Last updated May 15, 2009
GLOSSARY OF TERMS
administration The organized apparatus of the state for the preparation and implementation of legislation and policies, also called bureaucracy.
agenda-setting Controlling the focus of attention by establishing the issues for public discussion.
anarchic order Order resulting from mutual coordination in the absence of a higher authority.
anarchism A stateless society that allows total individual freedom.
anomic group Spontaneously formed interest group with concern over a specific issue.
aristocracy A form of government in which a minority rules under the law.
associational group Formally organized group which articulates the interests of its members over long periods of time.
asymmetrical federalism A federal system of government in which powers are unevenly divided between provinces, i.e. some provinces have greater responsibilities or more autonomy than others.
auction politics A danger in democratic politics in which state power may be "sold" to the highest bidding groups.
auditor general The official of Parliament whose staff audit the expenditures of government departments and who provides an annual report on instances of funds being unlawfully or unwisely spent.
authoritarianism A system of government in which leaders are not subjected to the test of free elections.
authority A form of power based on consensus regarding the right to issue commands and make decisions.
backbencher Members of Parliament on the government side who sit on the backbenches and are not in cabinet, or those similarly distant from shadow cabinet posts in opposition parties.
balance of payments A state's running account of economic transactions (exports and imports) with the rest of the world.
balance of power policy The active prevention of any one state becoming too strong by the major powers in the system.
balance of power The distribution of power in a system such that no one state may overwhelm others.
behavioural revolution The introduction of more empirical analysis into the study of government and politics.
bicameralism A system of government in which the legislature is divided into two chambers, an upper and lower house.
bill A piece of legislation under consideration by a legislative body.
binational state Two nations co-existing within one state.
bipolar An international system in which there are two dominant nation-states. bourgeoisie. A Marxist term referring to those who own the means of production.
bureaucracy A type of administration characterized by specialization, professionalism, and security of tenure.
cabinet solidarity A convention that all cabinet ministers publicly support whatever decisions the cabinet has taken, regardless of their personal views.
caucus A meeting of legislators of any one party to discuss parliamentary strategy and party policy.
central agency. Government agencies such as the PMO, the PCO, the Treasury Board, and the Finance Department that have certain coordinating functions across the whole federal public service.
charismatic authority Authority based on the admiration of personal qualities of an individual.
checks and balances A system of government in which power is divided between the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government, and these powers check and balance each other.
citizenship Legal membership in a community known as a nation-state.
classical liberalism A liberal ideology entailing a minimal role for government in order to maximize individual freedom.
coalition government A parliamentary government in which the cabinet is composed of members of more than one party.
coalition An alliance between two or more political units in response to opposing forces.
code civil The unique system of civil law used in Quebec.
code of law A comprehensive set of interrelated legal rules.
coercion A form of power based on forced compliance through fear and intimidation.
collective (public) goods Goods and services enjoyed in common and not divisible among individuals.
collective defence An alliance among states against external threats.
collective security A commitment by a number of states to join in an alliance against member states that threaten peace.
Cominform "Communist Information Bureau"; an international communist organization after World War II.
Comintern "Communist International"; also known as the Third International, the communist international organization between the two World Wars.
common law The accumulation of judicial precedents as the basis for court decisions.
communications (mass) media A general term for all modern means of conveying information.
communism A political ideology characterized by a belief in eliminating exploitation through public ownership and central planning of the economy.
comparative politics An area of political study concerned with the relative similarities and differences of political systems.
confederation A federal system of government in which sovereign constituent governments create a central government but balance of power remains with constituent governments.
confidence Support for the government by the majority of the members of parliament.
consent of the governed People's acceptance of the form of government under which they live.
conservationism The attempt to manage natural resources in order to maximize benefits over a long period of time.
conservatism A political ideology generally characterized by a belief in individualism and minimal government intervention in the economy and society; also a belief in the virtue of the status quo and general acceptance of traditional morality.
consociationalism A form of democracy in which harmony in segmented societies is maintained through the distinctive roles of elites and the autonomy of organized interests.
constituency A electoral district with a body of electors who vote for a representative in an elected assembly.
constitution The fundamental rules and principles by which a state is organized.
constitutionalism The belief that governments will defer to the rules and principles enshrined in a constitution and uphold the rule of law.
constructive vote of confidence A system in which the majority in the lower house can bring down the government, but not until that majority approves another government (e.g. in Germany).
contracting out The hiring of private organizations to provide public services.
convention A practice or custom followed in government although not explicitly written in the constitution or in legislation.
corporatism The organization of liberal democracies in such a way that the state is the dominant force in society and the activities of all interests in society are subordinate to that force.
coup d état A forceful and unconstitutional change of government, often by a faction within the military or the ruling party.
credit Any transaction which brings money into the country (e.g. payments for the export of goods).
Crown corporation Corporations owned by the government that assume a structure similar to a private company and that operate semi-independently of the cabinet.
current accounts surplus A state selling more to the world than it is buying.
custom A generally accepted practice or behaviour developed over time.
customary law Rules of conduct developed over time and enforceable in court.
debit Any transaction which sends money out of the country (e.g. payments for the import of goods).
deep ecology A form of environmentalism holding that nature and the natural order should be valued over individual human happiness.
deficit Occurs when the value of a state's imports is more than the value of its exports.
delegate A representative role in which the individual subordinates his/her views to those of their constituents.
democratic centralism The concentration of power in the leadership of the communist party, which in theory acts in the interests of the people.
department of finance The government department that has overall responsibility for the government's finances and its role in the economy.
deputy minister The Canadian public servant who heads each government department, manages the department, and advises the minister.
deregulation A government policy designed to remove regulations on market activity.
devolution A system of government in which the sovereign central government devolves (delegates) power to regional governments.
despotism An individual ruling through fear without regard to law and not answerable to the people.
dictator In Roman Law, an appointed individual given exceptional powers in times of crisis.
dictatorship of the proletariat A revolutionary seizure of power by the "vanguard" of society, the communist party, which then rules in the name of the working class.
diplomacy A system of formal, regularized communication that allows states to peacefully conduct their business with each other.
direct democracy A system of government based on public decisions made by citizens meeting in an assembly or voting by ballot.
disallowance A power given to the federal government in the Constitution Act, 1867, under which the cabinet can nullify any provincial law, even though it has received royal assent from the lieutenant-governor of the province.
discretion The flexibility afforded government to decide something within the broader framework of rules.
distributive laws Laws designed to distribute public goods and services to individuals in society.
downsizing Reduction of the size and scope of government.
doxa Greek word for an opinion that may be at least partly true but cannot be fully expounded.
Electoral College The body which formally chooses the president of the United States.
elite A small group of people with a disproportionate amount of public decision-making power.
empirical Political analysis based on factual and observable data in contrast to thoughts or ideas.
episteme Greek word for knowledge that can be demonstrated by logical argument from first principles.
equality of opportunity The equalization of life chances for all individuals in society, regardless of economic position.
equality of result The equalization of outcomes of social and economic processes.
equality of right Application of the law in the same way to all.
equality rights A section of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (s. 15) that prohibits governments from discriminating against certain categories of people.
ethnic group A group whose common identity is based on racial, national, or religious association.
executive A small group of elected officials who direct the policy process, and oversee the vast array of departments and agencies of government.
executive federalism A federal process directed by extensive federal-provincial interaction at the level of first ministers, departmental ministers, and deputy ministers.
extractive laws Laws designed to collect taxes from citizens to pay for governing society.
faction An association of individuals organized for the purpose of influencing government actions favourable to their interests, now known as interest groups.
fascism An extreme form of nationalism that played on fears of communism and rejected individual freedom, liberal individualism, democracy, and limitations on the state.
federalism A system of government in which sovereignty is divided between a central government and several provincial or state governments.
feminism The belief that society is disadvantageous to women, systematically depriving them of individual choice, political power, economic opportunity and intellectual recognition.
First International A loose association of socialist parties and labour unions in Western Europe, organized in 1864.
formal legal institutions Institutions which are explicitly created by a constitution.
fragment theory A theory (proposed by Louis Hartz) which argues that colonial societies such as Canada originated as fragments of the larger European society and that these societies have remained marked throughout their history by the conditions of their origin.
free riders Those who enjoy a collective good without helping to pay for it.
free vote A legislative vote in which members are not required to toe the party line.
free-market environmentalism The view that environmental problems are best solved by property rights and markets.
functions The special activity or purpose structures serve in the political process; for example interest groups to articulate interests.
gerrymander Manipulating constituency boundaries for partisan election purposes. government. A specialized group of individuals, institutions and agencies which make and enforce public decisions.
head of government The person in effective charge of the executive branch of government; the prime minister in a parliamentary system.
head of state An individual who represents the state but does not exercise political power.
human rights Rights thought to belong to all people simply because they are human beings.
ideological party A type of political party which emphasizes ideological purity over the attainment of power.
ideology A system of beliefs and values that explains society and prescribes the role of government.
influence A form of power based on the ability to persuade others to share in a desired objective.
informal institutions Institutions which are an integral part of the political process, but which are not established by a constitution.
initiative The initiation of legislative action on a particular issue by way of a voters' petition.
institutional group Groups which are closely associated with the government and act internally to influence public decisions.
interest (pressure) group Organizations whose members act together to influence public policy in order to promote their common interest.
interest party A political party with a single interest or purpose, such as the Green Party.
international law The body of rules governing the relationships of states with each other.
International Monetary Fund An international organization created to prevent another collapse in the world monetary system through the stabilization of national currencies throughout the world.
international order The combination of major actors, rules, mechanisms and understandings to manage the co-existence and interdependence of states.
international regimes The pattern of regular cooperation governed by implicit and explicit expectations between two or more states.
international relations An area of political study concerned with the interaction of independent states.
intervention In a court case, the presentation of a view on the law without representing one of the parties in the litigation.
item veto The power of an American president or state governor to veto particular components of a bill rather than reject the entire legislation.
Judicial Committee of the Privy Council A British Court that functioned as Canada's final court of appeal until 1949.
judicial activism The willingness and inclination of judges to overturn legislation or executive action.
judicial review The power of the courts to declare legislation unconstitutional (ultra vires).
judiciary The branch of government with the power to resolve legal conflicts that arise between citizens, between citizens and governments, or between levels of government.
junta A Spanish word meaning a group of individuals forming a government, especially after a revolution or coup d'etat.
jurisprudence The philosophy and analysis of law.
justice The virtue of protecting individuals' possessions within the acknowledged rules of conduct.
laissez-faire The non-intervention of the state in the economy.
law Enforceable rules of conduct.
legal positivism A theory holding that law is the command of the sovereign.
legislature A representative assembly responsible for making laws for society.
legislature The branch of government responsible for making laws for society.
legitimacy Belief in the "rightness" of rule.
liberal democracy A system of government characterized by universal adult suffrage, political equality, majority rule and constitutionalism.
liberal feminism The advocacy of equal rights between men and women.
liberalism A theory of international relations stressing the rule of law.
limited government A state restricted in its exercise of power by the constitution and the rule of law.
limited state See limited government.
list system A form of proportional representation in which the elector votes not for individuals but for parties who have lists of candidates running for office.
lobbying An activity of interest groups aimed at influencing governors and the public to achieve a favourable policy decision(s).
logrolling The act of vote-trading among legislators in the process of getting legislation passed.
Magna Carta (Great Charter) A document signed by King John in 1215, conceding that the king is subject to law.
majority government A parliamentary government in which the party in power has over 50 percent of the seats in the legislature.
merit recruitment A system of hiring public servants on the basis of qualifications rather than on party preference or other considerations.
microcosm The idea that a governing body should be a miniature replica of the society it represents.
ministerial responsibility The principle that cabinet ministers are individually responsible to the House of Commons for everything that happens in their department.
ministry The entire group of MPs appointed by the Prime Minister to specific ministerial responsibilities.
minority government A parliamentary government in which the government party has less than 50 percent of the seats in the legislature.
mixed economy An economy based on both private and public (government-controlled) enterprises.
mixed-member-proportional (MPP) Electoral system in which voters cast two ballots, one for a local candidate running in a territorial constituency (first-past-the-post) and the other for a list of candidates put forward by a political party (list system).
modernization The gradual replacement of traditional authority with legal authority.
monarchy Form of government in which a single person rules under the law.
monism Exclusive emphasis on a single principle or interest.
movement party A type of political party which emerges from a political movement, such as a national liberation movement.
multinational state Three or more nations co-existing under one sovereign government.
multiparty system A party system in which there are three or more major contenders for power.
multipolar A system of actions involving several states.
nation Individuals whose common identity creates a psychological bond and a political community.
national interest Interests specific to a nation-state, including especially survival and maintenance of power.
nationalism The feeling of loyalty and attachment to one's nation or nation-state, and strong support for its interests.
nation-state A state with a single predominant national identity.
natural authority Authority based on spontaneous deference to an individual's knowledge or social position.
natural law Rules of conduct binding on humankind by virtue of human rationality alone.
neoconservatism An ideological term characterizing parties or politicians who not only advocate an end to government expansion, but believe in reducing its role via downsizing, privatization, and deregulation.
new international economic order A revision of the international economic system in favour of Third World countries.
nonassociational (latent) group A group which lacks formal organization but has the potential for mobilizing politically.
normative Political analysis based on values, commitments and ideas.
notwithstanding clause Section 33 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which allows federal or provincial legislatures to pass laws that may violate certain sections of the Charter.
official opposition In a parliamentary system, the largest of the opposition parties, given a special role to play in the legislative process.
oligarchy A form of government in which a minority rules outside the law. ombudsman. An official with the power to investigate complaints against government administration.
one-party-dominant system A party system in which there are political alternatives but a single political party dominates the political process as a result of the overwhelming support of the electorate.
opposition Those members of Parliament who are not part of the government of the day.
order-in-council Decision by Cabinet which carries legal force.
parliamentary sovereignty The supreme authority of parliament to make or repeal laws.
party discipline The convention that all MPs within any party vote together, as predetermined in the party caucus and enforced by the party whip.
patriarchy The domination of society by men.
peace-building A process for working towards objectives associated with peaceful coexistence of combatants.
peacekeeping The interposition of lightly armed military forces between combatants who have agreed to stop fighting.
permanent secretary The British equivalent of a Canadian deputy minister.
personal freedom The absence of coercion in various aspects of life.
personal party A type of political party founded by a single, overwhelmingly influential political leader.
philosopher king Plato's view of the ideal individual who rules in the common interest and is directed by wisdom and virtue rather than the constraint of law.
planning Production and allocation of resources determined by a central authority.
plebiscite Another term for an advisory referendum.
pluralism The open competition of political interests.
plurality A voting decision based on assigning victory to the largest number of votes, not necessarily a majority.
policy community The network of individuals and organizations deeply involved in a particular area of public policy.
polis Greek city-state.
political alienation The sense of estrangement from political power.
political consultant A professional advisor who puts his/her political expertise to work in the private and public sectors.
political culture Attitudes, values, beliefs, and orientations that individuals in a society hold regarding their political system.
political economy The study of the involvement by the state in the economy of the nation-state.
political patronage Government appointments made as a payoff for loyal partisan activity.
political party An organized group that makes nominations and contests elections in the hope of influencing the personnel and policy of government.
political philosophy An area of political study based on historical, reflective and conceptual methods.
political police Forces reporting directly to a political leader who uses them for political purposes rather than law enforcement.
political process The interaction of organized political structures in making and administering public decisions for a society.
political socialization The process by which political culture is transmitted from generation to generation.
politics A process of conflict resolution in which support is mobilized and maintained for collective action.
polity A form of government characterized by popular sovereignty but exercised within a constitutional framework to prevent the oppression of the minority by the majority rule.
polyarchy Robert Dahl's term for pluralist forms of liberal democracy, in which there is competition between many different interests.
popular sovereignty Supreme authority residing in the consent of the people.
portfolio The administrative responsibility carried by a minister, usually some combinations of departments and other agencies.
post-materialism The shift in values since the late 1940s from public order and material prosperity to self-fulfilment.
power The ability to get other individuals to do as one wants them to do.
pragmatic party A type of political party concerned primarily with winning elections.
precedent A previous judicial case used as an example for deciding the case at hand.
preferential (alternative) ballot Electoral system in which voters rank the candidates.
prerogative The residual powers of the Crown that can be exercised at its own discretion.
Prime Minister s Office Support staff appointed by the Prime Minister to carry out political functions.
priming The selective portrayal of political events and personalities by the media which in turn affects public opinion.
primus inter pares Latin phrase meaning "first among equals."
private law Laws controlling relations between individuals.
private member's bill Public bills introduced in the legislature by members who are not in the cabinet.
privatization The sale of government-owned assets or activities to the private sector.
Privy Council A ceremonial body made up of all present and former cabinet ministers.
Privy Council Office A governmental department that supports the prime minister, cabinet, and cabinet committees in devising government policy.
proclamation The announcement of the official date a new law will take effect.
progressive tax A tax rate which increases as the amount of one's income increases.
proletariat A Marxist term referring to those who sell their labour to the bourgeoisie; the working class.
property franchise (suffrage) The requirement that citizens own a stipulated amount of property to receive the right to vote.
proportional representation (PR) An electoral system in which the share of seats won closely matches the share of popular votes received.
provincial courts Courts created by provincial statute, staffed by judges appointed by the province to deal with matters such as small claims and minor criminal offences.
public authority Authority based on institutional office-holding.
public debt The accumulated sum owed by the government to its creditors.
public law Laws controlling the relations between the state and individuals in society.
qualified majority The raising of the simple majority requirement of "50 percent plus one" to a higher level, in order to protect the rights of the minority.
race A group of individuals differentiated through distinct physical characteristics and common ancestry.
radical feminism A belief that men and women constitute "sexual classes" and that women's subordinated status is the result of a system which is controlled by men.
readings First, second and third readings representing the introduction and debate of proposed bills in the legislative chambers.
realism A theory of international relations holding that struggles are resolved on the basis of power of conflicting parties.
recall The ability of voters in a constituency to remove their elected representative from office by means of a petition.
Red Tory A conservative with collectivist leanings.
redistribution The process of reallocating wealth and income to achieve an economic or social objective.
referendum A decision on policy proposals by a direct vote of the electorate.
reform liberalism A liberal ideology which advocates a larger role for the state in providing equality of opportunity.
regressive tax A tax that weights more heavily on low incomes.
regulative laws Laws that control individual and organizational behaviour.
regulatory agency Government agencies established to administer regulative laws in certain fields, e.g. the Canadian Human Rights Commission.
report stage The stage in the legislative process after the second reading when the House debates the committee's report on a proposed bill.
representative democracy A system of government based on the election of decision-makers by the people.
residual powers Those powers in a federal system of government not explicitly allocated in a constitution.
responsible government A form of government in which the political executive must retain the confidence of a majority of the elected legislature or assembly, and it must resign or call an election if and when it is defeated on a vote of nonconfidence.
royal assent The approval of a bill by the Crown.
rule of law Belief that all actions, of individuals and governments, are subject to an institutionalized set of rules and regulations.
runoff system An electoral system in which additional rounds of balloting are held (with trailing candidates dropped) until a candidate receives a majority of the votes cast.
scientific socialism The term Marx and Engels used to stress that their ideology was based on analysis of class conflict.
Second International The reunion of socialist and labour parties in Europe, with the absence of anarchists, established in 1889.
security dilemma The spiral of preparations and tensions which emerge when the protective actions of one state lead to countermeasures by another state. self-government. The right of members of a group to control their own collective affairs.
separation of powers The separation of powers between executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government.
shadow cabinet The cohesive group of specialized critics in the official Opposition party.
single-member-plurality system (SMP) An electoral system in which the candidate with the most votes wins, even though that win may not represent 51% of the votes.
single-party system A party system in which there exists only one party and no political alternatives are legally tolerated.
single transferable vote (STV) A form of proportional representation in which electors vote for individuals rather than party lists, but they do so by ranking the candidates in their order of choice.
social democrats Socialists emphasizing popular consent, peaceful change, political pluralism, and constitutional government.
socialism A leftist political ideology that emphasizes the principle of equality and usually prescribes a large role for government to intervene in society and the economy via taxation, regulation, redistribution, and public ownership.
social justice The partial equalization of wealth and income to reach a more desirable outcome.
society A self-sufficient group of individuals living together under common rules of conduct.
sovereign The highest or supreme political authority.
special (ad hoc) committee Legislative committees appointed for special, temporary purposes, such as to investigate a problem before the government prepares legislation on the subject.
spoils system The assumption that, after successfully winning an election, the political executive is entitled to appoint large numbers of supporters to the bureaucracy.
spontaneous order The pattern of mutual coordination that emerges as individuals pursue their own interests in society.
standing committee Legislative committees that are set up permanently and parallel government functions.
stare decisis The legal principle that precedents are binding on similar subsequent cases; the basis of the common law system.
state Combination of people, territory, and sovereign government. state-centric. An approach to international relations positing the sovereign state as the focus for understanding the nature and workings of the international system.
stateless society A society without a sovereign government.
statism The heavy intervention of the state in societal affairs, especially in the economic system.
statute A specific piece of legislation.
structuralism A theory of international relations stressing the impact of world economic structures on the political, social, cultural and economic life of countries.
subjects Members of a society who are not involved in the political process of that society.
suffragism A political movement by women to obtain the right to vote in an election.
superior courts In Canada, courts organized by provincial statute, staffed by judges appointed by the federal government.
symbolic laws Laws designed to create special meaning for society, such as the adoption of a national anthem.
syndicalism A variation of socialism in which the workers own or control the factory or workplace.
Third International The political organization in which the official ideology was Marxist-Leninism or communism, established in 1921.
totalitarianism A modern form of despotic rule in which the state undertakes to remake society according to an ideological design.
traditional authority Authority based on birthright and custom.
Treasury Board A cabinet committee and government department whose primary responsibility is to oversee government spending.
tribe A community of people tied together by a myth of common ancestry.
trustee A representative who acts independently in deciding what is in the best interests of his or her constituents.
two-party system A party system in which there are two credible contenders for power and either is capable of winning any election.
two-party-plus system A party system in which there are two major contenders for power of approximately equal strength plus one or more minor parties able to win seats but not to control the government.
typology A broad classification scheme of governmental systems.
tyranny A form of government in which one person rules arbitrarily.
ultra vires Term used to describe an action which exceeds the conferred constitutional powers of the actor. Literally, "beyond the power."
unitary system A system of government in which a single sovereign government rules the country.
unwritten constitution An uncodified constitution established through traditional practice.
utopian socialism Early-nineteenth century socialism based on a universal appeal to reason.
veto The authorized power of a president to reject legislation passed by Congress.
violence The utilization of physical force or power as a means of achieving ends.
vote of censure A motion of nonconfidence requiring the prime minister and the cabinet to resign.
welfare state The provision for redistributive benefits such as education and health services by the state.
White House Staff Special advisors to the President, part of the Executive office and similar to the Canadian Prime Minister's Office.
wilderness preservationism A form of environmentalism positing the intrinsic importance of wilderness for humankind.
World Trade Organization An international organization created to provide the ground rules for international trade and commerce.
Zionism Jewish nationalist movement advocating establishment of a Jewish nation-state.
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NOTE: These websites have been selected from remote sites around the world, and have been saved on this site under fair use guidelines for educational issue. They represent a sampling of political opinion and political action sites from across the political spectrum, October 1996. The presence of a site on this list in no way represents an endorsement of its political ideology or call to action. --Bruce Gronbeck