Sunday, July 3, 2011



Modern Societies

A modern society may be defined as one with a comparatively high per capita income, high rate of literacy, urbanisation and industrialisation, considerable geographical and social mobility, extensive and

penetrative mass-communication media and wide-spread participation of the citizens in the social and political processes.

Political System in Modern Societies

A political system is a sub-system of the social system and is characterised by the monopoly of coercive power over citizens and organisations. A political system is directed towards the control of individuals and groups within an identifiable and independent social system.

Elements of a Political System

The political system of modem society can be best described in terms of

(1) Ideology,(2) Structure, (3) Function, (4) Process and (5) Basis of Legitimacy.


Ideology may be defined as an integrated system of beliefs and symbols which have an appeal to the followers beyond their rational and objective meaning. It has the power to sway the sentiments of the followers. It is accepted as an article of faith by the followers.

Structure and Oligarchy

Depending upon the political culture and orientations of political elites, political

structures have been divided into the following categories.

i) Traditional Oligarchies

ii) Totalitarian Oligarchies

iii) Modernising Oligarchies

iv) Tutelary Democracies

v) Political Democracies.

i) Traditional Oligarchies

This is usually monarchic and dynastic in form and is based on custom rather than any constitution. The ruling elite and the bureaucracy are recruited on the basis of kinship or status. The goal of the ruler is stability and maintenance of the system. In its own interest it may launch schemes of modernisation - like modernisation of the army and bureaucracy and may even launch welfare programmes, but the primary aim continues to be the perpetuation of the dynastic rule.

ii) Totalitarian Oligarchies

Here, there is a total penetration of the society by the polity. There is a high degree of concentration of power in the hands of the ruling elite and a high tempo of social mobilisation. The Chinese regime is a good example of this type of oligarchy.

iii) Modernising Oligarchies

These are characterised by the concentration of political functions in a ruling clique and in the bureaucracy. There is an absence of competitive political parties. Associations and interest groups exist with limited activity. The media are controlled by the government. Generally the ruling elite is committed to development and modernisation. Some of the Latin American states are examples of modernising oligarchies.

iv) Tutelary Democracies

The dominant characteristic of this system is that it has accepted the formal norms of democracy, viz., universal suffrage, freedom of association and speech and the structural forms of democracy. But there is a concentration of power in the executive and the bureaucracy. The legislature tends to be relatively powerless and the judiciary is not always free from interference. The executive wants to establish democracy only piecemeal. The assumption is that people are not ripe for the democratic process, otherwise the political system may go out of gear and there will be instability. Until the end of 1988 Pakistan was the best example of this system.

v) Political Democracies

These are systems which function with autonomous executives, legislatures and judiciary. Political parties and the media are free and competitive. There are autonomous interest groups and pressure groups. Examples are U.S.A. and U.K. some of the developing countries such as India, are examples of political systems which are moving in that direction.

As stated earlier, political structures in the five political systems will differ considerably. It is only in political democracies that the three organs of the state, the executive, the legislature and judiciary, have autonomy and political parties and the media are relatively free and competitive. In the majority of cases, there will be a written constitution which defines the powers and duties of these bodies. In all other political systems, either there is no autonomy for these bodies, or when autonomy exists, it is

limited. The non-government structures also will have to fall in line with the wish of the rulers.

Function of the Political System

A political system usually performs some well defined functions. The major functions of a political system may be categorised into two broad headings: The input functions and the output functions.

Input functions:

i) Political Socialisation and recruitment

ii) Interest articulation

iii) Interest aggregation

iv) Political communication

Output functions:

v) Rule making

vi) Rule application

vii) rule adjudication

Actually, the first set of (input) functions is reflected in the non-governmental subsystems and the second set of (output) functions is reflected in the government subsystems.

Political Socialisation and Recruitment

Political socialisation is the process of inducting an individual in the political culture. It is a part of general socialisation but with a different focus and objective. Unlike general socialisation, political socialisation starts later in childhood. There are two main components of political socialisation. One is the inculcation of general values and norms regarding political behaviour and political matters and the other is the induction of the individual into a particular political party and the imparting of the

party’s ideology and action programmes to her or him.

The social base for entrants into the political file could be broad or narrow. In the Arab countries, the base is narrow, patriarchic and oligarchic, whereas in India it is broad-based and competitive. In the first category, leaders are recruited from social groups which have been historically predominant (wealthy and aristocratic families or clans or classes). Other categories such as civil servants, army officers and

professional and business groups may come from the urban educated class. In the patriarchal societies, professional and business elites and other modern groups are largely non-participant but their increase which follows modernisation is bound to make them competitors in the political arena. Social change is bound to enable these groups to come to the forefront, eclipsing the traditional elements.

Interest Articulation

Interest articulation means the expression of interest in a political system, for the attention of the government. Usually since it is difficult to get individual demands heard or attended to by decision-making agencies, they are collectively expressed; persons who have the same problems join together. Depending upon the mode of their articulation, they can be divided into the following institutional

interest groups, associational interest groups, non-associational interest groups and economic groups.

Institutional Interest Groups

These are duly constituted, stable and institutionalised structures such as the Church, the bureaucracy, the army and the legislature. Though their official functions are clearly spelled out, they, or, an active group among them. may take up the cause of reform or social justice, and use the formal structure for airing their views, even though this is not in the permitted categories of functions.

Associational Interest Groups

Examples of these are trade unions, associations of managers, businessmen and traders and various agencies organised for non-economic activities such as ethnic, cultural and religious groups or civic groups, youth organisations etc. They will have their own established procedures for formulation of interests and demands, and further transmission of these demands to other political structures such as political parties, legislatures, bureaucracies, etc. In most of the developing countries, many of these

associations will have political leanings and some of them, like trade unions and youth organisations, may actually be front organisations of political parties. However, the special feature of these associations or organisations is that they have established goals and means.

Non-associational Interest Groups

These are groups that are not formally established, but are nonetheless important due to their caste or religious or family positions. An informal delegation may be formed to meet the official or minister concerned, about some problem, for example, the mode of collection of a certain levy or alterations of a government rule, etc. It is not necessary that the interest is articulated through a delegation. It is possible that in a formal or informal get-together, the spokesmen of a group could air its grievances

before the official. In any case the occasion serves the purposes of articulation of the demand.

Anomic Interest Groups

These are groups that are spontaneously formed and may be relatively unstable and short-lived, such as in a riot or demonstration. Here we do not include the violent political demonstrations .and show of strength at rallies and route marches of political parties and their front organisation. We have in mind groups that are formed ad hoc and that may find other forms of articulation ineffective. Sometimes they will remain stable for a relatively long period, in which case, they will become associations.

Interest Aggregation

Aggregation is the sorting out and combination of the demands articulated by the different interest groups. Aggregation may be achieved by means of the formulation of general policies in. which interests are combined, accommodated or otherwise taken account of. This could be done by political parties or by the ruling elite or by the government itself. It is also possible that the interest articulation agencies

themselves could aggregate these interests and present them to those in charge of policy formulation. It can be exemplified that issues pertaining to the lower status of women in the society were articulated by the women’s organisations, and other associations they pressurised the government to formulate policies on women’s development. The government, however, realising the urgency of the issue formulated the National Perspective Plan for Women’s Development. In societies where political

functions are not so clearly divided, the functions of articulation and aggregation will generally be combined. This is because tasks have not been sufficiently specialised. As political functions develop, aggregations and articulation functions, become divided. In modem societies, associations at the national level aggregated the demands of the local units, and present them to the authoritative body for consideration. Here, these apex bodies also act as an interest articulation as well as interest

aggregation only. However, it has to be remembered that the two functions are different. The first is the expression of interest while the second is the combination of different interests in an implementable form.

Political Communication

Communication is the life-blood of any social system. It is through communication that interpersonal and elite mass relationships are maintained. In a political system this is equally important since all the political functions-socialisation, recruitment, articulation, aggregation and the entire rule-making, enforcement and adjudication process rest on it. Information, which is an essential input in any rational action, is supplied through communication. Again, it is the means of communications that makes the political system work efficiently and in a responsible manner.

Government Functions

Under this head there are three items which cover all the functions of modern governments. They are: rule making, rule application and rule adjudication. A characteristic of modern political systems is the increasing tendency to specialise government functions. Thus, rule making is done mostly by the legislature and party by the executive, while rule enforcement is done by the executive with the help of the bureaucracy. Rule adjudication is done by the judiciary which, in modernised countries, is free from the executive and legislature.

Political Processes

The transactions that take place within a political system and between political systems may be called political processes. These include interactions between individuals and groups within the polity, viz., the executive, legislature, judiciary, bureaucracy, political parties, the communication media and other agencies within a state. Interest groups whose activities influence political decisions also form part of the political system.

Basis of Legitimacy

According to Max Weber there are three ways of legitimising authority. They are

(1) Traditional, (2) Charismatic and (3) Legal-rational ways.

Traditional and Charismatic Authority

Traditional Authority: This authority is sanctioned by custom and practice. The authority was there from the very beginning and nobody has challenged it so far. The authority of the parents over children and of kings over subjects has rested on such claim.

Charismatic Authority: This is derived from charisma, that is, the extraordinary power of some of the leaders to influence their followers. According to these followers, their leader possesses certain powers which will enable him or her to take them out of a critical situation or give them what they want. They consider their leader as a saviour. The extra-ordinary power attributed to a leader or claimed by him/her may be-real or imaginary, but for the followers it is real. The followers submit to all her/ his authority without questioning. Mahatma Gandhi and Napolean were charismatic political leaders

Legal Rational Authority

Legal rational authority is the authority based on law. The person who uses authority is duly appointed as per rules to the office concerned and this entitles him to exercise all the authority vested in that office. The President or Prime Minister of a State who comes to power through the constitutionally established methods is the legitimate ruler of the country and the subjects consider him or her to be legitimate ruler. Since the rules and regulations are based on reason, they are rational. In fact, law is

considered to be an embodiment of reason.

Legitimacy of Modern Political System

Modern political system work on the basis of legal rational authority. All the parts within the system function on the basis of clearly established rules and the persons holding office are entitled to discharge all the functions that are assigned to their offices. Those affected by their action are legally bound to obey them. If anybody has any complaint or grievance that an official has acted arbitrarily or beyond the

power vested in his office, there are again, legal and constitutional remedies for him i.e., he can go to a court. But if the court also decrees that the official concerned is right, he has to accept the decision.

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