Political Terminology


Anarchism/anarchists – the law of equal liberty, with self-interest the supreme law for man, abolition of the state to be achieved by education and passive resistance.  Other anarchist theory argues that the state belongs to a low stage of evolution and must disappear since the trend of social progress is toward more and more liberty - revolution and evolution are alternating processes.  The use of violence in achieving these objectives may be condoned.


Authoritarian/authoritarianism - demanding total obedience and refusing to allow people freedom to act as they wish.  Beginning in the 1930s, was often used as a blanket term for forms of government which repressed individual freedom, a collective description of both fascism and communism.  Can be used as a synonym for totalitarianism, dictatorship.  Examples include South Vietnam under Ngo Dinh Diem, Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia


Capitalism/Capitalist - an economic system based on private ownership of property, business and industry, and directed towards making the greatest possible profits for successful organizations and people.  Capitalism is also based upon the free exchange of goods and services in the world market.  Examples include The United States, Japan, Europe.


Centrist/centrism - (relating to) a person who supports the center of the range of political opinions, combines positions from both the left and right.  Synonyms include moderate, swing voter, middle voter.


Communist/communism – economic system based on a classless society in which the methods of production are owned and controlled by all its members and everyone works as much as they can and receives what they need.  Based on the theories of German political philosopher Karl Marx and later reformulated by Vladimir I. Lenin.  Considered the extreme left of political movements.  In reality, communism has rarely worked according to its ideological principles.  It has often been accompanied by one-party rule, repression of individual liberties, suppression of religion, and favoritism toward party members.  Thus, communist regimes have often been derided as “authoritarian” or “totalitarian.”  Examples include The Soviet Union/USSR (1917-1991), China (1949-present), Cuba (1959-present). 


Conservative/conservatism - tending to emphasize the importance of personal responsibility and traditional values and to oppose depending on government for social services.  To be “fiscally conservative” means opposition to government deficits, support for free trade, and belief that the government should keep its involvement in private businesses to a minimum.  To be “socially conservative” refers to opposition to issues like abortion, gay rights, and affirmative action and advocacy of things like school prayer, limited gun control, and censorship of “morally objectionable” forms of speech and art. 


Democracy/democratic - the belief in freedom and equality between people, or a system of government based on this belief, in which power is either held by elected representatives or directly by the people themselves.  Examples include The United States, Western Europe, Japan


Democratic - A Democrat is a member or supporter of the Democratic Party (one of the two main political parties in the US).  The party was founded in 1828.  Since 1932, major supporters of the party usually include organized labor, the poor, African Americans.  Often called “liberal” in the sense meaning supportive of federal programs to assist the underprivileged, civil rights laws and affirmative action, gun control, and abortion rights.  The Democrats’ opponents often accuse them of being fiscally irresponsible, flouting traditional morality, and favoring too much government intervention.  In the 1990s, however, the party moved more toward the political center and adopted more fiscally conservative policies and downsizing of federal welfare programs. 


Dictatorship - A government in which one person has complete power in a country, especially when the power is achieved by force.  Political dictatorships are usually totalitarian/authoritarian and are characterized by repression of individual freedoms and strong limitation or abolition of political opposition.  Examples include Iran under the Shah, Cuba under Batista, The Philippines under Marcos, Spain under Franco


Fascist/fascism - A political system based on a very powerful leader, state control and extreme pride in country and race, and in which political opposition is not allowed.  Considered the extreme right of political movements.  Examples include Nazi Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, Franco’s Spain


Imperialism/imperialist - A system in which a country rules other countries, sometimes having used force to obtain power over them.  The main era of imperialism was the end of the nineteenth century when many European powers gained territories in Africa and Asia.  Imperialism can also refer more generally to a country's efforts to have a lot of power and influence over other countries, especially in political, cultural, and economic matters.


Left/Leftist  - (political groups) believing wealth and power should be shared between all parts of society, or taking a socialist position or a position close to socialism.  In the United States, the “Old Left” refers to the communist and socialist parties which were most popular in the 1930s.  “The New Left” refers to 1960s activists who opposed the war in Vietnam, supported the civil rights movement and the Great Society programs, and called for a more inclusive and responsive political system.  Members of the “radical left” often advocated the use of violence in achieving goals such as the end of imperialism, the abolition of racism, and the redistribution of private wealth. 


Liberal/liberalism – A theory in economics emphasizing individual freedom from restraint and usually based on free competition, the self-regulating market, and the gold standard.  A political philosophy based on belief in progress, the essential goodness of the human race, and the autonomy of the individual and standing for the protection of political and civil liberties.  In the United States, liberals have often supported government-funded programs designed to foster social improvements including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and aid to the poor.  To be “socially liberal” indicates support for issues such as abortion rights, civil rights, gay rights, environmental protection, and opposition to government censorship of artistic expression. 


Libertarian - (a person) believing that people should be free to think and behave as they want and should not have limits put on them by governments.


Marxism- a social, political and economic theory which is based on the writings of Karl Marx.  Marxism states that change in society is brought about by the interaction of different economic and social classes, that people's actions are based on their economic circumstances, and that Communism will replace Capitalism following social revolution.  Eventually, widespread protests against military rule and economic mismanagement forced him to abandon Marxism and introduce multi-party politics.


Marxism-Leninism is the variation of Marxism that was developed by Lenin before the political changes in Russia in 1917. According to Marxism-Leninism, imperialism is the final stage of a decaying capitalist society.  Marxism-Leninism was imposed upon the countries of Eastern Europe by the Soviet Union after the World War II.


Moderate - (relating to) a person whose opinions, esp. their political ones, are not extreme and are therefore acceptable to a large number of people.  Synonymous with the political “center.”


Nativism/Nativist – the policy of favoring native-born citizens over foreign-born immigrants. 


Nationalism/nationalist - A nationality is also a group of people of the same race, religion, traditions, etc. but not always from a politically independent country.  Nationalism is the desire for and the attempt to achieve political independence for your country or nation. Nationalism is also a great or too great love of your own country and/or people.


Populist/Populism - political ideas and activities that are intended to represent and satisfy oridinary people’s wishes and needs.  A wide range of political leaders have presented themselves as “populists” including Ross Perot, George Wallace, Huey Long, and John McCain.  In the 1890s, a Populist Party briefly flourished a third party competing nationally against the Republicans and the Democrats.  It advocated government ownership of utilities, laws protecting farmers and workers, and currency reforms. 


Republic - a country without a king or queen, usually governed by elected representatives of the people and a president.  The United States is a democratic republic.


Republican -In America, a Republican is a member or supporter of the Republican Party one of the two largest political parties in the USA.  Founded in 1854, the party was considered the liberal civil rights party throughout Reconstruction.  In the 1870s, however, the party began distancing itself from its reformist origins.  In 1964, a strong conservative faction emerged and now dominates the party.  Comprised of both social and fiscal conservatives, this “New Right” advocates cutting welfare programs, stronger immigration restrictions, tax cuts, limited government involvement in the private sector, free trade, school prayer, a pro-life amendment to the Constitution, repeal of affirmative action, opposition to gay rights, and limited restrictions on gun ownership. 


Republicanism - (NOTE: this is different from the Republican Party).  A political philosophy that emerged in the 18th century.  It is based on the idea that rulers who are given too much power will become tyrants.  It posits that politicians should be selfless leaders who believe that government should be based on virtue, individual rights, and community service.  This philosophy was enormously influential among supporters of the American Revolution. 


Right/Rightist - (political parties or people) having traditional opinions, and believing in low taxes, private ownership of property, business and industry, and less help for the poor.  American political leaders associated with the right include Ronald Reagan, Newt Gingrich, Jesse Helms, Barry Goldwater.  “The New Right” refers to the coalition of religious and fiscal conservatives which has dominated the Republican party since 1980.  “The Religious Right” refers mainly to evangelical Christians who have advocated repeal of abortion laws, reinstitution of school prayer, abolition of “special” rights for gays, outlawing of pornography, and “pro-family” fiscal policies such as ending the “marriage penalty” in the tax code.  Prominent members of the Religious Right include Pat Robertson, Phyllis Schafly, Ralph Reed, and Jerry Falwell. 


Socialism/socialist - The set of beliefs which states that all people are equal and should share equally in the wealth of the country, or the political systems based on these beliefs.  In practice, socialism has included subsidized health care and college education, high taxes, and extensive government welfare programs.  It does not, however, outlaw private ownership or private property.  Examples of socialist countries include France, Britain, and Sweden.  In recent years, most socialist nations have been curtailing so-called “cradle to grave” benefits for their citizens.    


Totalitarian/totalitarianism - of or relating to a government that has almost complete control over the lives of its citizens and does not permit political opposition  Synonyms include “red fascism,” “brown communism.”  Examples include Nazi Germany, Stalinist Russia, Maoist China