What are the basic functions of government?
What are the forms of government and how do they differ from each other?
What is democracy, what forms may it take and what are its flaws?
How did the notion of individual rights emerge in modern Western thought?
What did the Founding Fathers abandon our original constitution?
What features did they add to our Constitution to reduce the likelihood of majority tyranny?
What is a federal system and how does differ from other systems?
Why do we have a federal system how has it evolved since 1787?
Why did federal powers expand so much (vis a vis states rights) over time?
What are the pros and cons of our federal system?
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There are too many questions here to answer each one at length. I will answer each question very briefly.
- What are the basic functions of government?
Framed most simply, governments protect the lives and property of their citizens. Governments exist because it is hard for large groups of people to live together without harming one another. By creating governments, we arrange for a way to keep society relatively peaceful.
- What are the forms of government and how do they differ from each other?
There are many forms of government. They tend to differ from one another based on how broadly power is shared between them. Some forms are monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy.
- What is democracy, what forms may it take and what are its flaws?
Democracy is rule by the people. You can have direct democracy, where people vote on proposed laws, and indirect democracy, where people vote for representatives who make laws. The main flaw of democracy is that people do not always look to what is best for them in the long run.
- How did the notion of individual rights emerge in modern Western thought?
This came about in part because of the Christian emphasis on the value of each human life. It also came with Enlightenment ideas of the importance of individuals.
- What did the Founding Fathers abandon about our original constitution?
The founders abandoned the idea of a confederacy. They also abandoned a system of more democracy for one that was somewhat less democratic.
- What features did they add to our Constitution to reduce the likelihood of majority tyranny?
There are many. They include separation of powers, checks and balances, staggered elections for senators, the Bill of Rights.
- What is a federal system and how does differ from other systems?
In a federal system, a constitution sets out the rights and powers of the national and the state governments. This differs from unitary systems (the national government determines who gets what powers) and confederal systems (the state governments control the power).
- Why do we have a federal system & how has it evolved since 1787?
We have a federal system rather than a unitary system because the colonists disliked their experience with the British unitary system. We have a federal system rather than a confederal system because the US had so much trouble under the Articles of Confederation (it lacked a strong central government).
- Why did federal powers expand so much (vis a vis states rights) over time?
This was largely because of crises like wars and the Great Depression. These crises are too big for states to handle so the national government takes control. The people want something done and so they allow the federal government to expand its powers. Federal powers have also expanded in part because the states are not as different from one another anymore and people are therefore less worried about a strong central government.
- What are the pros and cons of our federal system?
There are many of each. Important pros: it gives some autonomy to different states so they can express their different values in their laws; it gives us “laboratories of democracy” where states can try different policies and we can see which ones work. Important cons: it means that people in different states have different levels of rights even though they are all Americans; it means that states can stand in the way of national policies that would be good for the country as a whole.
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