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About this book

Fully revised and extended, the new edition of this innovative and engaging textbook introduces the central elements of political theory from an applied perspective. Focusing on 12 high-profile contemporary social and political case studies, both domestic and global, this text shows how political theory illuminates and helps makes sense of important debates in public life.

This is the perfect introduction for students interested in how political theory can be used to help us solve the political questions of our time, whether at a beginner’s level, or building upon an introduction to theories and concepts.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Abstract
The first few years of the twenty-first century have delivered a succession of shocks to liberal democratic societies, threatening security and economic stability, and challenging many of our assumptions about the relationships between individuals, states and the global community. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 reshaped security concerns and priorities for liberal democracies, both at home and in foreign policy. The Western military interventions in the Middle East that followed 9/11 continue to influence our debates about security, freedom and citizens duties to the state, and our duties to people beyond state borders. Many nations have passed legislation designed to identify terrorists and prevent attacks. Critics have protested that these laws are unjustifiable encroachments on the civil liberties that define liberal democracies. Is it acceptable to tap phones if a government authority thinks that doing so might identify people planning terrorist attacks? Can we justify holding people for long periods without warrants and evidence, in defiance of the traditional protection of habeas corpus? Should we think of balancing liberty with security? Or, to ask one of the most central questions of modern politics: how extensive should the reach of state power be? Should it extend beyond national borders?
Katherine Smits

2. How Should Resources Be Distributed? Taxation, Welfare and Redistribution

Abstract
Debates over the ways in which governments should respond to poverty are some of the most controversial in modern democratic societies. In the past three decades, this controversy has focused on the welfare state: the range of institutionalized programmes through which governments aim to provide universal support to their citizens. The modern welfare state is a recent phenomenon, although its origins can be traced to the expansion of government assistance during the late nineteenth century in several European states, particularly in Germany, where Bismarck introduced social insurance programmes in the 1880s in order to counter emerging popular support for socialism. Some countries developed support programmes in response to the Great Depression of the 1930s, and American President Franklin Roosevelt declared that the ideal social security system would provide protection from the cradle to the grave. It was only after the Second World War, however, that most Western nations expanded their welfare policies to various degrees of comprehensive coverage of the population. The different ways in which welfare programmes have developed across nations reflect a range of political and cultural factors.
Katherine Smits

3. Are Minority Cultures Entitled to Recognition and Rights?

Abstract
One of the most important new political developments in Western democracies towards the end of the last century has been the emergence of minority cultural groups claiming official recognition and rights. As immigration has made democratic societies increasingly pluralist and multicultural, minority ethnic and cultural groups have argued not only that their individual members must be granted equal rights and protections, but also that groups themselves are entitled to recognized status and collective rights. The groups making these claims are diverse: they include ethnic immigrant and refugee communities, indigenous peoples, religious communities that draw members from different ethnic backgrounds, national minorities that have existed with some degree of separateness for the entire history of a nation and the descendants of those brought to their country against their will. Their claims also cover a wide spectrum: some groups demand that their language, cultural customs, religious beliefs or history be included in public ceremonies or school curricula.
Katherine Smits

4. Is Affirmative Action Fair?

Abstract
Affirmative action covers a wide and controversial range of programmes designed to benefit disadvantaged groups: from advertising jobs to women or minorities who tend not to apply for them, to special training schemes for minorities, to the consideration of race as a factor in university admission or employment, to establishing quotas for hiring or appointing under-represented groups. Unlike the redistribution of wealth and cultural rights, which we considered in previous chapters, affirmative action refers to specific policies, designed to serve goals that are particular to each national case. Some countries do not refer to these policies specifically as affirmative action, and the term has been particularly controversial in the United States, which is where it first entered common currency. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy established the Committee on Equal Employment Opportunity, with the aim of eliminating discrimination in employment by the US federal government, and issued an Executive Order directing state employers to take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color or national origin. Since then, many other countries have developed policies designed to offer special assistance to disadvantaged minority groups and women.
Katherine Smits

5. Should Prostitution and Pornography Be Legal?

Abstract
Every year billions of dollars are generated by the global sex industry, a term covering a wide range of activities, from prostitution in its various forms, trafficking and sex tourism, to pornography, adult entertainment and advertising. The exact worth of the industry is impossible to gauge, in part because much of it is, at least in some countries, illegal. A vast network of law and regulation to regulate the sex industry has developed at every level of government, from local ordinances to international treaties. Some of this, particularly those aspects dealing with children, human trafficking and sex slavery, is uncontroversial; it deals with activities that are widely agreed across nations and cultures to be wrong. The United Nations Convention on the Suppression of the Traffic in Persons and the Exploitation of the Prostitution of Others, signed in 1949, declared that forced prostitution was incompatible with human dignity. The controversy over commercial sex focuses on two issues: should prostitution be legal when it involves women who appear to consent to working as prostitutes, and should the distribution and consumption of pornography by adults be legal? Pornography and prostitution are regulated separately, but both have been substantially liberalized in developed countries over the past three decades. Both raise issues of consent and the status of women: the great majority of prostitutes are women, and the great majority of consumers of pornography
Katherine Smits

6. Should Same-Sex Marriage Be Legal?

Abstract
While historians of sexuality have traced back ceremonies uniting homosexual couples for most of recorded history, in both Western and non-Western cultures, the demand that same-sex couples be allowed to formally marry emerged only over the past couple of decades. Same-sex marriage has come to be one of the most controversial and divisive social policy issues in Western countries, as in the second decade of the twenty-first century, Western democracies have begun to shift to legalization. Same-sex marriage raises questions concerning not only the rights of gay and lesbian people and what is required for their equality, but also the status of marriage - an institution declining in popularity in many countries - and the relationship between the state and the institutions of civil society. Although public debate centres on rights to marriage, there have also developed a range of different types of legally recognized and protected relationships which various countries have adopted for same-sex couples, as a substitute for marriage, and which have often been precursors to full legalization. (The first country to adopt such an arrangement was Denmark in 1989.) Often called civil unions or domestic partnerships, these officially recognized relationships offer many of the same legal and economic rights and benefits that accompany marriage, including rights to property and inheritance, hospital visitation rights, rights to housing and insurance benefits and in some cases the right to adopt children together.
Katherine Smits

7. Should the State Prohibit Abortion and Euthanasia?

Abstract
Abortion and euthanasia are not only deeply divisive political issues in many countries - they are, as Ronald Dworkin writes, the great moral issues that bracket life in earnest (1993). The questions of when life begins, and when it may end, appeal to our moral convictions, our religious and spiritual beliefs and our cultural traditions. They also require us to think about what the role of government should be in deciding and imposing answers to moral questions. Philosophical arguments about both abortion and euthanasia range over all of these issues - our focus is on the political dimensions of these issues, although as we shall see, it is not possible to separate these completely from moral arguments. The issues we will consider include the role of the state in imposing policy where there is moral disagreement, the ways in which individual rights justify
Katherine Smits

8. Should Offensive Speech Be Regulated?

Abstract
Freedom of speech is a widely accepted central principle in liberal democracies, but debates regularly surface over its limits. Should it encompass all speech - even that which attacks fundamental democratic or egalitarian principles? The paradox of this liberal right is that it allows people to call into question the very political system that guarantees it and all other rights. The growing pluralist and multi-ethnic nature of democratic societies from the last century onward, and the increase in claims by ethnic and cultural groups for collective rights, which we discussed in Chapter 3, have led to new challenges to freedom of speech. Should it extend to curtailing the liberty with which people make statements and claims, or use names and epithets to insult or vilify others on the basis of their race, gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation? This question was forcefully and most recently brought home to liberal democratic states in January 2015, when two men identifying themselves as Islamist terrorists forced their way into the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and opened fire.
Katherine Smits

9. Should Civil Liberties Be Restricted in Responding to the Threat of Terrorism?

Abstract
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in the United States, a raft of new measures designed to control and prevent terrorism has been passed into law in democratic states. The USA Patriot Act, passed shortly after the attacks, was among the most controversial, but similar legislation was enacted in the UK and other European and Commonwealth countries. To varying degrees these anti-terrorist laws extend the powers of governments to monitor citizens; they make customary legal protections granted to those accused of criminal acts unavailable to individuals accused of involvement in terrorism, and they further restrict the rights of foreign nationals. Some legislation has also created new criminal offences around expressing support for terrorism, and belonging or giving money to groups which may in any way be associated with terrorism. In addition, recent leaks have revealed practices of extensive surveillance of citizens in some western countries, which are not democratically authorized by legislation. I discuss these in Chapter 10.
Katherine Smits

10. Is Leaking Classified Material Justified?

Abstract
The rapid development of the internet has fundamentally transformed the ways in which we connect with each other, and access and distribute information, creating new mass public spaces that transcend geographical and national boundaries. The online revolution has made possible new opportunities for action on the part of individuals, states and organizations that use the internet strategically in political campaigning, but it has also made possible new forms of political action, such as online participatory democracy. In one of the most controversial examples of the impact of the internet on political action, government employees have used their access to electronic data to reveal classified state security-related policies and activities, with the aim of launching a critical public debate about them, and ultimately bringing them to an end. The WikiLeaks scandal and the public disclosures of classified material by Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden and others challenge, as we shall see, our understanding of what kind of protest action against government policies is legitimate, and under which circumstances. In modern liberal democracies, two concepts, or doctrines, grant protests against the state legal or moral legitimacy. The first of these, whistleblowing, has only attracted legislative protection in many countries in the past 25 years.
Katherine Smits

11. Should Rich Countries Give More Foreign Aid?

Abstract
There are all too many ways of measuring the enormous inequalities between rich and poor on a global scale. World Bank figures show that in 2011, 2.2 billion people lived on less than 2 a day, while 1.2 billion lived on less than 1.25 (World Bank, 2011). In 2014, Oxfam reported that the combined wealth of the 85 richest individuals in the world was equal to that of the bottom 50% of the world population, or approximately 3.5 billion people (Oxfam, 2014). Oxfam estimates that by 2016, half of the world total wealth will be owned by the wealthiest 1% of the worlds population (Oxfam, 2014). While child mortality rates globally have been reduced by almost half between 1990 and 2015 (see Box 11.1), UN figures show that the rate is currently 5 deaths in every 1000 children in developed countries, and 47 deaths in every 1000 children in the developing world. In sub-Saharan Africa, one in 12 children dies before his or her fifth birthday. The overwhelming majority of these deaths are from preventable causes (UN Inter-agency Group, 2015).
Katherine Smits

12. Can Military Intervention into Other Countries Be Justified on Humanitarian Grounds?

Abstract
The question whether states have the right to intervene by force to prevent the tyrannical abuse of people in other countries has been debated since nationstates and the law of nations emerged in the seventeenth century. The dilemma intervention poses can be considered in legal, political and moral terms: as we shall see, international law recognizes intervention as a very limited exception to state sovereignty. But the political and moral dimensions of intervention are more complex and difficult to evaluate. As both historical and contemporary cases demonstrate, intervention has often been justified on moral grounds, but carried out in large part to advance the self-interest of the intervening power. Western imperial expansion in Asia and Africa in the nineteenth century was justified in moral terms by the claim that indigenous people required protection from local tyrants (an argument supported, as we shall see, by the one of the founders of modern liberalism, John Stuart Mill). In 1938, Adolf Hitler tried to justify his invasion of Czechoslovakia on the grounds of protecting the German minority in the Sudetenland from human rights abuses.
Katherine Smits

13. Should the Natural Environment Be Protected for Future Generations?

Abstract
Western political theory is based on the assumption that political communities extend backward into the past and forward into the future. It is a fundamental characteristic of post-Enlightenment thinking, shared by political philosophers and social scientists, that those communities and their economies would continue to grow and develop, sustained by natural resources and the increasing stores of wealth that the exploitation of these produces. Philosophers and politicians have of course recognized that resources were scarce and the subject of constant competition. That is why principles of justice must be developed to regulate their distribution. But most have believed that there existed and would continue to exist enough to sustain economic growth and development into the foreseeable future. This assumption that economies must and would expand, constantly searching out new resources (and markets), is an essential aspect of capitalism. However, Marxists have also assumed the potential for unlimited economic growth.
Katherine Smits
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