Government and Politics

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Of course, the meaning of the term can be extended beyond the sphere of government. Americans typically accept the power of their parents, teachers, and religious leaders as legitimate. By contrast, if the right of a leader to rule is not accepted by most citizens (as is often the case when a dictator overthrows a popularly elected government), the regime will be considered illegitimate.

When those in power lack legitimacy, they usually resort to coercive methods in order to maintain control over social institutions. How is political power distributed among members of society? Political power is not divided evenly among all members of society.

How extreme is this inequality? Three theoretical perspectives answer this question in three different ways. First, Marxist theories suggest that power is concentrated in the hands of the few who own the means of production.

Powerful capitalists manipulate social and cultural arrangements to increase further their wealth and power, often at the expense of the powerless. Second, power elite theories agree that power is concentrated in the hands of a few people; the elite includes military leaders, government officials, and business executives. This group consists of those who occupy the top positions in our organizational hierarchies; they have similar backgrounds and share the same interests and goals.

According to this view, any organization (even a nation-state) has a built-in tendency to become an oligarchy (rule by the few). Third, pluralist theories suggest that various groups and interests compete for political power. In contrast to Marxist and power elite theorists, pluralists see power as dispersed among many people and groups who do not necessarily agree on what should be done.

Lobbyists for environmental groups, for example, will battle with lobbyists for the coal industry over .

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