Sixth edition

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Also by Alan R. Ball

British Political Parties (2nd edition) Pressure Politics in Industrialised Societies (with Frances Millard)

Also by B. Guy Peters

American Public Policy (5th edition) Comparative Politics

Modern Politics and Government

Alan R. Ball

and B. Guy Peters


©Alan R. Ball 1971, 1977, 1983, 1988, 1993 © Alan R. Ball and B. Guy Peters 2000

All rights reserved. No reproduction, copy or transmission of this publication may be made without written permission.

No paragraph of this publication may be reproduced, copied or transmitted save with written permission or in accordance with the provisions of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, or under the terms of any licence permitting limited copying issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London W1P0LP.

Any person who does any unauthorised act in relation to this publication may be liable to criminal prosecution and civil claims for damages.

The authors have asserted their rights to be identified as the authorsof this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First edition 1971

Second edition 1977

Third edition 1983

Fourth edition 1988

Fifth edition 1993

Sixth edition 2000

Published by


Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire RG21 6XS and

175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010

Companies and representatives throughout the world

PALGRAVE is the new global academic imprint of

St. Martin's Press.LLC Scholarly and Reference Division and :

Palgrave Publishers Ltd (formerly Macrnjllan Press Ltd).

ISBN0-333-73746-6 hardcover ISBN 0-333-73747-4 paperback

This book is printed on paper suitable for recycling and made from fully managed and sustained forest sources.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

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Copy-edited and typeset by Povey-Edmondson Tavistock and Rochdale, England

Printed in China


List of Tables Preface


The Study of Politics

The problem of boundaries

Traditional approaches

Comparative studies

Transitional approaches

Further developments

Political studies and practical politics


Politics, Power and Authority

Sources of political conflict

Means of reconciling political conflict,.

Political power

Political power and influence

Distribution of power

Classification of Governments

Aims of classification Problems of classification Systems of classification Classification of political structures Summary


4 6 10 12 15 20 22


30 31 34 37 39


47 51 54 61 65




4 Political Culture

The nature of political culture Foundations of the political culture Aspects of the political culture Symbols and political culture Development of a political culture Political socialisation Agencies of socialisation Socialisation and the political system Summary


5 Political Parties and Electoral Systems

Political parties


Functions of political parties

Party structure

Determinants of party structure

Party systems

Change and party systems

Electoral systems and political parties


6 Pressure Groups

Pressure group analysis Determinants of pressure group methods Levels of pressure group activity Determinants of pressure group influence

7 Representation, Elections and Voting Behaviour

.... Theories of representation

Liberal democratic theories of representation

Collectivist theories of representation

Functions of elections

Voting behaviour

The role of the mass media



68 71 76 79 82 83 84 88 89












126 130 135 140


146 148 151 152 156 164 167


8 Assemblies

The nature of assemblies Assembly-executive relations Legislative functions Representative functions Internal organisation Second chambers The decline of assemblies?

9 The Political Executive

Area of study

Chief executives

Origins and stability of chief executives

Functions and powers of chief executives

Chief executives and the political process


10 The Public Bureaucracy

Scope of government administration



Control of the bureaucracy

Recruitment and training

Changing the bureaucracy


11 The Courts and the Political Process

The nature of law and the political process Legal structure and recruitment Functions of the judiciary Control of the judiciary Conclusion

12 The Military and Politics

Characteristics of the military

Limited interference in the political process

Direct interference

Military control



173 176 182 184 186 190 193

viii Contents


List of Tables

13 Change in Political Systems


Problems of analysis


Political stability


Political change


Causes of political change


The East European revolutions, 1989



Retrograde political change?


Change in industrialised democracies


















Government revenue as a percentage of Gross

Domestic Product 4

National identification in Spanish regions 69

Major political identification in Belgian regions 70

Principal identifications in Swiss cantons 74

Citizens' confidence in American institutions 76

Examples of types of political parties 102
Degree of corporatism in twelve European

countries 129

Group membership in industrialised democracies 133
Dealignment: declining identification with

political parties 158

Sources and success of legislation 182

Size and representative basis of legislatures 191

Relative size of public bureaucracies 221
Changing support for European Union

membership 307


Preface to the Sixth Edition

Nearly 30 years have passed since the publication of the first edition of this book. They have seen dramatic changes both in the real world of politics and in the ways in which it is studied which have been reflected by the original author, Alan Ball, in successive revised editions. His retirement from active univer­sity teaching prompted the idea of adding Guy Peters as co-author for the sixth and subsequent editions.

Despite the change in authorship, the basic purpose of the book remains the same. As stated in the Preface to the First Edition, the intention is to provide a wide-ranging introduc­tion to politics, and to the study of politics. Although no individual countries are discussed in great detail, the approach is inherently comparative, and attempts to demonstrate how politics plays out in a wide range of different settings. Also, as before, a variety of political phenomena are discussed, ranging from voting and public opinion to the formal actions of governments. There is an attempt to show how these institu­tions and political behaviour all influence the actions of government.

Although there is a great deal of continuity, this sixth edition has been very substantially revised, rewritten and updated to take account of the changing political world about which we are writing. Democratisation has brought about major changes in many countries of the world, as has the effect of reduced government involvement in the economy and the advent of a new - more market-influenced - form of public management. In Europe the continuing development of the European Union and the declining role of the nation state in some aspects of policy-making are transforming politics in the fifteen member countries, and potentially in an even larger number of poten-



Preface to the Sixth Edition

tial members. These several changes in politics are posing new analytical and practical questions about politics. Finally, add­ing a new co-author with different interests and a different academic training has inevitably altered the focus of the book somewhat. In particular there has been an attempt to make the text reflect contemporary debates in political science and the intellectual questions that now drive the discipline.

We would like to thank our publishers, Steven Kennedy in Britain and Bob Gormley in the United States, for their patience, encouragement and numerous suggestions. The book is much better because of this editorial advice. We also want to thank our families for their support and understanding as we prepared this edition.


The Nature of Politics

Alan R. Ball B. Guy Peters

The Study of Politics

Politics is one of the oldest activities of humanity. As soon as people began to live together in groups there was a need to devise ways to govern those societies. From modest beginnings the elaborate institutions and procedures of modern govern­ment have grown. Despite the increased formality and struc­ture, many of the same issues exist in contemporary politics as existed when governing a band of hunter-gatherers. Who has the power, and do they exercise that power appropriately? Are the institutions of government stable, or are they subject to rapid changes of leadership? Are there processes for the average member of the society to influence government, or does it remain the domain of a few powerful individuals?

As well as being an important and sometimes amusing activity, politics is also a mechanism for achieving societal goals. In many modern societies more than one-third (and in some cases approaching — or even exceeding — a half) of what is earned in the economy is taken as taxes and then recycled through the public budget to achieve a variety of public purposes (Table 1.1). People in all countries depend upon government for protection against foreign enemies and domes­tic criminals, for some management of the economy, and public services such as roads. Citizens in most countries now depend upon government for their health care, for the educa­tion of their children, and for their own livelihoods during old age. Governing is about more than elections; it is also about providing for the collective welfare of the people. Further, a major political choice is what goods and services will be publicly provided and which will be left to the market or to other private organisations to provide.

The Nature of Politics

Table 1.1

Government revenue as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product (most recent year available)







Czech Republic










Sierra Leone




United Kingdom


United States


Mote: Government expenditures are often higher than their revenues, given the tendency to use deficit finance.

Source: International Monetary Funds, Government Finance Yearbook and International Financial Statistics (both Washington, DC, annual).

The problem of boundaries

If there is agreement that politics is an important activity then there is a marked lack of agreement on what constitutes the best approach to the study of politics. The bewildering array of titles of degree courses in the English-speaking world illustrates some of the confusion: names such as Government, Politics, Political Institutions, Political Science are umbrellas protecting the various specialisations of Public Administration, Political Theory, Political Philosophy, Comparative Government, Na­tional Politics, Public Policy and International Politics.1 The Oxford English Dictionary defines politics as: 'The science and art of government: the science dealing with the form, organisation and administration of a state, or part of one, and with the regulation of its relations with other states.'

The restriction of the study of politics to a concern mainly with public institutions and state activities is certainly disputed by most contemporary students of the subject, who are more likely to emphasise voting behaviour and the attitudes of the

The Study of Politics 5

public. When these students of political behaviour do look at government institutions, it is in order to examine how the individual members behave in office. For example, rather than being concerned so much with the content of Supreme Court decisions in the United States there is now a long tradition of studying the behaviour of individual judges, the consistency with which they vote along ideological lines, and attitudes that can be inferred from that behaviour.2 This is very far from the traditional study of constitutional law, yet both studies can enrich the other.

The emphasis on the science of politics often has led to crude and confused analogies with the method of the natural sciences. Nevertheless, Professor W. J. M. Mackenzie pointed to some advantages of the term 'political science':

So far as I can judge, 'political science' is still the name which carries meaning to the general public . . . The word science here indicates simply that there exists an academic tradition of the study of politics, a discipline communicated from teacher to pupil, by speech and writing, for some 2,500 years now. It does not mean that this discipline claims to be a 'natural science', or that it could be improved by copying the methods of physics and chemistry exactly.

Although certainly not as formalised as the natural sciences, political science is now being studied much more scientifically than it was at the time that Mackenzie wrote, and there is a large body of quantitative, replicable analysis of political behaviour and political institutions.4

However, even with agreement on a title, or at least a recognition of where the disagreements lie, there still remains the problem of the content and orientation of the subject. This difficulty has been underlined by the dominance of American political scientists, especially since 1945, and their emphasis first on quantitative methods and later on formal models. There has also been a more extensive borrowing of methods and concepts from other social science disciplines, such as economics, sociology and psychology, with varying degrees of success. These new developments which have been superim­posed on traditional approaches to the subject have led to

6 The Nature of Politics

confusion of terminology as well as method, producing appar­ent confusion about what really constitutes the most appro­priate ways of discussing political phenomena.

The apparent conceptual confusion in political science also results partly from the political changes in the twentieth century, in which the certainties of liberal democracy were assaulted by the rise of popularly supported totalitarian re­gimes. The fall of many of those regimes has, in turn, created a new wave of thinking about types of viable political regimes and the nature of governing. It is understandable that students fresh to the subject may feel rather uncertain as to what actually constitutes the study of politics. At the risk of promot­ing greater confusion, we will begin by briefly surveying the various approaches to the academic study of politics before examining, in Chapter 2, the nature of political activity itself.

Traditional approaches

Before 1900, the study of politics was largely dominated by philosophy, history and law. To use the label 'traditional' is neither a criticism nor a refutation of the obvious fact that they still play important roles in modern political studies although no longer monopolising the field. The modern student of politics is still faced with the works of great philosophers such as Plato or Hegel that require textual analysis and new interpretations, but the search for universal values concerning political activity tends to be avoided in most contemporary political analysis. At present 'ought' questions are not fashion­able in political science, although not all critics of traditional political philosophy would travel as far as T. D. Weldon in his reduction to trivia and linguistic misunderstandings such ancient political concepts as freedom, justice, obedience, lib­erty and natural rights.6

It could not be thought that traditional political philosophy was concerned only with a priori deductions, that is, conclusions reached with little observation of political facts. Plato's search for his philosopher king, or Hobbes's 'leviathan', an all-power­ful government that would end civil disorder, may be balanced by Aristotle's exhaustive collection of studies of the constitu-

The Study of Politics 7

tions of Greek city-states, and Machiavelli's political advice resting on his observations and participation in the govern­ments of Italian Renaissance states. But the seekers after the perfect state did base their answers on oversimplified assump­tions over a wide variety of matters; thus Thomas Hobbes, with a generalised view of human nature, could speak of, 'a generall inclination of all mankind, a perpetuall and restlesse desire of Power after power, that ceaseth only in Death'.

The classical political theorists are still important even in regard to the nature of the questions they posed, and certainly ignorance concerning them isolates any student of politics from some of the communication that passes among political scien­tists. Moreover, the descriptive work of these political philoso­phers, no matter how shaky their grand edifices may be, did supply the first explorations of the field of comparative govern­ment. Aristotle, for example, began to classify political systems in typologies in a manner not dissimilar to that used in contemporary political analysis, and the empirical evidence associated with normative problems provides a way to begin to understand the ways in which government functions?

Also, there is significant interplay between the political theories and the nature of the society and its politics in which the theory originates. We can learn a great deal of the English revolution of 1688, its origins, the character and political aims of the men who controlled and guided it, by reading the political philosophy of John Locke. The nature of the Amer­ican constitutional settlement of 1788-9 becomes clearer after examining the propaganda of the Federalist Papers. No student of the government and politics of the Soviet Union could avoid reference to Lenin's reformulation of Marxist philosophy, nor a student of those of China ignore the works of Chairman Mao. A student interested in feminist politics would do well to start with Simone de Beauvoir or Mary Wollstonecroft.

Given these particular approaches to political studies, it is easy to see why the historian played such a significant part in the discipline. The historical-descriptive technique examines past events through available evidence and draws tentative conclusions about some aspect of contemporary political activ­ity. The sources vary from memoirs and biographies of im­portant statesmen to journalistic accounts of particular events.
8 The Nature of Politics

The historian becomes a synthesiser, using his own intellectual judgement and common sense to fit the various parts of the jigsaw into a coherent pattern. It is clear that many of the political institutions and political practices of the present day are explicable in terms of history, but past evidence leaves alarming gaps, and political history is often simply a record of great men and great events rather than comprehensive ac-counts of total political activity.

In British political studies, Sir Ivor Jennings, with his studies of parliament and cabinet government, favoured this ap-proach, digging deep into nineteenth-century history to trace the growth of the office of prime minister or the rise of modern political parties. Robert McKenzie's pioneering work on Brit-ish political parties lays great stress on their historical evolu-tion. In American political science, Stephen Skowronek's study of the American executive and public administration enhanced understanding of contemporary institutions.9 Likewise, Nelson Polsby has gone a long way in explaining the current state of the American Congress by looking at its pattern of develop-ment.

The study of constitutional law formed the third cornerstone of traditional political studies. There is now a closer relation-ship between the study of law and politics in the continental European tradition; in Anglo-Saxon countries the divorce has become more complete. Before 1900, a British student of politics would have devoted a major part of his energies to the study of legal institutions, and Dicey's Law of the Constitu-tion, first published in 1885, loomed large on any politics reading list. Although arguments on such topics as the legal sovereignty of the British parliament, the rule of law and the separation of powers are no longer regarded as of first im-portance, the links between law and politics are not completely broken, the gap being bridged by bringing aspects of the judicial system firmly into the field of the political process. If anything, the role of the European Court of Justice has brought legal questions back to the centre of British politics. Of course, the importance of the Supreme Court and its judgements in American political life means that any student of American politics needs more than a nodding acquaintance with constitutional law.10

The Study of Politics 9

The strongest legacy that philosophy, history and law have bequeathed to the study of politics is in the field of descriptive and institutional approaches. Political scientists still, despite recent developments, concentrate chiefly on examining the major political institutions of the state such as the executive, legislature, the civil service, the judiciary and local govern-ment. These examinations yield valuable insights about the organisation and reform of political institutions. However, despite the point that all description involves some conceptua­lisation, no wide-reaching theories emerged from these studies. Bernard Crick's Reform of Parliament is representative of the British approach in this field, and Stephen Bailey's Congress at Work offers an early American example. They sought to explain how various political institutions work, and from that description come tentative proposals on how to remedy possi-ble faults and inefficiencies.

There can, of course, be various different approaches within this descriptive-analytic field. If one were to study the con-trasting examinations of the role of the president within the American system of government one could travel from the legal formalism of Edward Corwin's The President - Office and Powers to the invigorating emphasis on informal processes in Richard Neustadt's Presidential Power. Both, however, are concerned with the analysis of the president's role in American politics and seek to support their conclusions by citing case histories, personal observations and documentary evidence. They seek to show how that particular political institution works. It is interesting to note that some major contributions to this approach have been made not only by political scientists confined to their university desks, but by men actively engaged in public affairs. Walter Bagehot, for example, was a practising journalist when he wrote The English Constitution in 1867, but he produced a classic analysis of the working of the political process, an analysis that still has contemporary relevance; Woodrow Wilson's studies of politics - American and com-parative — represented the work of someone who was both an academic and a major practitioner of governance.

The study of institutional and policy processes continues to be a major component of political science. What has happened, however, is that the study has shifted from descriptive to more


The Mature of Politics

The Study of Politics

analytic studies of those processes. For example, Charles Jones has presented a 'stages' theory of the policy process that points to the steps through which a policy must go before it can be put into effect.12 Following from that, there have been a number of theoretical and empirical studies of the various stages of the process, from agenda-setting through to evaluation.13 All of these studies have pointed to the role that process has in determining the final solution of policy problems.

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