETY)

In essence, there is not a clear cut distinction between democracy and dictatorship as it depends on your definition. Democracy can be liberal, dictatorial, protectionist, elitist, developmental and not all of these are dissimilar to a dictatorship. Dictatorships need not come around without democratic means, and if we have a single will then dictatorships would have legitimacy and democracy.

Separation of Powers

  • Legislature
  • Executive
  • Judiciary
    • The degree of separation can vary from between 100% to 0% (fusion)


  • Legislature
    • Made general laws (function)
    • Every Citizen (participatory democracy)
  • Executive
    • Enforced laws in particular cases (function)
    • Democratic executive would result in fusion between legislature/executive
    • An elected oligarchy
      • Only some separation




  • Madison maintained the view that all three elements are to be so far connection and blended as to give each other a constitution control over the others
  • Madison believed that partial integration (to allow a control) was necessary in order to ensure free government and have the optimum separation


  • Membership
    • Absolute Separation (except VP and Senate)
  • Appointment
    • Each should have as little agency as possible in the appointment of others
    • Judiciary nominated by president + ratified by senate
      • What about party politics?
      • Bush and his conservative judges
  • Salary
    • Completely separate
    • Stops Bribery



Separation is achieved broadly



  • Bicameral Legislature
    • Equally divided
    • Different principles of action
    • Different modes of election
      • Senate – foreign policy
      • House of Reps – money
  • Limited Veto
    • Needs 2/3 of both houses
  • Alliance between executive and senate
    • Ambassadors, Judges, Treaties
    • Based on fear from house of rep



  • It is hard to achieve a separation of powers without a written constitution
  • The accumulation of powers in the same hands is the definition of tyranny
    • Separation is to stop this
  • Executive drawn from legislature
    • But they are accountable to parliament (vote of no confidence)
    • Does this make it easier to act as a check and balance?
    • If we have a separately elected executive we further the idea of personality voting – alienating the issues even further.
  • Personnel
    • Merged with the law lords, and lord chancellor
      • It is claimed that having the Lord Chancellor within all three elements allows a key insight into government to allow them to better operate their role – and also stop conflict occurring at its root.
  • Does a separation lead to immobilism? Do we require a strong executive?
  • Do we need some element of fusion to allow a better check and balance?
  • Powers need to be interdependent to act as a better check and balance (i.e. veto required in both house of reps and senate)


To be completed!

Authority, Power and Legitimacy


  • Authority is usually considered to be de jure – the right to act
  • Parliament has authority because it is elected
  • Teacher or Lecturer may have authority because they are an authority on their subject.
  • Authority is the right to act in a certain manner. It is confined to the fact that decisions made should be obeyed simply because someone has made them.
    • Weber Distinction
      • Traditional Authority
        • Village Elders, Natural Hierarchy etc.
      • Charismatic Authority
        • Personality (Blair, Hitler etc.)
      • Legal / Rational Authority
        • Original principles
        • Utilitarian outcome



  • Power is not a normative concept, is a description of what is rather than what ought.
  • Peters defined power as ‘the use force, incentives and propagand’
  • Luke saw that their was three faces of power
    • Decision Making
      • Common sense view that power is that of decision making. In a democracy this is exercised by the majority
    • Agenda Setting
      • Power is that of setting the agenda, excluding things you don’t want and shaping decisions to meet your needs
    • Thought Control
      • Holism – a single uniform goal or will



  • Legitimacy is usually association with a political system – while as authority is more associated with individuals.
  • Legitimacy is to do with ‘rightfulness’ and is similar, if not the same, as authority.
  • Weber
    • Legitimacy is nothing more than a belief in legitimacy. If the people believe the regime to legitimate then it is.
      • Surely if we confine legitimacy to this definition, it is not really what the concept is. Believing in something is not knowledge – belief does is not sufficient to validate something as legitimate because it ignores how it came about or what it does.
  • Beetham
    • Legitimacy is when;
      • Power is exercised according to established rules
      • These rules are shared by the beliefs of the governed
      • There must be consent by the governed
  • Is legitimacy the same as authority?
    • Yes
      • Legitimacy seems to all be to do with the ‘right to rule’ in a similar way to the fact we consider authority to be de jure.
      • Legitimacy can only be accepted on the condition that is has a legal standing because it follows the rules and is consented to – Is authority not just the same as this? Something doesn’t have authority unless it is grounded in a legal and consensual sphere.
    • No
      • Legitimacy focuses on actual regimes or systems rather than individuals
        • Is this not a problem of language?
      • If we follow Weber’s definition, then legitimacy can be derived merely from belief which is different from authority
      • The government can have the authority to act in a certain way – for instance to take away minority rights or reduce democracy – because it has the ‘right’ from an election
      • Legitimacy however would be infringed even if they were acting with authority – it is not legitimate to infringe minorities because we lack their consent and also by reducing democracy we diminish the legitimacy of the regime.
  • Is power the same as authority
    • Analytically Separate
      • It can be seen from the definitions of the concept that they can be separated analytically. Authority is de jure, and power is de facto. One is associated with the right, and other with the ability
    • Practically Linked
      • If A can get B to do something B does not want to do – he is exercising power, however, B tactically consents to A’s authority by do the action that A wants.
        • Is tacit consent enough?
      • How is the concept of authority meaningful if you don’t have the coercive power? The government requires the police force, penal system in order to exercise their de jure authority.

Liberal Democracy

What is it?

  • Institutional Characteristics
    • Representative Government
      • This is a positive viewpoint because representation for Mill is just pragmatically better rather than normatively better
      • Filtration?
      • Does representative government not lead to party politics?
    • Separation of Powers
      • Judiciary / executive / legislature separate
      • Not true in UK
  • Procedural Characteristics
    • Rule of Law
      • Cornerstone of constitutions – written or unwritten
      • It is better enforced with a written constitutiution
    • Universal Suffrage
      • All enfranchised regardless of gender etc.
      • Mill argued for plural voting…in order to enhance liberty and ensure it is kept – not needed today?
    • Free and Fair elections
      • Secret Ballot to stop bribes or Open Ballot to force people to vote for the ‘good’ of society?
      • Refers also to the ability to stand as an independent or form a political party
    • Freedom of Expression /Individual Liberty
      • Freedom of the press
      • Maximising the widest realm of liberty and protecting it from the tyranny of the majority
      • Freedom of expression (should this is absolute?)
  • Cultural and Procedural Characteristics
    • Political Pluralism
      • Aggregation of people into groups – particularly necessary for minorities
    • Capitalism
      • Not normatively required but generally seen as the best system to maximise individual freedom
    • Culture of Liberty
      • Positive culture of liberty to ensure that is not suppressed by majorities.
      • Does this not mean that in a liberal democracy because we require a positive culture that democracy always trumps liberty?
    • Democracy is a form of power
    • Liberty is associated with individual rights
      • Which one wins out? Can they co-exist in harmony?
    • Natural Rights protected
    • Original Contract – Rawls’ achieved it via a democratic institution
    • Utilitarian – leads to best truth, development and progress
    • Protective – allows conflict without violence
      • BUT
        • Marxist – bourgeoisie enabled liberal rights to be enjoyed by the oppressors of the majority who are unable to organise politically.
        • Carole Peterman – Insufficiently participatory and democratic – the liberal elite dominate.
        • Positive Libertarians – Liberal democracy is too focused on its protective element instead of using democratic power to promote real freedom (be that moral or welfare)
        • Classical Liberal – it will always become the tyranny of the majority

Recent developments in Ideology

Role of the State


  • Liberalism in the modern world seems to have abandoned the commitment towards classical liberalism and has become associated with a more positive conception
  • Within America the term ‘liberal’ has become synonymous with a maximising social-democratic state.
  • Rawls’ A Theory of Justice seeks to combine the principles of liberalism with the politics of welfare and has been influential on the politics of the Democrat party within America


  • Conservatives have moved to a much greater ideological basis.
  • American conservatives are now neo-cons
    • Role of state to promote religious and family values
    • Liberal Imperialism
  • British conservatives are now more associated with the New Right or Classical Liberalism.
    • Choice in economic terms
    • Still quite socially authoritarian


  • Marxism – humanistic praxis and critical theory have become the dominant intellectual development of Marxism (explained in the bit on Marxism)
  • Socialism has be confined to the bin of history – even Scandinavia is starting to open its self up to a capitalist agenda with the furthering globalisation
  • Socialism is now trying to be combined with economic liberalism with Blair’s third way – yet this ideological pitch appears to have been binned in his 2nd and 3rd term.



Citizen can be broadly defined as coming within two areas – individualism or communitarianism


  • The primary of the individual over any collective body
  • There is no such thing as society
  • Ethical Individualism
    • Society should be constructed to benefit the individual
  • Egotistical Individualism
    • People are self interested and self reliant
    • We are the sole owner of our talents and owe nothing to society (does this mean society owes nothing to us?)
  • Developmental Individualism
    • Emphasis on the personal growth and human flourishing through individuality
    • This seems to confuse individualism and collectivism
      • Individualism has strong anti-stasis implications. It focuses on the expansion of civil society and the private sphere at the expense of political authority – giving autonomy to individuals
      • Individualism implies negative freedom by the expansion of individual choice and responsibilities.
        • Does individualism promote greed and competition (is this bad?) and weaken community bonds?
        • Does individualism promote an alienation from people’s roots in society as everyone is ‘social’?
        • Does individualism rob society of the chance to establish moral order and achieve collective endeavour?


  • The self is constituted through a community and shaped by them and thus owe them a debt of respect and consideration
  • It is focused on the idea of reciprocal rights and duties – society owes us but we also owe society
  • Right Wing Communitarians tend to be neo-conservative and holds that community needs respect for authority and established values
    • Emerged due to the spread of liberal individualism
    • Without community being emphasised the individual only looks after themselves and we have no social duty of moral responsibility. This is leading to a disintegration of society

Communitarianism tries to reconstruct the politics of the common good

    • It has had an influence on social democracy and modern liberalism
      • Does it matter is society disintegrates?
      • Does it not form a stasis as all communitarianism amounts to is a defence of existing social structures
      • Do we not end up with an authoritarian society since it emphasises duties over rights?


Institutional and Procedural Reforms

Focused on Britain.

  • House of Lords
    • LD – Elected by PR
    • LAB – more democratic and representative, yet Blair favours appointment
    • CON – pragmatic acceptance of removal of hereditary peers (movement to progressive conservatism)
  • Devolution
    • LD – Federal UK
    • LAB – extension of this principle to England
    • CON – pragmatic acceptance
  • HRA
    • LD – entrenched
    • LAB – only incorporation
    • CON – disposition to repel
  • Separation of Powers
    • Consensus on a supreme court system
  • EU Constitution
    • LD / LAB – codification of status quo with minor developments
    • CON – vast broadening of the EU outside economic. Legal entity – not mere codification.

Models of Democracy

Protective Democracy

  • Democracy being seen as a device by which citizens could protect themselves from an over-mighty government to bring about the widest realm of individual liberty. The consent of government is exercised through voting in regular and competitive elections. This is guaranteed by constitutionalism, pressure groups, impersonal and limited range of state power
    • Maddison – Man is acquisitive / vindictive. Mankind needs protection from itself. Elections will filter talent, wisdom and morality into government
      • Surely it would merely produce a microcosm of the macrocosm?
    • Mill – The protection of mans rights requires limited but representative government
      • Mill was partly a protective democrat but he starts from the premise that we are perfectabele and need elites initially

Developmental Democracy

  • Rousseau
    • Unanimous consent to the social contract
    • Laws are made directly by the sovereign people
    • The subordinate executive is best constrained by representation
    • Only sovereign people can dissolve state
      • Movement toward enlightened self interested
      • Moral Transformation of Man
  • Mill
    • PR system allows a chance to the best candidates
    • Intellectual development – compatible with a minimal state – through participation in political life. **Allowing the expansion of individual capacities
    • Constitutional checks to ensure promotion of individual rights
    • Separation of functions – elected and specialist
    • Citizen involvement in different branches of government.

Classical Democracy

  • Citizens should enjoy political equality in order that they be free to rule and be ruled
  • Direct participation in legislative and judicial functions
  • Assembly of citizens have sovereign power
  • No different privileges to differentiate ordinary citizens and public officials
    • Not practical in modern world

People’s Democracy

  • The free development of all can only be achieved with the free development of each. Complete economic and political equality; this ensures we can each give according to his ability to received what they need.
  • The public power will lose its political character
    • Public affairs governed collectively
    • Self-regulation of government and politics
    • Classless society – no markets, private property etc.
    • One party to advocate the REAL WILL of the people – monist.


  • Madison straddles the distinction between elitist and pluralist democracy. He believes the causes of faction (interest groups) are inherent in man and people of a certain ‘ilk’ be that religious, political etc will always come together.
  • The regulation of these interests is the principle task of modern government. These groups will be necessary in the ordinary operations of government.
  • In contrast to atomistic and monist concepts of society pluralism is taking a different approach
    • Selfish but rational individuals combine into groups to pursue a common goal. These may be PG or PP.
    • Democratic theory is about how ordinary people control leaders – regular elections between parties with overlapping pressure groups
      • Diverse minorities who will influence the outcome of elections. These groups are not elitist.
      • A pluralist society has to be arbitration by government between groups and many access points into the political system
    • Pluralism is designed to act as a force by which political liberty can be ensured and that the state is responsive.
    • There MUST be checks and balances in the system in order for this to occur – otherwise they could be ignored.

This model can be crticised about why pressure groups and such are bad for democracy from AS notes. It can also be criticised if you take an atomistic or monist view of society.


  • Filtration
    • In relation to protective democracy. We choose people of more wisdom and experience within a huge constituency for an election – the most virtuous will be filtered out.
    • The filtration will be refined by successive filtrations
  • Inevitable
    • Michels proposal on the ‘iron law of oligarchy’
    • ‘It is the organisation which gives birth to the domination of the elected over the electors….he who says organisations says oligarchy’
    • All organisations are inevitably elitist
  • Marxist elitism
    • Views it as undesirable but inevitable as it is a stage in history
  • Plato’s Guardians
    • The view that an elite core is best placed to serve the community and the well-being of everyone in it. Democracy would not produce this.

Competitive Elitism

  • The extension of the franchise has meant that parliament has been bypassed as the forum for rational decision making. The decisions are no longer take from the golden age of the backbencher
  • Modern parties mobilise votes by bribes – these are policies offered.
  • The career politician who are an elite core who can ‘manage’ the electorate
    • This model assumes that the electorate are not passive but emotional, which means they are easily swayed.
      • Example – NHS / Immigration scare tactics
  • The modern reality of the democratic method is that individuals acquire the power to decide by means of a competitive struggle for the peoples vote
  • Political Theory about how democrat ought to be is dead – all western democracies are merely a competitive struggle for votes.
    • Competitive democracy is a method of selecting skilled elite capable of making decisions
    • It requires parliamentary government with a strong executive
    • Rival elites and parties
    • Constitutional limits on political power


Can elitism be reconciled with any form of democracy? The elitist is able to justify the hierarchical order of things but how can the democrat who believes in the ‘equality of man’?

Does a competitive elitist democracy not merely lead to apathy and alienation as the public is only ever able to elect another elite after 4-5years, participation is low?

Can competitive elitism in terms of parties by reconciled with pluralistic society of interest groups who may be able to influence those parties – possibly this avoids the above criticism.


  • Triangle of association between Trade Unions, Business and The State
  • Super-pluralist groups which are vast federation of sectional interest groups.
  • The idea is to fix the economy, a social compact which was an annual agreement between the three strands
    • Insufficient variety of groups
    • State as dominant – can get TUC and CBI to discipline members
    • Bypassing democratic processes
    • Only economic aspects
    • Strangling serpents on the economy
      • This may be linked to developmental democracy…

New Right

  • Lassiez-Faire economics
  • Not concerned with groups in the slightest
  • The use of the state as an organ of economic policy
  • Linked to protective democracy


  • Common will and monist view of society
  • Groups are instruments of capitalism
  • Corporatism is a ‘tactic’ to destroy the compact
  • Linked with people’s democracy


These notes are aimed at people studying for AQA A Level Philosophy - Module 4 Political Ideas and Concepts, but will also people suitable for people studying with other exam boards and for other courses.

Originally submitted by cor on TSR Forums.