Cultural Impact on Politics Political Term Paper

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4). This idea has since been abandoned. The mythology of the Amazons, a matriarchy of warrior women, has been discounted as no more than a myth, one deriving from the deep-seated fear on the part of males that they might lose their power and authority. In matrilineal societies, men tend still to monopolize the rights of power. Some Chinese anthropologists believe the stories of true matriarchal societies in some regions of China in the past, but this is uncertain. A matriarchy would be presumed to be less warlike and more nurturing as a social order and would not subordinate men in the way men have done to women in the patriarchal society.

The formulation and operation of power in the largely patriarchal social order in the world today divides along other line than gender, with political action influenced most by ideology, religion, divisions of power, and other aspects of group dynamics. While the West has tended to become less rigid in its patriarchy, parts of the developing world have tended to maintain the traditional gender divisions and to keep women isolated and out of the public arena. In part, this has occurred because of the working of some of the group dynamics just noted.

Group Dynamics

The influence of certain social realities on politics is considerable, with some societies more affected by one element or another. Theocracies are clearly most affected by religious doctrine and religious leaders, though religion may be an element in the politics of even the most secular societies to a degree. The structure of a society is likely to be influenced greatly by some form of social stratification that effectively places one group over another in the social order and which thus may determine the locus of power and the influence that politics can have on public action.

Different theories of social and political organization can often be applied to the same system, as is found among theorists trying to explain the workings of democratic systems, explainable by either pluralist or elitist models of political action. The elitist perspective holds that there is a power structure that is perpetuated. In practical terms, those with property -- meaning those who have money and are members of a certain elite -- have greater access to government than do the poor and otherwise disenfranchised. One of the models of government that has been used to explain how power is wielded in contemporary American society is elite theory. This theory holds that important government decisions are made by an identifiable and stable minority sharing certain characteristics, such as vast wealth and business connections. The members of this elite hold power because they control key financial, communications, industrial, and governmental institutions and that an inner circle composed of top corporate leaders provides candidates for positions from which they can further promote their interests.

Pluralist theory points out that we do not seem to have a stable elite but a shifting pattern of interest groups with greater or lesser power, and such power is not derived only from money but from other characteristics or capabilities. One of the main capabilities has been the ability to deliver votes, as so-called Big Labor has been doing for some time. Representing a large segment of a candidate's constituency gives an organization a particular cachet. The system is not elite because the groups that dominate are not necessarily elites and because groups succeed in a system of shifting alliances. These models apply to local politics as to national and seek to develop a sense of the elites in power at this level or the degree to which policy is developed by the interaction of pluralist organizations.

Looking specifically to the American system, these theories find the major influence in different areas of the social order. For instance, Harrigan (1993) emphasizes that the different governmental actors operate on the basis of their biases, and these biases develop from ideology, influence, expediency, and similar forces. Harrigan sees this as operating for bureaucratic units as well as for political actors like the President and Congress, and he also sees the latter as influencing how bureaucracies respond:

Not only do different bureaucratic units reflect different biases, but federal bureaucrats are also influenced by other political actors who each have their own biases that they try to impose on the executive branch (Harrigan, 1993, p. 242).

Harrigan says that the usual view is that the President and Congress are policymakers, while the bureaucracy is made up of policy implementers. However, he notes that in practice this distinction is not so clear, and there influences in both directions. Domestic policy develops from the interplay of these political and bureaucratic realms.

In the shaping of domestic policy, it is clear that interest groups have a good deal of influence. The public sees interest group influence as excessive and out of control (Berry, 1997, 17), but an examination of the issue shows that interest groups are one way the average citizen can join together with others to increase their ability to influence legislation and policymaking and to gain the attention of Congress and the President. People join a number of different interest groups for just this reason. One of the largest of these groups is the political party, considered important in the proper functioning of a democracy:

Each party seeks to translate mass preferences into public policy by nominating a slate of candidates and endorsing a platform of policy proposals in the hope of attracting the most voters. Elections allow voters to choose which set of candidates and policies they prefer. The winning candidates then enact the policies that get them the winning votes (Harrigan, 1993, p. 154).

However, this raises the issue of whether interest groups constitute an example of a pluralist theory holding that influence can be wielded by anyone by joining a group to empower the individual or an elitist theory in that interest groups only represent an elite group that already holds power. In popular parlance, the latter view holds as politicians claim again and again not to be beholden to interest groups, though some interest groups do represent the less powerful in society.

Cognitive and Moral Development

Religion is another element that shapes a social order in society. In most democracies, religion may play a role in the lives of voters and so have a political influence, but it does not have a direct influence or wield any overt control. In some societies, however, religion can hold a much more powerful place, giving form to government and providing the rules by which people live and under which they can take political action or not take action, according to the rules set. Islamic society is often a theocratic society, which is one of the elements that separates such political systems from our own, though the "otherness" of Islam as a religion contributes to the Western sense of difference as well.

Analysts note the way society expresses its form in Islamic theocracies and the power of shari'ah, or Islamic religious law. El-Awa (1981) refers to the sources of Islamic law, the Qur'an and the Sunna of Prophet Muhammad, noting that both contain basic rules that are usually expressed in a broad manner and that are frequently capable of varying interpretations. Various theories of Islamic law have been formed. The classical conception is that Islamic criminal law recognizes six major offenses, and these offenses are known as the offenses of hudud. The six offenses generally seen as offenses of hudud are the drinking of alcohol, theft, armed robbery, illicit sexual relations, slanderous accusation of unchastity, and apostasy. All other offenses are punished in the Islamic penal system by discretionary punishments known as ta'zir (El-Awa, 1981, pp. 1-2).

Badr-el-Din Ali (1985) examines the penal policy in Saudi Arabia and the ways in which Islamic law and crime are related in that country. He notes that the penal policy is based largely on deterrence and retribution in concept and that it is characterized by certainty and speed in practice. This contrasts with the case of the United States, where the penal philosophy (governed by positive law) is based primarily on offender rehabilitation and the administration of justice and where the process is rather slow and uncertain. The author says that one way of determining the effectiveness of Shari'ah in dealing with the problem of crime is its impact on crime rates. The author sees Saudi Arabia as typical of the societies that have implemented Shari'ah, and he feels that a comparison with the United States is instructive. Such a comparison shows that crime rates in all categories are significantly lower in Saudi Arabia, based on statistics from 1981. The ratio of Saudi crime to U.S. crime in several categories is as follows:…[continue]

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