Political scientists rely on several important concepts:
- Power: The ability to get others to do what you want. Power
can take many forms, from brute force to articulate persuasion.
- Government: The organization of power within a society,
specifically how power is divided and used.
Example: The government of the United
States is a democracy established by the Constitution.
- Regime: Any particular government.
- Legitimacy: Occurs when citizens accept the political
decisions made by the governing body. A government is considered
legitimate if its citizens think it right, lawful, and proper
that the government should hold power. A threat to legitimacy seriously
undermines the power of the government.
- Authority: The ability of the government to exercise power
without resorting to violence. A government with a high level of legitimacy
tends to have a high level of authority. Its citizens usually obey the law
because they think it is the right thing to do, not because they are afraid of
Example: When asked by a police officer
to clear the street, most Americans will do so because they respect the right of
the officer to use power.
- Sovereignty: The right to exercise political power over a
group of people or a geographical area. A government is considered
sovereign if it has the final word on political decisions
within its boundaries. When citizens can appeal to a higher body, the government
is not sovereign.
Example: State governments in the United
States have a great deal of power, but ultimately they are not sovereign because
the federal government can overrule them.