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US Politics

Political Terms We All Should Know

Don't feel left out in intense political conversations. Know the basic terms so you can get a feel for the mindset in the room before you know if you will be accepted or dead meat when you speak your mind.

BTW, most governments while claiming to be of one sort of system are actually a combination of many. The US, for instance, many call it a democracy when in fact it is a federal republic, although at times, depending on who is running the country, has also been very capitalist, full of bureaucracy, and an oligarchy. It leans Right more times than it leans Left, but it has done both.

See also: Logical Fallacies Master List.

Anarchism - The fundamental belief that the state, laws and all forms of government authority is unjustified, oppressive and illegitimate. Therefore the government should be abolished and social and economic issues be carried out by means of voluntary and consensual arrangements.

Apolitical - one who disregards the need to engage in or pay attention to the political issues concerning local, national and international.

Aristocracy - A privileged social class who own a large share of a society's wealth, prestige, educational attainment and political influence acquired mostly through gift or inheritance from a long line of privileged and cultivated ancestors. And a form of government in which the state is effectively controlled by the members of such a class. See Monarchy.

Autocracy - A system of government where all political power over all the activities of the state is concentrated in the hands of one person without a voice of its subjects. A dictatorship.

Blue State - In US politics, a state which normally has a Democrat win. All votes for the President are almost always given to the running Democrat.

Bureaucracy - A complex organization composed of non-elected, professional administrators and clerks hired to perform administrative services and tasks, and to follow and direct rules and procedures.

Capitalism - Private ownership of the businesses of a society with the freedom of private owners to use, buy and sell their property or services on the market at voluntarily agreed prices and terms, with only minimal interference with such transactions by the state or other authoritative third parties.

Civil rights and liberties - The rights of freedom of thought, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, freedom of movement, freedom to enjoy privacy and autonomy in the management of one's personal affairs, freedom of private individuals to associate voluntarily and to form organizations for pursuing common purposes, and freedom to participate politically in ways that do not infringe upon the similar rights of others. The term civil liberties generally refers more specifically to the protection of the individual's rights.

Common law - Rules or principles of justice developed over the course of history.

Communism - Any ideology based on pure equality of the ownership of all property, a class-less social structure, and economic production and distribution to be directed and regulated by means of an economic plan that embodies the ideals of the community.

Confederation - A form of government where major geographical subdivisions of the country have their own governmental organizations and retain independent rights of policy making and decisions that cannot be overridden by the main government. Confederations assign much more limited powers to the central government than do federations.

Conservatism - Preference for the existing order of society. An opposition to all efforts to bring about rapid or fundamental change. A belief that existing economic and political inequalities are well justified and that the existing order is about as close as is practically attainable to an ideal order. Conservatives often base their claims on the teachings of religion and/or traditional morality and tend to downplay the social theories by secular philosophers, economists, and other social thinkers.

Democracy - A government where political power is fully in the hands of the people. Governmental systems in which the citizens exercise this power directly through general assemblies or referenda to decide the most important questions of law or policy.

Dictatorship - Government by a single person or group of people who are in no way held responsible to the general population. Their discretion in using the powers and resources of the state is unrestrained by any fixed legal or constitutional rules.

Free Trade - An idealized agreement between nations of the world where goods from each country are accepted at a fair price in exchange for goods from other countries at a fair price to allow all nations to prosper equally. However, various factors including greed and the inequality of labor and production costs in third world countries versus industrial nations make this a hard goal to achieve where it will be truly fair for anyone.

Left-wing, leftist - A broad range of political ideology that is denouncing the of economic and social inequality in the present order of society and advocating the adoption of vigorous public policies to reduce or eliminate these inequalities in opposition of the political agenda of the rightist. Common political paths include socialism , communism , social democracy, welfare statism, contemporary American liberalism and anarchy.

Libertarianism - A belief that legitimate government should be small and should play only the most minimal possible role in economic, social and cultural life, with social relationships to be regulated as much as possible by voluntary contracts and generally accepted custom and as little as possible by statute law. Generally opposes government programs for the redistribution of income, politically correct values and propaganda outlets, all forms of governmental censorship, and all forms of social, economic or cultural engineering by the government.

Monarchy - A form of rule in which there is a single head of state, a monarch, with the title of King or Queen, Czar or Czarina, Emperor or Emperoress or its equivalent where the monarch holds his or her office for life.

Monopoly - A situation where a single firm or individual produces and sells the entire output of some good or service available in a market without competition. If there are no close substitutes for the good or service in question, the business will be able to set both the level of output and the price at such a level as to maximize profits without worrying about being undercut by competitors.

Multi-culturism - When an established nation has an identity, culture and language, it is a single-based culture. A multi-cultural society blends the identity, culture and languages of different backgrounds and tries to meld into one uniform identity. Those in favor of it like the idea that there would no longer be any barriers between people who can accept all people as equal. Opponents hate it because it loses the identity they know.

Nation state - A form of state in which those who exercise power claim legitimacy for their rule partly or solely on the grounds that their power is exercised for the promotion of the distinctive interests, values and cultural heritage of a particular nation whose members ideally would constitute all, or most of, its subject population and all of whom would dwell within the borders.

Nationalism - An ideology that each nation constitutes a natural political community whose members should all live together under the authority of "their own" independent nation state.

Neo-Con - A shortened term and insult for "new conservative", which unlike the traditional conservative, is more about conserving "moral" values (pro-life, no stem cell research, prayer in school...but very much in favor of the death penalty) over traditional conservative values. Traditional conservatives do not identify with neo-cons because some of the actions of this movement are deemed to destroy the economy, environment, civil liberties, privacy and the essence of a free society in favor of a few in the class of power and it favors a vocal minority of the religious Right. The neo-cons are viewed as blinded from seeing the whole picture because they can only see their own mission and refuse to see anything else.

Oligarchy - Rule over the many by a few. While one could read this to mean any type of governmental system because there are always a few in power leading or speaking on behalf of the many, the term "oligarchy" is more in reference to the type of system where a small group with the same principles (mostly due to greed) band together to assure their agenda or will is accomplished. In essence, it is a government on behalf of this small group and not for the people. The people of this government is to serve the will of the leaders to their end.

Patriotism - This is love for or devotion to one's country. The term is used sometimes as an insult for those who "wear their flag on their sleeves", but this would be the extreme form of the term. A patriot is simply one who totally identifies and idolizes their country despite its faults, but would defend it to those who would try to destroy it from within and from without. Example: In the US, those called the Right would say it is patriotic to call for those who speak against the President to leave the country while those on the Left would say it is equally patriotic to defame what they deem as a threat to the security of their country. Both would be patriotic.

Political correctness - A trend that wants to make everything fair, equal and just to all by suppressing thought, speech and practice in order to achieve that goal.

Pork-barrel politics - Appropriations of public funds by Congress for projects that do not serve the interests of any large portion of the country's citizenry but promoted by a small group of legislators to use taxpayers' money and resources.

Propaganda - A campaign directed at a targeted audience designed to influence opinions, beliefs and emotions to bring specific alterations in behavior. The presentation might be logical and dispassionate or rhetorical to arouse emotions or prejudices, but the message is always deliberately slanted to lead toward a mindset that benefits the cause.

Purple State (Swing State) - In US politics, a state which could go either way to a Democrat or a Republican. All votes for the President are usually indicative of who will be the eventual winner as the vote count as extra votes from the electoral college.

Red State - In US politics, a state which normally has a Republican win. All votes for the President are almost always given to the running Republican.

Republic - A form of government where ultimate political power is theoretically vested in the people but in which popular control is exercised only intermittently and indirectly through the popular election of government officials or delegates to a legislative assembly instead of directly through the people.

Right-wing, rightist - Several methods of conservative, reactionary or fascist political ideologies which is supportive the main features of the current social and economic order, accepting all of its inequalities of wealth, status and privilege. Right wing ideologies tend to emphasize the values of order, patriotism, social cohesion, and a personal sense of duty. Acceptance of the status quo.

Separation of church and state - This is the main tenant of the First Amendment that the state (government) cannot force a certain religion upon the people of the state. The clause "separation of church and state", however, is not mentioned in the US Constitution, but in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson directed to the Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut who were persecuted because they were not part of the Congregationalist establishment in that state ( "I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between church and State."). In order to make sure that this did not happen, he created a bill for establishing religious freedom in Virginia. By the time the draft for the US Constitution came, points from this original document went into consideration on the issue of freedom of religion in the First Amendment which guaranteed religious freedom to all citizens without having one imposed upon them by the government.

Separation of powers - One of the most important of the basic principles that guided the framers of the US Constitution that American governmental arrangements allocate power to separate executive, legislative and judicial branches at both the state and federal levels.

Theocracy - A form of government in which the clergy exercise or bestow all legitimate political authority and in which religious law is dominant over civil law and enforced by state agencies.

Third World Country (Developing Nation) - Unlike an industrial nation where certain criteria are met, these are nations which struggle to compete because of a lack of one or more of the following: health, education, employment, resources, money, and other various factors. Many are also hampered by corrupt governments who have long ago given up on looking after their own people and use funds to fatten their own wallets while their citizens are starving in the streets. Some are hampered by war or out of control epidemics such as AIDS. These factors make it next to impossible for them to compete in any real way with the industrialized nations.

Totalitarianism- A single, dominate governing elite of all organized political, economic, social and cultural activities in a country by means of a single-party monopoly of power, including police repression, rigorous censorship of the mass media, centralized state planning and administration of the economy, and pervasive propaganda to inculcate the principles of the obligatory official ideology. The term is commonly applied both to fascist regimes and communist regimes, and occasionally by extension to other exotic cultsi.

Welfare state - A state whose government devotes a very large proportion of its activities and expenditures to the direct provision of personal benefits to be consumed by qualifying individuals or families, or governmental entities in the form supplies, professional services, government issued stipends, allowances or subsidies.