party, political, organization whose aim is to gain control of the government apparatus, usually through the election of its candidates to public office. Political parties take many forms, but their main functions are similar: to supply personnel for government positions; to organize these personnel around the formation and implementation of public policy; and to serve in a mediating role between individuals and their government. Political parties are as old as organized political systems. For example, many of the ancient Greek city-states had organized, competitive parties. Political parties have been organized for various reasons: to support a particular political figure, to advance a particular policy or a general ideological stand, to aid politically certain groups or sections of society, or merely to combine for short-term political advantage. Political parties have also been organized in various ways; in some, control is exercised by a small central elite, either elected or self-perpetuating, while in others, power is decentralized, with candidate picking and decision making spread among local party units. The modern mass political party has taken shape in the last century, along with the rise of democratic ideology, universal suffrage, nationalism, and more effective means of communication. Such a party is commonly categorized by the type of party system in which it operates. In a noncompetitive or one-party system, the party is often employed as part of the governing apparatus, with the functions of maintaining public support for the regime, encouraging popular participation in government programs, and alerting the government to changes in public opinion. In competitive systems, a distinction may be made between two-party systems, which seem to encourage a party strategy of moderation and compromise aimed at obtaining a majority vote, and multiparty systems, where there is less compromise and where a party's strategy emphasizes retaining the support of its core voters. In general, however, the structure and behavior of a particular country's political parties depends most heavily on the country's political and cultural history.

See V. O. Key, Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups (5th ed. 1964); S. M. Lipset and S. Rokkan, ed., Party Systems and Voter Alignments (1967); R. S. Katz, A Theory of Parties and Electoral Systems (1981); R. L. McCormick, ed., Political Parties and the Modern State (1984); K. Von Beyme, Political Parties in Western Democracies (1985).

campaign, political, organized effort to secure nomination and election of candidates for government offices. In the United States, the most important political campaigns are those for the nomination and election of candidates for the offices of president and vice president. In each political party such nominations are made at a national convention preceding the presidential election.

Campaign costs in the United States have become enormous, with political advertising, especially television, being the greatest expense. As a result, parties and candidates need to raise many millions of dollars. Financial contributions by corporations, labor unions, and other other organizations, individuals, and federal employees as well as expenditures by the parties' national committees have been restricted by law. Closer regulation of contributions was attempted by establishment of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) in 1974 and 1976; the FEC provides public financing in return for spending limits.

In the late 1990s, however, the FEC negated some of its own rules and weakened the restrictions. Additionally, political action committees are permitted as private campaign-funding vehicles, and unlimited "soft money" may be raised by political parties (as opposed to candidates) for "party development" (nearly $500 million in 2000). Also, a number of presidential candidates, beginning with George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential campaign, have chosen to forgo public financing in order to avoid the associated spending limits. Thus the reforms have not slowed the escalating cost of campaigns.

Attempts in the late 1990s to revamp the way national political campaigns are financed were successfully filibustered in the U.S. Senate, but in 2002 Congress passed legislation to eliminate soft money on the national level and restrict it on the state and local level while increasing the amount that could be donated to a candidate. The bill also restricted the ability of political action committees to mention candidates by name immediately before an election. That and the provisions regarding soft money were challenged in court but narrowly upheld (2003) by the Supreme Court. In 2007, however, a more conservative Court narrowed the restrictions on political action committees, and in 2009 the Court narrowly overturned its 2003 decision in part and declared a significant portion of the 2002 legislation unconstitutional when it ruled that Congress could not limit independent expenditures by corporations during elections.

In Great Britain the system of parliamentary government permits the overthrow of the cabinet by a vote of no confidence at any time, and, compared with U.S. congressional elections, this results in a more unified party campaign. British parliamentary and local elections are never held concurrently; campaigns are short and intensive, and party expenditures are comparatively very moderate and are fixed by law.

See V. O. Key, Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups (5th ed. 1964); L. Overacker, Presidential Campaign Funds (1991); J. Pollock, Party Campaign Funds (1991); P. Stern, The Best Congress Money (1991).

Academic discipline concerned with the empirical study of government and politics. Political scientists have investigated the nature of states, the functions performed by governments, voter behaviour, political parties, political culture, political economy, and public opinion, among other topics. Though it has roots in the political philosophies of Plato and Aristotle, political science in the modern sense did not begin until the 19th century, when many of the social sciences were established. Its empirical and generally scientific orientation is traceable to the work of Henri de Saint-Simon and Auguste Comte. The first institution dedicated to its study, the Free School of Political Science, was founded in Paris in 1871.

Learn more about political science with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Branch of philosophy that analyzes the state and related concepts such as political obligation, law, social justice, and constitution. The first major work of political philosophy in the Western tradition was Plato's Republic. Aristotle's Politics is a detailed empirical study of political institutions. The Roman tradition is best exemplified by Cicero and Polybius. St. Augustine's City of God began the tradition of Christian political thinking, which was developed by Thomas Aquinas. Niccolò Machiavelli studied the nature and limits of political power. Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan (1651) raised the problem of political obligation in its modern form. Hobbes was followed by Benedict de Spinoza, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the exposition of a social-contract theory. This was rejected by David Hume and also by G.W.F. Hegel, whose Philosophy of Right (1821) was fundamental for 19th-century political thought. Hegel's defense of private property stimulated Karl Marx's critique of it. John Stuart Mill developed Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian theory of law and political institutions, so as to reconcile them with individual liberty. In the 20th century John Dewey sought to counteract the dehumanizing aspects of modern capitalist society through a freer form of education. Until the end of the Cold War, the field of political philosophy was characterized by a division between Marxists and more traditional liberal thinkers, as well as by disagreements between left- and right-leaning liberals, such as John Rawls and Robert Nozick (1938–2002), respectively. From the 1970s, feminist political philosophy drew attention to the apparent gendered nature of many concepts and problems in Western political philosophy, especially autonomy, rights, liberty, and the public-private distinction.

Learn more about political philosophy with a free trial on Britannica.com.

or patronage system

In U.S. politics, the practice by political parties of rewarding partisans and workers after winning an election. Proponents claim it helps maintain an active party organization by offering supporters jobs and contracts. Critics charge that it awards appointments to the unqualified and is inefficient because even jobs unrelated to public policy change hands after an election. In the U.S., the Pendleton Civil Service Act (1883) was the first step in introducing the merit system in the hiring of government workers. The merit system has almost completely replaced the spoils system. Seealso civil service.

Learn more about spoils system with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Group of persons organized to acquire and exercise political power. Formal political parties originated in their modern form in Europe and the U.S. in the 19th century. Whereas mass-based parties appeal for support to the whole electorate, cadre parties aim at attracting only an active elite; most parties have features of both types. All parties develop a political program that defines their ideology and sets out the agenda they would pursue should they win elective office or gain power through extraparliamentary means. Most countries have single-party, two-party, or multiparty systems (see party system). In the U.S., party candidates are usually selected through primary elections at the state level.

Learn more about political party with a free trial on Britannica.com.

In U.S. politics, a political organization that controls enough votes to maintain political and administrative control of its community. The rapid growth of cities in the 19th century created huge problems for city governments, which were often poorly organized and unable to provide services. Enterprising politicians were able to win support by offering favours, including patronage jobs and housing, in exchange for votes. Though machines often helped to restructure city governments to the benefit of their constituents, they just as often resulted in poorer service (when jobs were doled out as political rewards), corruption (when contracts or concessions were awarded in return for kickbacks), and aggravation of racial or ethnic hostilities (when the machine did not reflect the city's diversity). Reforms, suburban flight, and a more mobile population with fewer ties to city neighbourhoods have weakened machine politics. Famous machines include those of William Magear Tweed (New York), James Michael Curley (Boston), Thomas Pendergast (Kansas City, Mo.), and Richard J. Daley (Chicago). Seealso civil service.

Learn more about political machine with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Form of social or political philosophy in which practical elements are as prominent as theoretical ones. The term was coined in 1796 by the French writer Antoine-Louis-Claude, Comte Destutt de Tracy (b. 1754—d. 1836), as a label for his “science of ideas.” Certain characteristics of his thought proved generally true of ideologies, including a more or less comprehensive theory of society, a political program, anticipation of a struggle to implement that program (thus requiring committed followers), and intellectual leadership. Destutt de Tracy's ideas were adopted by the French Revolutionary government in building its version of a democratic, rational, and scientific society (see Directory). Napoleon first gave the term a negative connotation with his scorn for what he called idéologues. Ideology is often contrasted unfavourably with pragmatism. The significance of ideology follows from the fact that power is rarely exercised without some ideas or beliefs that justify support.

Learn more about ideology with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Academic discipline that explores the relationship between individuals and society and between markets and the state, using methods drawn from economics, political science, and sociology. The term is derived from the Greek terms polis (city or state) and oikonomos (one who manages a household). Political economy is thus concerned with how countries are managed, taking into account both political and economic factors. The field today encompasses several areas of inquiry, including the politics of economic relations, domestic political and economic issues, the comparative study of political and economic systems, and the study of international political economy.

Learn more about political economy with a free trial on Britannica.com.

or party conference

In politics, a meeting of members of a political party at the local, state, or national level to select party leaders and candidates for office and to determine party policy. During presidential election years in the U.S., the main parties hold conventions that serve to showcase their presidential and vice presidential candidates and to boost the morale of party members for the campaigns that follow. Conventions were instituted in the U.S. in the 1830s to replace the often exclusive and secretive caucus system; it was hoped that the conventions' openness would make them less vulnerable to control by party bosses. Most candidates for political office at all levels in the U.S. are now nominated through primary elections, and the conventions merely ratify the candidates already selected by the voters. Political parties in other countries (e.g., Great Britain) often hold annual party conferences.

Learn more about political convention with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Protection from arrest and extradition given to political refugees by a country or by an embassy that has diplomatic immunity. No one has a legal right to asylum, and the sheltering state, which has the legal right to grant asylum, is under no obligation to give it. It is thus a right of the state, not the individual. Its traditional use has been to protect those accused of political offenses such as treason, desertion, sedition, and espionage. Beginning in the 20th century, asylum also was granted to those who could demonstrate a significant risk of politically motivated persecution if they returned to their home countries.

Learn more about asylum with a free trial on Britannica.com.

In U.S. politics, an organization whose purpose is to raise and distribute campaign funds to candidates seeking political office. PACs rose to prominence after the Federal Election Campaign Act (1971) limited the amount of money any corporation, union, or private individual could give to a candidate. PACs were able to circumvent these limits by soliciting smaller contributions from a much larger number of individuals. During the late 20th and early 21st centuries the vast amounts of money raised by PACs greatly increased the cost of running for office and led to efforts to reform this method of financing campaigns.

Learn more about political action committee (PAC) with a free trial on Britannica.com.

Political freedom is the absence of interference with the sovereignty of an individual by the use of coercion or aggression. The members of a free society would have full dominion over their public and private lives. The opposite of a free society would be a totalitarian state, which highly restricts political freedom in order to regulate almost every aspect of behavior. In this sense ‘freedom’ refers solely to the relation of men to other men, and the only infringement on it is coercion by men.


The concept of political freedom is very closely allied with the concepts of civil liberties and individual rights, which in most democratic societies is the profession characterized by various freedoms which are afforded the legal protection of the state. Some of these freedoms may include (in alphabetical order):


Various groups along the political spectrum naturally differ on what they believe constitutes "true" political freedom.

Left wing political philosophy generally couples the notion of freedom with that of positive liberty, or the enabling of an individual to realize her own potential. Freedom, in this sense, may include freedom from poverty, starvation, treatable disease, and oppression, as well as freedom from force and coercion, from whomever they may issue.

However Friedrich Hayek, a well-known classical liberal, criticized this as a misconception of freedom, instead emphasizing the aspects of negative liberty.

Hayek also famously noted that "liberty" and "freedom" have probably been the most abused words in recent history.

In contrast, Milton Friedman, another classical liberal, strongly incorporated the absence from coercion into his description of political freedom.

Many social anarchists see negative and positive liberty as complementary concepts of freedom. They describe the negative liberty-centric view endorsed by capitialists as "selfish freedom". According to Anarchism FAQ

Some treat freedom as if it were almost synonymous with democracy, while others see conflicts or even opposition between the two concepts. For example, some people argue that Iraq was free under Paul Bremer on the grounds that it was a rational, humanist, non-subjugating government, long before elections were held . Others have argued that Iraq was free under Saddam Hussein because Iraq was not a colony , while a third claim is that neither dictatorial nor colonial rule in Iraq are examples of political freedom.

Environmentalists often argue that political freedoms should include some constraint on use of ecosystems. They maintain there is no such thing, for instance, as "freedom to pollute" or "freedom to deforest" given that such activities create negative externalities. The popularity of SUVs, golf, and urban sprawl has been used as evidence that some ideas of freedom and ecological conservation can clash. This leads at times to serious confrontations and clashes of values reflected in advertising campaigns, e.g. that of PETA regarding fur.

There have been numerous philosophical debates over the nature of freedom, the claimed differences between various types of freedom, and the extent to which freedom is desirable. Determinists argue that all human actions are pre-determined and thus freedom is an illusion. Isaiah Berlin saw a distinction between negative liberty and positive liberty.

In jurisprudence, freedom is the right to determine one's own actions autonomously ; generally it is granted in those fields in which the subject has no obligations to fulfill or laws to obey, according to the interpretation that the hypothetical natural unlimited freedom is limited by the law for some matters.

Joseph Garcia(Not the politition) states his belief that freedom in politics is generally used as a governing tool: "For what we call freedom is given only to those who obey, it is then when you stand for what you believe and fight back against oppression you lose those freedoms, and when what is taken away should be your inalienable rights what choice does one have but to obey?"

External links


Search another word or see politicalon Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2015 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature