Lecture Notes Political Science - IRIO - RUG

These lecture notes are based on the 2015/2016 lectures

Lecture 1: Introduction

IRIO can be studied with two different approaches, the historical approach and the political science approach.

The historical approach focuses more on the question why things happened. It tries to understand events from the past and sticks to the facts.

The political (or social in general) science approach focuses on predicting to what extent certain events influence events today. It tries to see connections and with those connections, predict the future.

The science of history uses the following assumptions:

  • Actors are often irrational, wilful and ill-informed.
  • Events can have multiple causes, but the role of contingency is important
  • Patterns are sometimes singular and sometimes generalizable
  • Objectives of history are always to understand events and sometimes forecast where possible

Political (and social) science uses the following assumptions:

  • Actors are rational and predictable
  • Events are influenced by causation, meaning event X will definitely result in event Y
  • Patterns are generalizable. Political scientists make laws in the form of IF…THEN…
  • Objectives of political science are to explain events and to forecast

What is a theory?

In its essence, a theory is a connection between a cause and a consequence. A theory tries to describe a certain pattern in events and with that pattern, attempt to forecast the future.

Behaviouralism (or the ‘scientific method’) is an approach in political science that emphasizes an objective, quantified approach to explain and predict political behavior. It uses laws to draw conclusions upon. For example:

Law: all students are mortal

Observation: you are a student

Conclusion: you are mortal

The law makes a statement about a large group. Since the object of observation is a part of that group, the law will apply to the object.

In social science, there are different levels of orientation. The highest level is ontology. This is a theory of being, so how we see the world around us. The second level is epistemology. This is a theory of knowledge, so how what we can know about the world around us. The third level is methodology. This is the study of methods and ways in which knowledge is produced, so how can we gain the knowledge.

Within political science, there are two main currents of thinking, positivism and the interpretist position. They will be discussed on the different levels of orientation.


Ontology: the idea of foundationalism; the world exists independent of our knowledge.

Epistemology: we can know this world and discover laws; observation can serve as an independent test.

Methodology: positivists most often use quantitative data for their research.

Next to these orientation levels, the positivists use the following assumptions:

Reality: there is a reality ‘out there’, waiting to be objectively discovered

Man: is a rational individual, subjected to different laws

Science: can use deduction and strict rules

Research: is done on a quantitative basis and has as aim forecasting and explaining

However, there is criticism on positivism. Critics state that there is human consciousness, so man is not always rational. Also, the scholar who studies the society is part of what he or she studies, and therefore can never be objective. They also name the chaos theory.

The other main current of thinking is the interpretist position.

Ontology: interpretists are anti-foundationalist; the world does not exist independently from our knowledge, but is socially constructed.

Epistemology: we can have interpretations of and understanding of social phenomena

Methodology: interpretists most often use qualitative data for their research.

Next to the orientation levels, the interpretists use the following assumptions:

Reality: reality is subjective and perceptions are biased

Man: is an active information-processor and constructs its own reality

Science: can use reason, induction and deduction

Research: is done on a qualitative basis and has as aim understanding

It is important for IR students to know the terminology that is used in social sciences. The following concepts are important:

↓Concept: a broad idea

↓Theory and model: a well-substantiated explanation of a concept

Paradigm: a general idea or pattern underlying the theories and methodology

‘What is politics?’

Politics is an essentially contested concept, meaning that there is no one definition of politics that everyone agrees on. Though, we do agree on some points:

-politics is a collective activity

-it pre-supposes different views and interest that have to be reconciled

-pre-supposes a discrepancy in power

Politics can be considered as an arena. This means that it is restricted to some social contexts and institutions. So, in other words, it’s the art of the government.

Politics can also be considered as a process. It can be seen as a dimension of social behavior, constructed by compromise and conflict.

Lecture 2: Rational choice

Political science can be divided into two approaches, the reductionist approach and the holistic approach. Reductionism can be divided into rational choice and political psychology. Holism is linked to system-theories.

There are different conceptions of rational choice theory, thick and thin conceptions.

Thick conceptions make very clear assumptions about rational choice that are easily falsifiable.

Thin conceptions also make some assumptions about rational choice, but because these are so broad, they are not really falsifiable.

On the spectrum of rational choice theory, there are the following four conceptions (from thin to thick):

The definitional version: ‘people are rational THUS any behavior is rational’.

The expected utility version: people are goaloriënted; they are able to rank all their possible actions in order of preference and to act consistently based on this order (if action A is preferred to B, and action B is preferred to C, then A is preferred to C).

The self-interest version: people will always try to maximize their self-interest; there is no such thing as altruism. This version also includes the characteristics of the expected utility version.

The wealth maximization version: people will try to maximize their financial well-being. This version also includes the characteristics of the expected utility version.

Game theory

In game theory, there are the following assumptions:

  • actors are rational
  • actors know that every player is rational
  • actors have to choose between different strategies
  • actors know the rules of the game
  • actors know the consequences of all possible combinations of strategies

Prisoners’ dilemma

The prisoners’ dilemma is a rational choice game in which both actors have to choose if they want to confess to a crime or remain silent. If they both confess, they will both get 15 years of cell. If they both remain silent, they will get one year of cell. If one confesses and the other doesn’t, the one that confesses will be free and the other one will get 30 years of cell.


Prisoner B

Prisoner A

Do not confess


Do not confess

3,3 (1 year of cell for both)

1,4 (30 years, free)


4,1 (free, 30 years)

2,2 (15 years of cell for both)

The dominant strategy in the prisoners’ dilemma is confessing, because either the other doesn’t and you’ll be free or you only spend 15 years in prison. The prisoners’ dilemma can be applied to multiple situations, for example the tragedy of the commons.

The dilemma can be solved in multiple ways:

  • applying force by the government
  • the ‘shadow of the future’; knowing that you will encounter each other again in the future.
  • changing the pay-off structure

Assurance game

The assurance game is a rational choice game, which is illustrated by a stag hunt. 2 hunters have to choose whether they want to hunt on a stag or a hare. However, the stag (which gives a lot of meat) can only be caught if the hunters cooperate. They can also both choose to hunt a hare. If one hunter goes for the stag but the other doesn’t, the first one will end up with nothing.

Hunter 1

Hunter 2









There is no dominant strategy in the assurance game; it is based on what you think the other will do. If you think that the other hunter will go for the stag, you can hunt the stag as well. Cooperation can be easily achieved.

Chicken game

The chicken game is also a rational choice game, which is illustrated by a 2 lane drive road. The two actors are driving towards each other in the same lane. The have to choose whether they drive on in the same lane (and become a hero), switch lanes (chicken) or pull over (sensible). If they both drive on in the same lane, they will die. If one drives on and the other switches lanes, the first one is the hero and the other chickens out. If they both pull over, they are sensible.

Driver 1

Driver 2


Drive on




Ride on



The best possible outcome for both is if they both pull over. There is no dominant strategy; again this game is based on what you think the other will do. If you think the other will chicken out for sure, it is more appealing to ride on and become the hero, but if you think the other will drive on, it is smart to stop.

The general thought of prison games is that because people behave rational, the outcome is not optimal. Prison games are applied in political science, for example the chicken game in the cold war arms race.

Lecture 3: Political Psychology

Political psychology tries to find pattern that differ from rationality.

The materials of the ‘self’ are the different levels on which humans are influenced in their decisions. The deepest level is motivation. This is the subconscious layer, in which power, the desire to achieve things and affiliation play a role.

The second layer is cognition. This is the conscious layer, people generally know that they are influenced. Beliefs, norms, attitude and values play a role.

The upper layer is social context. Social context also influences the decisions of humans. Family, the social environment and culture play a role.

A certain attitude does not always lead to a certain behavior. For example, people who care a lot about the environment may still take the car. In this case, the incentive is not strong enough and other incentives (it is easy to take the car) have a stronger influence.

The theory of reasoned action is a model that shows the relationship between intention, the factors that influence intention and the relationship between intention and behavior.

The attitude is constructed out of two factors, belief and affect. Belief is the connection a human makes between an object and its quality. Affect is the value one gives to a belief. Affect has a direction (whether someone is positive or negative about a belief) and an intensity (to what extent someone is positive or negative).

The subjective norm is the social context that influences intention. It consists of two factors, the perceived norm and the motivation to comply. The perceived norm is what an individual beliefs he or she is ought to do. The motivation to comply is the extent to which an individual feels the need to comply to the perceived norm.

The intention is what an individual is planning to do. It is constructed out of someone’s attitude and the subjective norm. Intention can also be influenced by accountability and perceived possibilities. Accountability is the responsibility one might have. If someone has a great responsibility, he is more likely to translate intention into behavior. Perceived possibilities are all the actions someone has. If someone does not have many appealing alternatives, he is more likely to translate intention into behavior.

The theory of post-decisional dissonance reduction states that people strive to consonance in things they like. Sometimes, a situation can occur in which there is dissonance. I will take the example of Obama and drones. Someone likes Obama, but he dislikes the use of drones. Obama uses drones to carry out air strikes, so this is a situation of dissonance. An individual can cope with this situation in four different ways.

The first way is denial. When using denial, someone simply denies the relation between the positive statement and the negative statement. So for the example, someone would say ‘Obama does not use drones that is a lie.’

The second way is bolstering. When using bolstering, someone tries to outnumber the negative statement with many positive statements. This would mean ‘Obama uses drones (-), but he also improved the health care system (+), he did great things for the economy (+) and he implemented a law on gun control (+). Obama did way more good things than bad things, so there is less dissonance.

The third way is differentiation. When using differentiation, someone tries to disconnect the positive statement from the negative statement. So in our example this would mean ‘Obama is not the one who uses drones, the army uses drones (-).’ It differs from denial in the way that there is still an indirect link.

The last way to cope with dissonance is transcendence. When using transcendence, someone tries to add in just enough positive statement to make it a well-balanced decision. So for example Obama uses drones (-), but he also delivers aid to refugees (+). The difference from bolstering is that transcendence does not try to outnumber the negative statement.

An important phenomenon in political psychology is group think. Group think can occur when there is a cohesive group that has to make a decision. This groups makes structural faults and is in a provocative situation. According to Janis, group think can lead to overestimation, closed-mindedness and a pressure towards uniformity. This then leads to defective decision making, with a low probability of a successful outcome. Positive points of group think is that it leads to a faster decision making process.

Lecture 4: Comparative Politics  

Within political science, one can distinguish two approaches; reductionism and holism. Reductionism mostly focuses on a specific, separate aspects, whereas holism pays more attention to an event as a whole. Sub-approaches of reductionism are rational choice theory and political psychology. An approach that uses holism is the one that uses system-theories.

A system is a set of interacting or interdependent entities forming an integrated whole. A system can be seen as a circle; it starts with input, then the input effects the system itself, which leads to output. The output causes feedback, which is connected to input.

Inputàsystemàoutputàfeedback (maybe changes…)àinput etcetera.

Easton’s political system demonstrates how a system deals with stress. According to him, a political system is authoritative allocation of resources and values of society. This system starts with demand and support; this is the input. This is processed in the political system. The output in this system is the authoritative allocation of value. Of course in this system, there is feedback as well.

In a political system, stress can occur. There are different variants of stress that have to be dealt with in a specific way.

Demand stress occurs when the system does not fulfill the demand. Volume stress means that the demand is too heavy and the system is not able to deal with it. Content stress means that there are different demands that are contradictory to the system itself or that aren’t compatible. The system can deal with demand stress through different ways of stress management: by using gatekeepers to decrease the amount of demands, changing the political culture, making sure that there is clear communication and changing the conversion process.

Support stress occurs when the system can’t work with the support. This support stress can occur in two variants; lack of support and negative support. The system can deal with support stress through ideological, structural and personal legitimacy and the political regime and political authorities.

Alexis the Tocqueville said: ‘without comparisons to make, the mind does not know how to proceed.’ He stresses the importance of comparing one system to another, which helps to define both systems through particular differences.

A political system exists in two environments; a domestic environment, which is the country itself, and an international environment, which are other countries and IOs. A political systems influences and is influenced by its environments.

Within a political system, there are specialized structures that perform functions. These functions can be divided into process functions and system functions.

Process functions list distinctive activities necessary for policy implementation. The process functions are interest articulation (individuals and groups express their demands), interest aggregation (the demands are translated into policy proposals with political resources), policy implementation (carrying out and enforcing public policies) and policy adjudication (settling disputes about application). These process functions are named in the right chronological order.

The system functions do not directly play a role in policy making, but they help determine whether a system will be maintained in the long run. The system functions are political socialization (families, schools, media; everything that influences the political culture), political recruitment (the people that engage in political activity and government offices) and political communication (the flow of information through society).

The outputs in a political system are extraction, regulation and distribution.

Because the political system has a feedback loop, it is capable of adapting to developments outside the system, realizing internal aspirations, aligning the structure of the system and reducing internal tensions.

The barrier model is a model that shows all of the barriers that a preference has to overcome before it can be implemented as a policy.

Preferences --> [barrier 1] --> demands --> [barrier 2] --> political issues --> [barrier 3] --> decision --> [barrier 4] --> results

The first barrier exists of political culture and values. These can stop someone from expressing their preferences in the form of a demand, because he or she has the feeling that it is inappropriate or will never be translated into a policy anyways. The second barrier exists of institutions and procedures that can prevent demands from being on the political agenda. The third barrier exists of the defeating and modifying political issues before they can become actual decisions. The last barrier exists of administrative interpretation and implementation that can change decisions.

Lecture 5: Power

Power is one of the most important concepts to study in social sciences. This is because almost every relationship includes a form of power. This is the case in personal relationships, for example parent-child relationships, but also relationships between countries and transnational entities.

First, it is important to make the distinction between power and influence. This is of course debatable and has multiple perspectives.

The first distinction that can be made is that power entails negative sanctions, whereas influence entails only positive consequences. The second distinction that can be made is that power is an ability, so the potential of influence, and influence is the effect that flows from the exercise of power. In this distinction, power is never an act, only a position. The last distinction that can be made is that power is always intended, while influence is unintended.


Power is an essentially contested concept. This implies there are many definitions of the word power. In comparing these definitions, there are 7 essential issues:

  • How power relates to influence

  • Whether power can only be power if it is intentional

  • Whether power is an ability (dispositional) or an act (episodic)

  • Whether power is about observable (overt or covert) or latent conflict

  • Whether power is located between individuals or, more abstractly, in structures

  • Whether it needs to be effective in order to earn the right to be called power

  • Whether power is only exercised when it changes behavior and not when it changed ideas

Other aspects to help distinguishing between different definitions are (among others) compliance, the presence of sanctions, rational perception, asymmetry, relationality and interest.


A very important definition of power is the one by Dennis Wrong:

‘Power is the capacity of some persons to produce intended and foreseen effects on others.’

Wrong’s definition is based on methodological-individualism: the principle that causal relations of social phenomena can be explained using the actions of individual actors.

His definition states that power is intended wishes to be effective, in which it is different from influence. Lastly, the definition states that power can be an ability as well as an act.


Multiple definitions state that power only as potential is too limited and there has to be an act included.


Wrong has created a chart that shows all forms of influence and power: see the attachment

Influence occurs when A affects the actions, behavior or thoughts of B. This can be intentional or unintentional. When influence is intentional, it is power. Power can occur in 4 forms.


The first form of power is force. Force can be physical or psychological. Physical force occurs when A inflicts bodily harm on B. Psychological force occurs when A inflicts mental or emotional harm on B. For this form of force, no relationship between A and B is needed to be effective. It is important to distinguish force from the threat of force. The threat of force is mostly not even seen as a form of force but as a form of authority.

The second form of power is manipulation. Manipulation occurs, according to Easton, when ‘B is not aware of A’s intention to influence him but A does in fact manage to get B to follow his wishes. Manipulation can be personal or impersonal.

The third form of power is persuasion. Persuasion occurs when ‘A presents arguments or appeals to B and B, after independently evaluating their content in light of his own values and goals, accepts A’s communication as the basis of his own behavior. For this form of power, there is a relationship needed, preferably one on one.

The fourth form of power is authority. According to Weber, authority is ‘the opportunity to find obedience amongst specified persons for a given order.’ In authority, there is a relationship involved, which makes it a sustainable power structure. When examining authority, the source is more important than the content. There are four different from of authority.

The first form is coercive authority. This is authority that stems from a threat of force.

The second form is induced authority. This form of authority is based on rewards.

The third form is legitimate authority; someone has the acknowledged right of exercising power.

The fourth form is competent authority. This form of authority is based on expertise. An example is a doctor of a lawyer.

The fifth form is personal authority; one might obey because the power holder has a personal significance. An example is a parent.



Steven Lukes asked himself: ‘How do the powerful secure the compliance of those they dominate, and, more specifically, how do they secure their compliance?’

So, in other words, how do you know that the subordinate is keen to obey?

Lukes said that there are three dimensions of power.

The first dimension is a pluralist view on power. It is the definition of Dahl: ‘A getting B to do something B would not otherwise do.’ This power dimension is about measurable actions and there has to be an observable conflict of interest. The power relation is always between individuals and groups of individuals (methodological individualism).

The second dimension entails more than only the influence on the decision-making processes of the subordinate. According to Bachrach and Baratz, this dimension is ‘the ability of A to influence an institutional setting ‘against’ B.’ So A influences the situation in which A and B are, and as a result B cannot do what it would otherwise have done. Thus, it is not only about decisions, but also about non-decisions. This dimension still focusses on individuals and groups of individuals.

According to Lukes, there is also a third dimension of power. This is ‘the power to shape, influence or determine others’ beliefs and desires, thereby securing their compliance.’ What he means by this is that such a strong power structure can be built, that the subordinate (sometimes as well as the power holder) do not even question their position and desires. A good example of this is the position of women in the mid-20th century, before feminism came up. Women were stuck in a role that neither women, nor men questioned.


Lecture 6: the Concept of Legitimacy


According to Wrong, legitimacy is a form of power (as mentioned in lecture 5). To be more precise, it is a form of authority, based on the acknowledged right of power.


Rousseau once said about legitimacy: ‘the strongest is never strong enough to be master all the time, unless he transforms force into right and obedience into duty.’ Rousseau made a fair point saying this; it takes too much time and too much effort to use any of the other forms of power continuously to achieve your will.

If you want to be in power in a relationship that is not one on one, you will never have enough force to always enforce your position. Also, coercive authority will not be convincing in the long-run when nothing ever happens.

An example of this is the collapse of the Soviet Union; it took Gorbachev so much effort and force to prevent the Soviet Union from falling apart, that he decided to give up.


Weber also uses his subdivision of forms of power in his definition of the state. His definition is: ‘a human community that successfully claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a territory.’

The use of force is still included in the definition. This is because it is used against those who do not accept the legitimacy of the power holder.


There are different approaches to legitimacy, the empirical, normative and functional approach.

The empirical approach is mostly an explanatory one. It seeks to explain when and why people obey or disobey a particular government, regime, state, policy or institution. The empirical approach is not concerned with normative standards; it only focuses on what people think, not on what they ought to think.

The normative approach is a more philosophical approach. It looks at the norms and values in order to examine legitimacy and it identifies the standards by which a regime or action must be judged is it is to be regarded as legitimate.

The functional approach combines empirical and normative approaches. It concerns the structures and their role in validating a particular government or policy.


There are a few important social scientists who all have a different approach on legitimacy.


Max Weber’s definition of legitimacy is an empirical one; he says that power is legitimate

Whee those involved believe it to be so. In other words, he only uses the belief in legitimacy (Legitimita”tsglaube).

Weber has created a threefold typology of legitimate authority.

The first factor is rational-legal legitimacy. This authority rests on a belief in the legality of the law and on a set of normative rules.

The second factor is traditional legitimacy. This authority is based on an established belief in the sanctity of traditions and is based on long-established customs.

The last factor of legitimate authority is charisma. This authority rests on the belief in the ability of an individual to exercise power in a right way, based on exceptional sanctity, heroism or character. This form of authority can be constructed and dies with the person, because it is based on a personal emotional bond.

The critique on the empirical approach (by among others Beetham) is that legitimacy is reduced to a belief in legitimacy. This causes the misrepresentation of the relationship of belief an legitimacy. He states that ‘a given power relationship is not legitimate because people believe it to be so, but because it can be justified in terms of their beliefs. The second point of this reduction is that it makes legitimacy primarily a matter of belief and disregards the elements that do not have to do with belief at all, for example legal validity.


John Rawls uses a more normative approach in his definition of legitimacy. He argues against the empirical approach that there can also be people who can't express their demands because they are oppressed and that there has to be a framework to valuate legitimacy. Therefore, he has set up a set of universal, objective criteria that can be used in order to assess whether a power holder is legitimate. These criteria are:

  • The recognition of basic human rights

  • The imposing of bona fide legal duties and obligation on people within a territory

  • The conscientious administration of these legal duties and obligations

  • A meaningful role for citizens in political discussions

The criticism on the normative approach argues that the historical justification of the approach is neglected.


Several political scientists have tried to combine the empirical and normative approach, since the normative approach contains historical inaccuracies of general theories, and the empirical approach only has a historical understanding without any standards.


Beetham has combined the two approaches. He states that ‘ legitimacy is a set of distinct criteria, or multiple dimensions, operating at different levels, each of which provides moral grounds for compliance or cooperation on the part of those subordinate to a given power relation.’

He has designed 3 criteria which have to be fulfilled in order to be able to speak of legitimacy;

  • Conformity to rules

  • Justifiability of rules in terms of shared beliefs

  • Legitimation through expressed consent

Beetham states about his version of legitimacy: ‘ legitimacy, by helping to promote compliance and cooperation in the subordinates, can enhance the order, stability and effectiveness of regimes.’


There is also the functional approach towards legitimacy. This functional approach looks at the legitimacy of the functions of a regime. The functional approach examines legitimacy in 3 phases of policy making; input, throughput and output.

Input is the government by the people; the demands that people have. The legitimacy is tests by the fact whether there is an enactment of representative democracy (so whether people vote)

Throughput is the policy making process, done by the government. The legitimacy is tested by the quality of decision-making (so whether there is debate).

Output are the policies that a government makes. It is tested with whether the demands meet the outcomes.


It is really hard to be evenly legitimate in input, throughput and output. When you have a weak input but a strong output, then you can argue from the empirical approach that you still are legitimate because people believe you are.

Input side; everyone has a voice


Right now in the European Union, there is a decrease of legitimacy on the input side. Less people vote and European legislation gets less attention than national legislation.




Lecture 7: Ideology


What is ideology

According to the book, ‘an ideology is a more or less coherent set of ideas that provides a basis for organized political action, whether this is intended to preserve, modify or overthrow the existing system of power relationships.’

In the past, the term ideology has often had a negative connotation, because it has been used as a political weapon. In political science, it has a more neutral sense.


Another definition that is used is the one Ball and Dagger;

‘An ideology is a fairly coherent and comprehensive set of ideas that explains and evaluates social conditions, helps people understand their place in society and provides a program for social and political action.

This definition provides a useful analytical framework, using the following four terms.

An ideology gives an explanation. It tries to describe why something happens, in politics and economics. Especially in terms of crisis, ideologies provide very different answers. In for example the case when there is a high unemployment rate, liberalism would state that this is a temporary phenomenon, caused by the free market. Marxism would blame it on corruption in the free economic system.

An ideology gives an evaluation. It helps to form standards that we can use to determine whether something is good or bad. In other words, it sets a framework for values.

An ideology gives an orientation. It helps to form an identity, to understand who you are and where you stand.

An ideology provides a political program. It anticipates and determines how to solve certain problems.


The three main ideologies.

In the very basis, there are 3 three main ideologies; liberalism, conservatism and socialism. Liberalism stands for freedom of the individual and the free market, conservatism stands for stable order and socialism stands for equality of outcome.

In the very basis, the ideologies can be distinguished in their vision about human nature and freedom. All ideologies think that freedom is important, but they apply it differently. Also, they have a different idea of who the agent is. The most important debates are much versus little state intervention in the economy, much versus little state intervention in society and equality versus inequality (opportunity equality versus outcome equality)


To distinguish the differences between the ideologies, it is useful to look at the framework provided by the definition of Ball and Dagger. Also, every ideology has an agent, that wants to reach a goal, to which is has to overcome an obstacle.



Liberalism has 7 key ideas:

  • Individualism; the human individual is always more important than any social group.

  • Freedom; the core value of liberalism (however, someone’s freedom may not hurt anyone else’s freedom)

  • Rationality; everyone is rational and problems can be solved with debate and argumentation

  • Equality; there is no difference between individuals and everyone should have equal opportunities. The further responsibility lies with the individual; therefore, there may be unequal outcomes.

  • Tolerance; everyone has the right to do what he or she wants

  • Consent; the whole society is built on the willingness of individuals to cooperate

  • Constitutionalism; the government has to be limited


There are two important varieties of liberalism;

Classical liberalism states that people are isolated individuals. The state should therefore only secure negative liberty, meaning non-interference.

Modern liberalism states that the state should support individuals in their quest for wealth.

The only difference of these two is thus the political program and their view on the role of the state.


The agent in liberalism is the individual and his goal is living as one chooses without constraints. The obstacles he has to overcome are laws and customs that hold him or her back.

We can also use the analytical framework;

Explanation: Circumstances and developments in the world are the results of the choices of individuals.

Evaluation: Freedom of choice is needed.

Orientation: All men are equal.

Political program: Individuals need to be supported in their personal development.



Conservatism has 7 key ideas:

  • Tradition; conservatists have the desire to conserve

  • Pragmatism; actions should be shaped by practical goals

  • Human imperfection; so a strong state is needed to maintain order

  • Organicism; the society is an organic whole

  • Hierarchy; gradations of social position and status are inevitable

  • Authority; is necessary and a source of social cohesion

  • Property; ownership is very important


There are two important varieties of conservatism;

Classic conservatism has as main goal to counter growing liberalism and to preserve aristocracy in order to provide stability.

The New Right actually wants to decrease state interventionism because they are afraid that the government will be too powerful in the economy. State still has to be strong in military, but not in social welfare.


We can also use the analytical framework;

Explanation: Humans are imperfect

Evaluation: Social stability is needed.

Orientation: All individuals are part of a whole.

Political program: defend traditional social order.



Socialism has six key ideas:

  • Community; social creatures are linked by a common humanity.

  • Fraternity; cooperation over competition.

  • Social equality; an equality of outcome.

  • Need; material benefits should be distributed on the basis of need

  • Social class; the goal is the eradication of economic and social inequalities

  • Common ownership; the state distributes resources evenly


The agent in socialism is the common working class and their goal is an equal division of needs. The obstacles they need to overcome are class division and economic inequality.


We can also use the analytical framework;

Explanation; there are differences in economic and social class

Evaluation; a good society has common ownership

Orientation; the class which you are in gives information about your identity

Political program; achieving a classless society.


There multiple varieties of socialism. The most important differences are again in the political program; some forms want to achieve a classless state through revolution, others through evolution. There are also some diversities in morals; Marx believed that beliefs van values were only the product of social relation and that no one could change anything about his position. Bernstein believed that there were classes, but that within these classes, people still had some choice to change their fate.

An interesting version of socialism is Third Way socialism, which states that we do need capitalism, because it’s a dynamic form of market economy, but we also need government intervention.


Next to these main ideologies, there many more that are discussed in less detail.



Fascism is ‘an ideology characterized by a belief in anti-rationalism, struggle, charismatic leadership, elitism and extreme nationalism.’ It is anti-Enlightenment, meaning that is dislikes all liberal democratic and socialist principle. Fascism envisions that all individuals and classes are absorbed in a system ruled by a powerful leader in a mighty empire.

The key ideas of Enlightenment, so heavily opposed by Fascism, were humanism (the idea that people are a valuable source), rationalism (people are rational and science answers problems), secularism and universality.

The agent in Fascism is the nation state and the goal is power and glory. The obstacle it has to overcome is individualism.

There are two forms of fascism;

Italian Fascism originated from the idea of nationalism and advocates extreme statism.

Nazism is a combination of Fascism and anti-Semitism.



Also to fascism, the analytical framework can be applied;

Explanation: there are good and bad people in the world.

Evaluation: unity in a nation state is needed.

Orientation: the state determines our position within the world, individuals have no value.

Political program: creating a strong and powerful state.


Contemporary ideologies criticize with classical ideologies, but also engage with then. Ideologies that are surely worth mentioning are environmentalism, feminism and religious fundamentalism.



The key ideas of environmentalism are that people and nature are interdependent via a biological cycle and that Stewardship (humans have to take care of nature) is important. There are two varieties of environmentalism; shallow ecology, in which nature has to be preserved for the benefit of mankind and humans are still central, and deep ecology, in which the nature has to be preserved because of its intrinsic value and the nature is central.



Feminism pays attention to the specific position of women; they want to raise consciousness of the existing social structures that cause oppression and ultimately they want to liberate both men and women from these structures. There are three forms of feminism;

Liberal feminism has as core goal equal access for women and men to the public realm, based on a belief of genderless personhood.

Socialist feminism wants to restructure economic life to achieve gender equality, based on patriarchy and capitalism.

Radical feminism wants to overthrow patriarchy through a radical transformations of life, especially ‘personal’ life.


Religious fundamentalism

Religious fundamentalism wants to organize the society on basis of their religious principles and laws.


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Author: Matin
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