Definitions and Explanations of Sociological and Political Terms
(Collected from Various Dictionaries and Encyclopidias)
Anarchism is the belief that it is practicable and desirable to abolish all organised government, laws and machinery for law enforcement. Anarchists aim at a Stateless society in which harmony is maintained by voluntary agreements among individuals and groups. They envisage a social order without prisons, armies, police or other organised force to maintain property rights, collect taxes or enforce such personal obligations as contracts, debts or alimony.
Aristocracy denotes the theory and practice of government by an elite generally hereditary -- designated as best at ruling. This is its basic meaning and it implies a moral justification for rule by such an elite.
Autocracy denotes a structure of power characterised by: (a) clear ascendancy of one person at the top of its administrative hierarchy; (b) lack of any laws or customs in virtue of which the ruler might be called upon to account for his actions; (c) absence of any customary or legal limitations on the exercise of authority by the ruler.
Bureaucracy means the rule by the office or rule by officials.
Capitalism is a term used to denote the economic system that has been dominant in the western world since the break-
up of feudalism. Fundamental to any system called capitalist are the relations between the private owners of non-personal means of production (land, mines, industrial plants, etc., collectively known as capital) and free but capital-less workers, who sell their labour services to employers. Under capitalism, decisions concerning production are made by private profit. Labourers are free in the sense that they cannot legally be compelled to work for the owners of the means of production. However, since labourers do not possess the means of production required for self-employment, they must, of economic necessity, offer their services on some terms to their employers who do control the means of production. The resulting wage bargains determine the proportion in which the total product of society will be shared between the class of labourers and the class of capitalist entrepreneurs.
After penetrating the resisting framework of feudal society, the capitalist process gradually permeated the fabric of economic life and attained its classical form in the 19th century. Internal and external forces in the 20th century have transferred an increasing range of economic decisions from the private (capitalist) to the public (government) sector, and the resulting economic system is quite different from capitalism in either its early or its classical form.
Collectivism denotes the beliefs, directions or methods of those who advocate comprehensive central political control over social (especially economic) arrangements -- or the ext-ension of such control.
Communism is a term used to denote systems of social organisation based upon common property, or an equal
distribution of income and wealth. In the past there were many small communist communities, most of them on a religious basis, generally under the inspiration of a literal interpretation of passages, in the Scripture. Some early or “Utopian” socialists of the 19th century followed a similar course, though they replaced the religious emphasis by a rational and philanthropic motivation. Best known among them were Robert Owen (1771-1858) who founded New Harmony in Indiana (1825), and Charles (Francois) Fourier (1771-1837), whose disciples organised settlements in the United States after the model of his original “phalanx”, the most famous of which was Brook Farm in West Roxburry, Mass. (1841-47). In 1848 the word communism acquired a new meaning when it was used as identical with socialism by Karl Marx and Friederich Engels in their famous Communist Manifesto. Communist writers have continued to use the word socialism to denote the type of social order known as communism in English-speaking countries.
The term democracy is used in several different senses.
(1) In its original meaning, it is a form of government where the right to make political decisions is exercised directly by the body of citizens, acting under procedures of majority rule. This is usually known as direct democracy.
(2) It is a form of government where the citizens exercise the same right not in person but through representatives chosen by and responsible to them. This is known as representative or parliamentary democracy.
(3) It is a form of government, usually a representative democracy, where the powers of the majority are
exercised within a framework of constitutional restraints designed to guarantee the minority in the enjoyment of certain individual or collective rights, such as freedom of speech and religion. This is known as the liberal or the constitutional democracy.
(4) Finally, the word democratic is often used to characterise any political or social system which, regardless of whether or not the form of government is democratic in any of the first three senses, tends to minimise social and economic differences, especially differences arising out of the unequal distribution of private property. This is known as social or economic democracy.
Individualism is a term somewhat in meaning closer to liberalism. Both concepts place high values on the freedom of the individual. While liberalism, changing in connotation with the times, has come to include concepts of freedom that are compatible with either governmental control or conjoint activity, individualism stresses the self-directed, self-contained and comparatively unrestrained individual or ego. In present day usage, the term sometimes lacks liberalism’s suggestion of approval and may even imply disapprobation. Alexis de Tocqueville, who coined the word, described it in terms of a kind of moderate selfishness, disposing men to be concerned only with their own small circle of family and friends. A hermit is an individualist but not necessarily a liberal.
Monarchy is strictly, the undivided sovereignty or rule of a single person. Hence the term is applied to States in which the supreme authority is vested in a single person, the monarch, who in his own right is the permanent head of the
State. The world, however, has outlived the original meaning, and is now used, when used at all, somewhat loosely of States ruled by hereditary sovereigns, as distinct from republics with elected presidents or for the “monarchical principle”, as opposed to republican.
Oligarchy is the traditional term used to denote the rule of the few when that rule is looked upon with disfavour. Aristotle used it to designate the rule of the few when it was exercised not by the best, but by bad men unjustly. In this sense, it overlaps with the later concept of plutocracy.
Parliamentarism denotes the principles of parliamentary government. (See also Democracy)
Plutocracy denotes a government by the wealthy, a ruling body or class of rich men.
The words socialist and socialism came into use in Great Britain and France soon after 1825, and were first applied to the doctrines of certain writers who were seeking a complete transformation of the economic and moral basis of society by the substitution of social for individual control and of social for individualistic forces in the organisation of life and work.
Socialism is essentially at once a movement and a theory and takes different forms under different historical and local conditions. It is fundamentally a movement aiming at a classless society based on the socialisation of property in the essential instruments of production and appealing primarily to the working class as the exploited class whose historic
mission is to bring the class system to an end.
Socialism is indeed a confusing and ambiguous term.
This confusion or ambiguity can be cleared as follows : There are, in the social and political thought, two important theories :-
Individualism and Collectivism
According to individualism, the individual has an intrinsic value, not derived from his membership of the collectivity or society, but the value of this relationship is to be judged by the way in which this relationship nourishes and perfects the individual. The ultimate allegiance of the individual is not to the society, but to the intrinsic value of himself or to his inner soul, or to the Divine, from whom the individual derives his ultimate origin. The freedom to grow and to perfect oneself is regarded as an inherent right of the individual by all the individualists. Individualistic Demo-cracy is the natural result of individualism.
According to collectivism, the individual derives his origin and his growth from the collectivity and from his relationship with the collectivity. To achieve the perfect synchronisation of the individual will with the Collective or General Will is the highest good of the individual. A complete obedience to the Social Will is the highest freedom of the individual. To become a perfect instrument of the rational common will of the collectivity is the destiny of the individual. The ultimate allegiance of the individual is to the collectivity or to the society, to the rational State, or in more Catholic theory, to the World-State or to the totality of mankind or of cosmic Nature, which according to some, is the only Divinity. Freedom of the individual to grow and to
perfect oneself in isolation from the social needs is not an intrinsic right of the individual according to collectivism.
Now, there has been in the history a constant struggle between individualism and collectivism. Both contain a partial truth, but the human mind is not able to reconcile these partial truths in a larger synthesis.
As a result, there have been conflicts and compromises, and hence the confusions and ambiguities regarding the idea and practice of socialism.
Socialism is basically the theory of collectivism, But there are individualists who, deeply aware of the defects of individualistic democracy, particularly with regard to the present form of Capitalism, have turned to some aspects of collectivism, and have tried to combine the idea of the freedom of the individual with the regulation of social life by social control which promises abolition of inequalities of Capitalism and establishment of equality, not only political, but even social. Hence arises the theory of Democratic Socialism.
There are collectivists who do not mind the liberty of the individual and democracy so long as they do not conflict with the fundamental aims of collectivism. These also are Democratic Socialists, but they are not wedded to individualism or to democracy. In a certain set circumstances, they would not hesitate to demand immolation of the individual on the altar of the Social Will, and to discard Democracy.
There are collectivists who regard individualism or democracy as inconsistent with the aims of collectivism.
They are rigorous socialists, like the German Nazis or Italian Fascists. The supremacy of the State has been the final trend of rigorous socialism. Neither Liberty nor Equality are essential ingredients of Socialism, but often the principle of equality is emphasised as a corollary of Socialism but by no means as an indispensable constituent of it.
Is Communism identical with Socialism?
Communism is an attempt to combine the principle of liberty with the principle of equality with a dominant role of comradeship or fraternity by envisaging a Stateless or anarchistic existence in which the relations of individuals need no regulation by an extreme agency of Force but which would naturally form a free Classless, Stateless communal life.
To achieve the ‘anarchistic’ communal life, there have to be, according to communism, stages of transition, and State Socialism as an instrument of power in the hands of the proletariat, has been found as a necessary state of transition. At that stage of transition, communism appears to be identical with State Socialism. It is then called ‘Governmental Communism’.
Theocracy denotes the constitution of a state in which God, or a god, is regarded as the sole sovereign, and the laws of the realm as divine commands rather than human ordinances.
Totalitarianism denotes a form of government that includes control of everything under one authority and allows no opposition.