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Political socialization begins young. Think about conversations around politics when you were in primary school (around age 10). Maybe there was a natural disaster in your area such as a hurricane and government response levels were critiqued. What were some of the ways you learned about the political establishment through family members and friends? How were you politically socialized as a child? Use evidence (cite sources) to support your response from assigned readings or online lessons, and at least one outside scholarly source.
Political theory was born in ancient Greece. Philosophers such as Socrates, Plato and Aristotle provide us with the foundations of political theory. Plato’s work, The Republic, includes the allegory of the cave.
The story goes something like this: You find yourself in a cave, chained to the ground, facing a stone wall. You cannot stand. All you know are the images that play out before you which are the shadows cast by a light source from behind you. You cannot see behind you, but you know that there are others in the cave with you. This is the only state you have ever known. It is your only reality of the world. Plato goes on to explain that one day, people come and remove your chains and take you out of the cave. As you can imagine, you are scared and frightened. You fight these individuals as they drag you into this new setting. However, over time you learn to accept the larger image of the world around you and come to understand life outside of the cave. You then attempt to go back into the cave to free others.
This story was Plato’s attempt to explain the world around us. We only know or believe what we are exposed to. If we do not break the chains and leave our cave, we will not be exposed to anything else. What is outside our cave? Do you consistently receive your political information from one source? Did you grow up in a family that watched the same news station every night? Do you only read one news source?
Three cartoon philosophers standing outside
This allegory emphasizes the value of knowledge. Aristotle took Plato’s works and expanded on them. Plato’s work was abstract and viewed people as lacking reason while Aristotle’s approach focused on human rationality. Aristotle was the first to define political science and became known as the father of political science.
Throughout this lesson, we will explore key periods of the history of political science and how the field has evolved over time.
Theories – Medieval Period and Renaissance
The conversion of Emperor Constantine anchored the Catholic Church in the Roman Empire. After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Church ultimately became interwoven with the power of the monarchs in western civilizations. Political theories of the time period reflected an interaction of the Church and the secular governments. Philosophers such as St. Augustine’s and St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings focused on the good and the divine directing the government
However, over time, philosophers, and then the people, wondered if “divine right” was the best way to organize a government. Did a monarch’s right to reign come from God and not the people? They began by questioning the Church’s role in government. Then, ultimately, the question expanded into an examination of the need for monarchies in general.
These thoughts began with the work of Niccolo Machiavelli in Italy in the 15th and 16th centuries. In The Prince, Machiavelli discusses the role of power in maintaining rule (1984). Although Machiavelli’s work was not a direct link to democratic thought because he is advising a prince on how to keep his control over the people, his work was one of the first to hint at a need for a separation of church and state. This separation is a concept that still elicits controversy today.
Theories – Enlightenment
Cartoon Professor image saying, “Locate the theories in historical and contemporary systems, policies, and debates.”
Roughly a century later, in Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes advocated the need for a strong central government to rule over the people. Although a supporter of authoritarian governments, he was not a supporter of the Church’s power within government. Hobbes was also known for coining the phrase “state of nature.” This phrase originated from his examination of what humanity looks like without any government. He sees this state as very bleak, representing utter chaos and strife. Hobbes theorizes that without a strong ruling government to keep the peace, people would be at war with one another as they attempted to seize power from one another as a means of getting what they desired (1980). Despite his negative stance on the nature of man, by looking at humanity at its core, he introduced the idea of humanity as thinking for itself. Citizens capable of self-thought is the foundation of any democracy.
It was this self-thinking concept that John Locke built upon a few decades later by suggesting that the people move away from an all-oppressive ruler to a government based upon the rule of the citizens with a system of checks and balances. Locke’s ideas serve as the basis of much of the U.S. founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. These documents reflect the tenets of classical liberalism.
What is Liberalism?
The term liberal in modern vocabularies has taken on an entirely different meaning from its original context. Liberal, when applied to political philosophy, represents a belief that the government should interfere very little in the daily lives of its citizens. This notion allows the individual to pursue his or her own interests without fear of extreme government regulation.
Since the Great Depression, the U.S. government has trended towards a larger government, as have western European nations. This increase in size is the result of the government providing services to protect its citizens from the likes of economic disaster and the toils of war. As time has gone on, several iterations of government expansion have taken place including Roosevelt’s New Deal and L.B. Johnson’s Great Society.
How far you think the government should go in aiding its citizens depends upon which political ideology most appeals to you. The classic liberal, a categorization credited to John Locke, and the conservative, tend to favor small government. The modern liberal, modeled on the work of T. H. Green, prefers more governmental programs. Green believed the government should help citizens live up to their potential politically, socially, and economically.
Let’s review our understanding of modern conservatism and modern liberalism. Drag each of the terms below to the most appropriate column.
Where Do My Political Ideas/Opinions Come From?
Schoolchildren sitting at desks. Pledge of allegiance written on blackboard behind them.
Where do our political ideas and opinions come from? The process of acquiring our political thoughts and ideas is known as political socialization. Political socialization begins when you are young and continues throughout your life through agents of socialization. Your experiences and the agents of political socialization will mold you throughout your life. Agents of socialization might include your travels, social-economics, family demographics, schooling, peers, religion and media.
Agents of Political Socialization
There are several agents of political socialization. Click on each of these headings to learn more about a few of them.
Political theory studies political relationships between people, institutions or/and government. Studying political theory is an important part of the work of ancient and modern philosophers. As in most sciences, theories have evolved as new information has become available. Individuals’ political opinions and ideas are formed through a process called political socialization. The major agents of political socialization are family, schools, peers, religion and media. Studying political theory and political socialization will help us to further understand political beliefs and practices.
Hobbes, T. (1980). Leviathan (1651). Glasgow 1974.
Machiavelli, N. (1984). The prince (1513). New York: Bantam.
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