Urban Politics

Urban politics is all about how cities work and what can be done to improve their functioning. The quality of life for city dwellers directly depends on economic and social welfare in cities. The operation of cities depends on their political and administrative position. American cities have significant control over their policy-making, but the impact of the federal laws is undeniable. Mandates issued by federal law set the direction for municipal policy and control local fiscal resources. Sometimes governmental finance is not sufficient and cities have to regulate their spending to meet federal guidelines.

The form of government is another feature that determines how well cities function. In many American cities, the model of city government resembles that of the state government. It has the mayor and the city council. In the 19th century, cities had political party machines. They recruited candidates, supported elections, and mobilized voters. At the beginning of the 20th century, corrupt practices of political machines evoked protests of activists and government reformers. They facilitated the creation of the National Municipal League that generated ideas for altering the city government.

The strong mayor council is the oldest form of city government. It is characteristic to old, large, or economically-advanced cities. The strong mayor model has a concentrated power with a central figure. The mayor, however, is a politician who may hold their personal interests higher than the interests of their city. Another model of city management is the council manager form. It has no mayor, only the city manager appointed by the council. He is a professional administrator who works effectively, saves dollars, and stands out of corruption. On the other hand, the city manager is not accountable to the public. Recently, many cities added a chief administrative officer to their mayor’s staff thus they create a hybrid version of mayor council chief administrative officer government.

Founding of the American Political System

The American political system was influenced by many factors outside the US. The British legal system was the first one. Though the American democracy is nothing like the British monarchy that still remains such, the US Constitution borrowed some principles from the Great Charter (1215) and the Petition of Rights (1628). The English Bill of Rights signed in 1689 also gave the US Constitution several more provisions. Besides legal documents, writings of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau changed the political experience of the two countries. These natural rights philosophers promoted the rights to liberty and property among other essentials that became crucial to the American Constitution. Liberal Arts and the age of Enlightenment formed the personalities of founders of the American nation. Ideas of Francis Bacon and other intellectuals had their imprint on the American legislation. The political philosophy of ancient Roman and Greek thinkers also impacted the worldview of the fathers of the US Constitution.

Constitution of the US is now the oldest functioning constitution in the world. Now scholars pay considerable attention to political preconditions and motives that drove founders to conclude this document. Some of them think that the founders were driven by self-interest, the others believe that democratic principles lie in the basis of the Constitution. Charles A. Beard’s influential theory suggests that the delegates at the Constitutional convention gathered for purely economic reasons. The researcher argues that political elites aimed to protect their investments in the first place. Al of the delegates appeared to have an economic interest in creating a new constitution. Beard’s point of view, however, is criticized as the motives to the creation of the US Constitution were numerous.

Socialism in the Developing World

As a cure for capitalism, socialism was popular in many European countries. The system granted ownership of production to the public and created a strong social welfare system for those who did not own any capital. Marginalized imperial or colonial countries developed a weak form of capitalism, however, they had their own interest in adopting socialism. First, socialism could provide a steady economic growth that would help developing economies to survive on their own. Second, socialism offered the freedom from exploitation that was the primary need of the third world countries. Eventually, the efforts of the Soviet Union to influence the developing world led to the development of socialism there.

Though developing countries viewed socialism positively, there were a few limits to its transition. The first problem was the characteristics of the international system. The dominance of capitalism excluded socialist countries from participation in global trade, finance, and investment. Therefore, the socialist developing world could hardly advance economically. The second problem was that peripheral economies heavily depended on developed countries. It was difficult for developing countries to squeeze their traditional culture shaped by Western lifestyle into a socialist worldview. And last, the third world countries lacked practical socialist theory to make a transition. Marxism, Leninism, or Maoism did not fit to other developing countries, which limited the spread of socialism.

Besides the Soviet Union and China, Cuba, Iraq, Yugoslavia, Libya, and North Korea all succeeded at adopting socialism in the 20th century. In a while, most socialist regimes collapsed. However, scholars do not suppose that the failure of socialism in those countries will put an end to the movement at large. Some countries may prefer public benefits and extensive social welfare to the power of capital.

Revisionism and Social Democracy

Dramatic changes in the European community did not end with the liberalism of Enlightenment. The advent of capitalism left workers without protections granted by traditional communities. The promise of progress and prosperity did not refer to wage laborers who faced low wages and poor working conditions. After The Communist Manifesto of Marx and Engels had been issued, almost every European country had a Socialist or Social Democratic party in their government.

Revisionism developed on the basis of Marxism as it partially revised its ideas favoring democratic values and institutions. Eduard Bernstein, the father of revisionism, worked closely other social democratic leaders, such as Karl Kautsky and August Bebel. Bernstein’s articles confirmed that the crisis of capitalism was deepening and it would collapse one day. Revisionist theories tried to modernize Marxism and make it solve urgent problems such as free expression, worker protection laws, and legal equality of women.

Bernstein’s liberal vision of socialism did not quite fit in Marxist ideas, but the two ideologies were compatible. They shared an optimism about building a society without class differences inherent to the capitalist economy. As a deputy in the German parliament, Bernstein worked hard to turn his ideas into policies. Despite he faced hostility of other party leaders, public and trade unions supported his ideas. Eventually, revisionism remained a controversial policy, and none of the socialist parties adopted it before World War I.

After World War II, socialist and social democratic parties struggled to distinguish themselves from the ruling Communist parties that were even more unpopular than capitalists. At this point, revisionism developed into the social democracy to gain at least some support in European governments. In Sweden, Norway, and Great Britain, socialist parties were particularly strong and reforms finally started there.

Modern Democratic Thought

Democracy remains to be the key concern of political scientists. For the past 50 years, they developed a range of theories that make up our present-day understanding of the democratic order. Among the most prominent theories of democracy, we have pluralist, participatory, liberal minimalist, deliberative, and agonistic theories. The most popular and timely direction in the political thought, democracy touches upon politics, economics, public administration, and international relations. None of the past regimes can compete in popularity with the democracy so far.

Interestingly, the idea of democracy is ancient. Despite the Greek origin, democracy did not live in the classical political thought primarily because of the authoritarian rule of monarchs and the Church. We went a long way from the Christian rule to liberalism and modern democratic ideas. They involve new thoughts and theories that have been developed in the last 50 years.

In the 1930s, the democratic theory of pluralism became popular in Europe. It was developed by Robert A. Dahl who based on political thoughts of James Madison. Dahl gave a definition to polyarchy that was a government of various groups that competed to reach their objectives. He described the American democracy and how it deployed polyarchy. In the 1960s -70s, the pluralism theory was criticized, and Dahl modified it together with his collaborator Charles Lindblom.

The theory of participatory democracy resembles the democratic model that existed in ancient Greece. Carole Pateman was the first to articulate this theory. It implies that active participation in politics allows individuals to enjoy their natural rights and psychological benefits from their political efficacy. As participation theory became utopian in the 1980s, it was succeeded by the theory of deliberate democracy. It co-existed with the liberal minimalist theory of democracy. Eventually, the agonistic pluralist theory associated with Marxist and social democratic projects came to challenge the theories above.

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