Architecture and Development of U.S. Government for AP U.S. Government

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Updated on Mar 4, 2011

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Architecture and Development of U.S. Government Review Questions for AP U.S. Government

Principles of Government

What Is Government?

Political scientist Harold Laswell defied government as "who gets what, when, and how." In any nation a government is composed of the formal and informal institutions, people, and processes used to create and conduct public policy. Public policy is the exercise of government power in doing those things necessary to maintain legitimate authority and control over society.

Purposes of Government

Every nation must decide for itself what goals will be translated into public policy and the methods by which those goals will be translated. The Preamble of the United States Constitution addresses the goals of public policy for the United States:

  • forming a more perfect union: creation of a strong union of the states, while also maintaining state sovereignty
  • establishing justice: reasonable, fair and impartial law
  • insuring domestic tranquility: preservation of public order
  • providing for the common defense: protection and maintenance of national defense
  • promoting the general welfare: providing public services and economic health of the nation
  • securing the blessings of liberty: promoting individual freedoms

Forms of Government

Greek philosopher Aristotle attempted to classify governments based on the number of individuals who participated in making political decisions: rule by one, rule by the few, or rule by the many. His early classification system is still useful in describing governments today:

  • anarchy—lack of government
  • autocracy—rule by one
      — absolute monarchy: ruler gains power through inheritance; there are no restrictions on the ruler's power
      — constitutional monarchy: ruler gains power through inheritance; formal restrictions limit power, often restricting the monarch to ceremonial status
      — dictatorship: ruler seizes power, keeps power by force and restricts opposition to regime; no restrictions on dictator's power
  • oligarchy—rule by a few
      — aristocracy: rule by the elite, usually determined by social status or wealth
      — theocracy: rule by religious leaders
  • democracy—rule by the people
      direct democracy: citizens meet and make decisions about public policy issues
      representative democracy: citizens choose officials (representatives) who make decisions about public policy

Theories of Democratic Government

Theories of democratic government are theories about who has power and influence over public policy and decision making at the local, state, and national levels of government.

  • traditional democratic theory—Government depends on the consent of the governed, which may be given directly or through representatives; may include criteria for the measure of "how democratic."
  • pluralist theory—Interest groups compete in the political arena, with each promoting its policy preferences through organized efforts. Conflict among groups may result, requiring bargaining and compromise (Robert Dahl).
  • elite theory—A small number of powerful elite (corporate leaders, top military officers, government leaders) form an upper class, which rules in its own self-interest (C. Wright Mills).
  • bureaucratic theory—The hierarchical structure and standardized procedures of modern governments allow bureaucrats, who carry out the day-to-day workings of government, to hold the real power over public policy (Max Weber).
  • hyperpluralism—Democracy is a system of many groups having so much strength that government is often "pulled" in numerous directions at the same time, causing gridlock and ineffectiveness.
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