Tuesday, December 14, 2004


Free Exam!

I just got back from writing my 3rd exam, PSCI 101. Aside from the short answer definition questions we had to pick 3 of out 9 questions and answer them. The exam was worth 50% of my mark. Here are my answers as I remember them without any post exam insight. I will probably do the post exam insight later today after I get some sleep since I have been on the worst sleep cycle since exam period started. Feel free to critique the answers in the comments section. Questions are in red.

Analyze the concept of civil society. Your answer must demonstrate the links between liberal democracy and market capitalism.

There are many definitions of civil society that differ in minor and major ways. Most definitions share some essential parts. Generally, the concept of civil society refers to a network of civil associations to promote the stability and effectiveness of a democratic government. A civil society is public, citizen run institution or association based on voluntary participation. In that sense, a neighborhood committee, a parent-teacher association or a community sports league is a civil society. Essentially, the purpose of a civil society, and the concept of civil societies is the promotion of active citizen participation in the social and political aspects of life. The importance of civil societies is stressed in liberal democracies.

A liberal democracy is a form of representative democracy where the elected representatives are moderated by a constitution. The constitution of a liberal democracy usually emphasizes protecting individual liberties and the right of minorities in society. As well, the constitution protects rights such as freedom of speech, religion and assembly as well as property and privacy rights. In a liberal democracy, all citizens are equal before the law under the rule of law. Liberal democracies protect the minority from the "tyranny of the majority". The concept of open society is usually essential to liberal democracy. In an open society the government is constantly evolving and its policies are open to criticism and change. In an open society, all citizens actively participate in the governance of the state and serve a greater purpose in the decision making process of the government. To encourage active participation open societies and liberal democracies establish civil societies as defined earlier. Liberal democracies also create the conditions necessary to enable a market capitalist economy

Market capitalism is an economic system based on the means of production and distribution of capital being privately owned. Production is then dependent on the basic principle of supply and demand. Liberal democracies enable market capitalism because the basic principles of liberal democracy such as property rights, and the various freedoms allow people to engage in mutually beneficial trade without government planning and extensive interference. Yet, there is still some government intervention in the form of taxes and tariffs but to an extent the economy of a liberal democracy usually is market capitalism. There is no intrinsic link between liberal democracy and market capitalism yet the two concepts tend to connect in many ways. There have been and are states with capitalist economies that are not liberal democracies at all.

The three concepts, civil society, liberal democracy and market capitalism are the separate ingredients that make up the type of society and government we have currently in Canada, the United States, Australia, Britain and various other states worldwide. Each concept can exist in an environment separate from the other two but it seems to work best when it is accompanied by the other concepts.

Conservatism and Socialism have more in common than most people think. Assess their similarities and differences.

Conservatism as a political ideology is characterized by its advocacy of evolutionary and incremental change and its opposition to revolutionary change and the break away from tradition. The intellectual source of modern conservatism is often attributed to Edmund Burke. Burke developed his ideas as a reaction to the ideology of modernism developing during his time that emphasized social construction guided by abstract reason. He believed that abstract reason could not be as effective as tradition in guiding social construction. Modern conservatism, as defined by Burke is founded on an objective moral order, an organic society, an acceptance of inequality, the concept of a positive state, conserving heritage and strong nationalist and patriotic ideals.

Socialism is often seen as the complete opposite of conservatism. The two ideologies actually share a lot in common. There are many different types of socialism and many different interpretations. It can hardly be traced back to a single intellectual source because it is believed socialist beliefs are as old as society itself. Most modern types of socialism share 5 essential properties: the belief that society is deeply divided into classes, public ownership of capital, general welfare, gradualism and a belief that social cooperation is human nature.

The parallels are already evident. Gradualism is one common property of both ideologies. Conservatives believe strongly that change must always be gradual and that revolution causes an unbalance and distress in society. Some socialists believe that change must come about gradually in order to keep the social structure intact. Another similarity is found when the meaning of organic society is explored. Conservatives believe that society is not founded on individual rights and goals, but rather individual duties and obligations to society. Every citizen has a responsibility to society and to state. This is where the concept of the positive state comes in. In a conservative society, the state/society is more important than the individual. In much the same way, socialist societies would also value the state more than the individual because the state is representative of the will of all citizens. Another similarity to the conservative notion of an organic state is the socialist belief that social cooperation is human nature. An organic society is based on civic responsibility and duty that is essentially human nature as evidenced by tradition and customs and not some abstract notion. Socialist would also argue that social cooperation is human nature and not an abstract notion suggesting egoistic individuals doing something for the good of the individual rather than the group as a whole. Socialism and conservatism are often put at opposite ends of the political spectrum but it is clear the two ideologies have much in common. They are both seen as reactions to liberalism and so naturally they share some common properties.

What are the core elements of a liberal conception of society?

Liberalism is the political ideology that establishes defense of individual liberties and rights as the purpose of government. In a liberal society, the state is the employee of the citizens who elect it and give it the authority to govern. The liberal society relies on abstract notions of equality, rights, and laws expressed in a constitution that moderates and gives authority to the elected government. In that sense, the government and the populous have entered into a "Social Contract" as described by Rousseau in his 1762 treatise. Rousseau's social contract says that all persons in order to live in a society agree to a contract which gives them rights in exchange for certain freedoms they would have had in a natural state. Human beings form societies to protect themselves, and the social contract protects the society from itself.

The liberal ideology consists of 7 essential concepts: progress, egoism, rationalism, acquisitiveness, quietism, compassion and atomism. All of these properties are based on ideas that came from the Enlightenment. Progress is key to liberal thought; liberals believe that there is always a better way to do things and society must constantly aspire to finding better things. Egoism is rooted in the humanist movement that came from the Enlightenment. Individual rights, liberties, and aspirations are important aspects of liberalism. Liberal democracies, such as Canada and the U.S. believe in the right of individuals to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Rationalism is important to liberalism because it is the belief in the power of the human mind to rationalize that came from the humanist movement of the enlightenment that will create the progress needed to advance mankind. Acquisitiveness is the liberal belief that human beings are acquisitive in nature, and that each individual wants personal and private property to own. Compassion is essential to liberalism because of the humanist influence and the belief that empowering the less fortunate will only help the fortunate individuals. Atomism contrasts the conservative notion of an organic society. Atomism is the belief that each individual in society is separate from the whole and that each individual seeks personal goals which can only be achieved through cooperation with other individuals. Therefore, human beings create societies out of necessity in order to fulfill individual and personal goals. Liberalism has become the dominant political ideology of western civilization.

OMG.. I have my exam tomorrow, and my questions are very similar to yours! >_<
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