abdication - voluntary resignation from office by a queen or king. The most famous abdication in recent history came in 1936, when Britain's Edward VIII abdicated the throne because the British establishment would not permit him to marry Wallis Simpson, an American divorcee.

abrogation - the repeal of a law, treaty, or contract, either by mutual agreement or unilaterally.

absolutism - theory of absolute government. Power can be vested in an individual (as a dictator), an office (as a monarchy), a party, or a government administration. The government is not restricted legally by any other government agency. Thus absolute government can lead to absolute power vested in one individual-e.g., a dictatorship.

academic freedom - the right of a professor at a university to pursue his research and publish his findings, whether popular or controversial, without political or any other kind of presure being put on him or her.

accord - a diplomatic agreement that does not have the same binding force as a treaty, but is often treated as such, e.g. the Camp David accord signed between Israel and Egypt at Camp David in 1978; the accord between Israel and Jordan in 1994. The term can also refer to any agreement reached by two conflicting parties.

accountability - the extent to which people are held responsible for their words and actions. For example, an employee is accountable to his boss; a congresspersons to his constituents, and a U.S. president to the people as a whole.

acculturation - the process by which people adapt to or adopt a culture that is not their own.

Achilles' heel - a defect, weakness, or point of vulnerability. Based on the Greek myth of Achilles, a warrior in ancient Greece. While being dipped in the waters of immortality, he was held by his heel thus making this the one part of his body that was mortal. He was eventually killed in the Trojan War by a wound in the heel.

acid test - a crucial test of the value of something or someone. A politician might face the acid test of his popularity in an election. The term is also used in accounting as a measure of a company's abilities to pay immediate liabilities.

act of state - the actions of a government for which no individual can be held accountable.

activism - getting involved in political affairs, by such actions as running for political office, taking part in demonstrations, getting support for issues. Often used to refer to the activities of grass-roots protest movements, as in animal rights activists, etc.

adjournment - the suspension of business for a specified time.

adjudication - the hearing and deciding of a legal case in a court of law.

administration - the management of institutional or governmental affairs; a term for the government itself and its policy-makers; as in the Clinton administration; the period in which a government holds office; as in the Iraq war took place during President George W. Bush's administration.

adversary system - the system of law in which a case is argued by two opposing sides: a prosecutor who tries to prove that the defendant is guilty and a defender, who argues for the defendant's innocence. The case is then decided by an impartial judge or a jury. The U.S. and Great Britain operate under the adversary system.

aegis - any power or influence that protects or shields, as when nations take part in peackeeping operations under the aegis of the United Nations, or humanitarian missions under the aegis of the Red Cross.

affidavit - a declaration in writing signed and sworn to under oath.

affirmative action - the giving of preferential treatment to women and minorities in business and education to redress the effects of past discrimination. Affirmative action began in the 1960s; it has benefited hundreds of thousands of minorities and helped in the creation of an African-American middle-class. The number of women in professional and managerial jobs has also increased considerably as a result of affirmative action. However, during the 1990s and continuing into the twenty-first century, affirmative action has become a contentious issue. While the bulk of minorities and civil rights leaders still support it, many conservatives claim that it amounts to "reverse discrimination." Supreme Court decisions in 1995 limited the scope of affirmative action programs in business and education. In 1997, California banned preferential treatment for minorities or women in state hiring practices. But in 2003, in a case involving the University of Michigan, the Supreme Court upheld the role of affirmative action in education.


affluence - wealth or riches.

affluent - wealthy; an affluent society is one in which there is an abundance of material or consumer goods. The term affluent society was popularized by economist John Kenneth Galbraith in 1964, and it has often been used since to describe the U.S. and other flourishing Western societies.

agenda - things to be done. Often used to describe political platforms, as in the Republican (or Democratic) agenda, meaning the policies each party hopes to pursue and enact.

aggregate demand - the total demand for goods and services in an economy, incuding demands for consumer goods and investment goods, the demands of local and central government, and of other countries for exports.

aggregate supply - the total supply of goods and services in an economy, including imports and exports, that is available to meet aggregate demand.

aggression - applied to belligerent actions by one state against another; as in Iraq committed an act of aggression when it invaded Kuwait in 1990.

agitation - in a political sense, refers to keeping an issue or a debate constantly before the public; as in there was considerable agitation for political reform in China in the late 1980s. Usually used to refer to opposition to the status quo. (In communist countries, those who campaigned for human rights would often be referred to as agitators by the government.)

agitprop - originally set up as the Department of Agitation and Propaganda by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the USSR. Later usage came to be more general, involving activities that encouraged acceptance of left-wing ideology.

agrarian - relating to land or agriculture.

ahistorical - unrelated to history.

aide-de-camp - an officer who serves as confidential assistant and secretary to a higher ranking officer, such as a general.

alien - a visitor or resident in a nation of which he or she is not a citizen.

allegiance - loyalty to a principal, a leader, or a country, as in the Pledge of Allegiance.

alliance - joining together in pursuit of mutual interests; as, the alliance of the U.S., Britain, and the Soviet Union defeated the Nazis in World War II. The term can also refer to domestic politics, as in, an alliance of liberal interest groups is fighting to preserve afirmative action policies against conservative opposition.

altruism - unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

ambassador - the highest ranking diplomatic officer, who acts as personal representative of one state to another.

amendment - a change in a document made by adding, substituting or omitting a certain part. The U.S. constitution has 26 amendments, adopted after the original ratification of the constitution. Amendment can also refer to a change in a bill while it is being considered in a legislature.

amnesty - an act by which the state pardons political or other offenders, usually as a group. After the U.S. Civil War, President Andrew Johnson granted an amnesty to all Confederates. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter granted an amnesty to all Vietnam draft evaders. Amnesties are often used as a gesture of political reconciliation and sometimes occur after a change of government or regime.

anarchy - the absence of government; disorder, chaos in a society.


anarchism - a doctrine that advocates the abolition of organized authority. Anarchists believe that all government is corrupt and evil. Anarchism was a force in nineteenth century Russia, associated with Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and Mikhail Bakunin (1814-76) and the Frenchman, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. (1809-1865). Types of anarchism range from pacifism to violent revolution. American President William McKinley was assassinated by anarchists in 1901. However, anarchism has in general not been a prominent force in American political history. ** NOTE: The following email was received from Mr. Bill Walter, a college student: "Your listing for anarchism in the political dictionary states that McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist in 1901. Leon Czolgosz was at best a self-proclaimed anarchist - he was in no way involved with the movement, had only ever attended a handful of meetings, and was not known to be involved with the anarchist community. Further, he did have a history of mental illness. (See Spring or Summer 1997 Fifth Estate quarterly newspaper from Detroit) It is widely suggested in plenty of textbooks that McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist, but these texts frequently don't even name the offender, and very likely didn't spend much time examining the claims of previous texts. I understand that given the scope of your dictionary you are unable to offer full descriptions of the intricacies of political terms, but to use up one of the few sentences on the topic with such a half-truth is a disservice to your web-site. Further, it paints the entire anarchist movement (which may not be a major force in American politics, but it does still exist here) as being homicidal maniacs.


Anarchism - a doctrine that advocates the abolition of organized authority. Anarchists believe that not only is all government corrupt and evil, but also that any institution based on hierarchy or power is equally corrupt (e.g., religion, the family, etc.). While most often anti-capitalist, there are pro-capitalist strains. Anarchist theory was developed in nineteenth century Europe, largely by the Russians Prince Peter Kropotkin (1842-1921) and Mikhail Bakunin (1841-76) and the Frenchman Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-1865). Anarchists have frequently been accused of violent activities in American history (e.g., the 1901 assassination of President William McKinley), but these accusations frequently have been based on weak or little evidence. Although anarchism itself has not been a major force in American political history, anarchist thought has been influential in labor, environmental, feminist and minority movements, as well as counter-cultural youth movements such as hippie and punk. [Fast Times thanks our reader Mr. Bill Walter for his contribution to this entry.]

annexation - the act by which one state takes possession of another state or territory, usually a smaller one, without the consent of the party being taken over. For example, in 1938 German troops invaded Austria and annexed it. The citizens of Austria thereby became subjects of Germany.

anthropology - the study of humankind; often used to refer only to the study of primitive peoples.

Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) - a landmark arms control agreement signed in 1972 by the Soviet Union and the U.S., this treaty limited antiballistic missiles to two sites of 100 antiballistic missile launchers in each country. In 1974 this was reduced to one site. In 2002, the U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the treaty.

anti-clericalism - opposition to the influence of organized religion in state affairs. The term was applied particularly to the influence of the Catholic religion in political affairs.

anti-communism - opposition to communism. Anti-communism was the defining mark of U.S. foreign policy during the Cold War, which sought to check Soviet expansion around the globe. In domestic politics, being seen as "tough on communism" was often a litmus test for American politicians; anything less was to court electoral disaster. Anti-communism reached an extreme during the McCarthy era, in the early 1950s, when Senator Joseph McCarthy led an unscrupulous witchhunt to root out alleged communist sympathizers in U.S. government service.

anti-Semitism - hostility towards Jews. Anti-semitism is as old as Christian civilization. Jews were despised because, according to Christian belief, they had rejected Christ and continued to practice a religion that was not the true one. During the nineteenth century anti-Semitism became racial rather than religious. Jews were persecuted for being Jews, not for practising a particular religion. Anti-semitism was found throughout nineteenth century Europe, particularly in Russia, Germany, and France. Russian anti-semitism reached a peak in the period 1905-09, with an estimated 50,000 victims. But anti-Semitism reached its peak in Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Jews were held to be inferior to what Nazis described as the Aryan master race. Jews were held as the scapegoat for all the ills suffered by the Germans. They were deprived of all their civil rights, banned from trades and professions; their property was confiscated. The persecution culminated in Adolf Hitler's "final solution," which was the attempted destruction of the entire Jewish race. Six million Jews were slaughtered in concentration camps during World War II. This was more than one-third of the Jewish population of the world. After the war anti-Semitism continued in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, although not with anything like the intensity that it had had in Nazi Germany. See also Holocaust.

anti-trust laws - federal and state laws designed to restrict monopolistic business practices that interfere with free trade. These are thought necessary to protect the public interest (from price-fixing, for example.)

apolitical - not concerned with politics. The term might be used to describe someone who does not care to vote, or to a nonpartisan organization. Fast Times is an apolitical newsmagaine, in that it is not affiliated with any political party.

apologetics - a branch of theology that deals with the reasoned defense of Christianity.

apologist - someone who writes or speaks in defence of a belief, faith, doctrine. If someone wrote in defense of the Vietnam War, for example, he would be an apologist for that war.

appeasement - giving in to unreasonable demands or threats out of weakness or stupidity. In political discourse appeasement has a very negative connontation. It harks back to the buildup to World War II, when Britain and France did nothing to check German rearmament and aggression, particularly the Nazi occupation of the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia in 1938. Since World War II Western politicians of all stripes have done everything possible to avoid having the term applied to their actions or policies in the international arena.

appropriation - money used to pay for government-approved expenditures.

arbitrary - derived from opinion, random choice, or chance. When people speak of an artibrary decison they usually mean an unfair one, one that is not based on logic, standard rules, or accepted customs.

arbitration - settlement of labor disputes in which each side agrees to accept the decision of an arbitrator, who is a kind of judge appointed because of his acceptability to both sides. Sometimes the arbitrator may be a group, or a panel, rather than an individual.

archives - the place where public records and documents are kept, and also the documents themselves.

aristocracy - a government that is controlled by a small ruling class. Also refers to that class itself, sometimes called simply the upper class. The aristocracy may owe its position to wealth, social position, or military power, or another form of influence or training. These attributes are usually inherited.

armistice - ending of hostilities; as in the armistice of November 1918 marked the end of World War I.

arms control - any international agreement that limits the type and number of weapons or armed forces. Arms control played a major role in superpower politics during the 1970s and 1980s, and a number of nuclear arms control agreements were signed by the United States and the Soviet Union. These were the Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty (1972) the First Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (1972), the Second Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (1979), the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (1987), the First Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (1991) and the Second Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (1993). In 2002, in the Moscow Treaty,  the U.S. and Russia agreed to limit their nuclear arsenals to 1700???2200 operationally deployed warheads each. See also disarmament.

arraignment - a court hearing in a criminal case during which the defendant is informed of his or her rights and is required to plead guilty or not guilty.

Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - promotes economic cooperation amongst member countries which include: Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. ASEAN also encourages cultural development, promotes peace and stability in southeast Asia, and cooperates with other international organizations. The headquarters is in Jakarta, Indonesia.

atavism - reversion to an earlier type; resemblance to remote ancestors.

Attorney General - the highest legal officer in the United States, who heads the Justice Department and is chief legal advisor to the president. Each state also has an attorney general.

austerity - severity or harshness. Often used to describe economic conditions; as, the Polish people are undergoing a period of austerity as the economy makes a transition from communism to capitalism.

autarchy - political self-rule; complete independence, particularly economic self-sufficiency, in which through government controls a nation's economy (or a group of nations) is isolated from the rest of the world. During the Cold War the Soviet bloc practised economic autarchy, trading only within itself.

authoritarian - a form of government in which a large amount of authority is invested in the state, at the expense of individual rights. Often power in authoritarian systems is centered on a small group of autocratic leaders Usually used in a negative sense.

autocracy - a government in which almost all power rests with the ruler. The Soviet Union under Stalin, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, are examples of autocracies.

automation - in industry, the performing of routine tasks by machines that were formerly done by humans; any manufacturing system in which many of the processes are performed automatically or controlled by machinery.

autonomy - a limited form of self-government. In the U.S. states have a certain autonomy, which allows them to make their own laws regarding local matters. In international affairs, the Palestinians have autonomy in Gaza, formerly occupied by Israel. Autonomy does not usually extend to control over foreign affairs.

balance of payments - a statistical record of all the economic transactions between one country and all other countries over a given period. The transactions include goods, services (including investments) private and governmental capital, and gold movement.

balance of power - the concept that world peace is best served when no one power in any region gains sufficient military strength to dominate other states in that region. The term was first used to describe European statecraft in the nineteenth century. Keeping the balance of power on the European continent was a cornerstone of British diplomacy???the concept being that if one power or coalition of powers got too strong, the weaker states would make an alliance to combat it. Alliances therefore were not a matter of ideology but of simple pragmatism; they would continually shift to maintain the balance of power. In that way an equilibrium was maintained which discouraged wars. After World War II, in the nuclear age, the idea of the balance of power was in some ways superceded by what was termed the "balance of terror," but balance of power diplomacy is always present in one form or another. For example in the 1980s, the U.S. supported Iraq in its war against Iran because it did not want Iran to become the dominant power in the region. Strengthening Iraq maintained the regional balance of power. Critics of the U.S. war against Iraq, begun in 2003, claim that it resulted in altering the balance of power in the region, weakening Iraq and strengthening Iran. Balance of power politics was also a factor in the U.S. decision to normalize relations with Vietnam in the 1990s. A strong Vietnam, it was believed, would act as a check on the hegemony of China in the region.

balance of terror - the phrase was coined by British prime minister Winston Churchill (1874-1965). It refers to the situation during the Cold War, when both the United States and the Soviet Union had the capacity to destroy each other with nuclear weapons. In the event of war, the destruction on both sides would have been so huge that neither side was prepared to risk starting such a conflict. A balance of terror existed. The doctrine of MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) was a later variant of the idea of the balance of terror.

balance of trade - the balance between what a country spends on imports and what it earns by exports. A favorable balance of trade is when revenue from exports is greater than expenditure on imports.

balanced budget - a budget in which expenditure is equal to, or not greater than, income. In the United States in the 1990s, there was concern about the federal budget deficit, and a proposal for a constitutional amendment that required the federal government to balance its budget annually passed the House of Representatives in 1995. It was, however, defeated in the Senate. Burgeoning budgetdeficits in the first decade of the twenty-first century have led to a renewal of calls for a balanced federal budget. Some economists, however, argue that an unbalanced budget may not always be bad. Sometimes it is necessary to go into debt to ensure a stable future. For example, almost all states have laws that require them to balance their budgets each year, but they will issue bonds to finance large projects that are not within their annual budgets.

balkanization - to break up into small, hostile units, as happened to the Balkan states (Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece, Albania, Turkey and Romania) after World War I. A more recent example occurred in Lebanon during the 1980s, when the country split up into many warring factions with no central authority. The term "Lebanonization" was for a while used as the equivalent of balkanization.

ballistic missiles - long-range missiles that are mechanically guided only on the first part of their flights, after which they move under the force of gravity only, i.e. they become free-falling objects as they approach their target. Ballistic missiles are accurate and fast. They can cross an entire continent in thirty minutes and have great destructive power.

ballot - a printed piece of paper on which a voter indicates his or her preference from a list of individual candidates or parties; the act of voting or the entire number of votes cast at an election.

barter - to exchange goods or commodities without the use of money.

belligerency - the term belligerent is used to refer to countries that are at war. International law grants to groups involved in an insurrection in their own country the status of belligerency, which means they are given the rights and obligations of a state to the extent that this is necessary for the prosecution of the civil war.

bias - an inclination or prejudice that prevents objective judgment of something, as in hiring practices showed a bias against minorities.

bicameral - two separate legislative chambers.

bicameral government - a government that consists of two legislative bodies rather than one. The U.S. has a bicameral system, since both the House of Representatives and the Senate have to approve a bill before it can become law. All U.S. states have bicameral legislatures, with the exception of Nebraska, which has a unicameral system.

big stick - to carry a big stick is when an individual, group, or nation backs up their demands with a credible threat of force or some other pressure that is sufficient to get the other party to accede to their wishes. The term was coined by President Theodore Roosevelt who said that a nation, like a man, should "tread softly but carry a big stick."

bilateral - involving two parties; as in a bilateral trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan.

bilateralism - joint economic or security policies between two nations. Bilateralism may refer to trade agreements, or to military treaties and alliances. It also refers to cooperation betwen allies.

bill of rights - any bill that lays out the rights of individuals vis a vis the state. The Bill of Rights refers to the first 10 amendments to the U.S. constitution, which lay out individual liberties. Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison in 1787 that "A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular; and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference."

bipartisan - in American political discourse, refers to policies that have the support of both Democrats and Republicans. Bipartisanship is often most apparent in foreign policy, in which it is considered advisable for the country to present a united front.

blacklist - in the early twentieth century, a list maintained by an employer of workers who had joined unions and thus should not be hired. Such blacklists were made illegal in 1935. Blacklist now refers to any list by any organization of individuals whom it disapproves of and whom it may take punitive measures against. In 1984, for example, it was disclosed that the United States Information Agency had maintained a blacklist since 1981 which contained the names of liberal Democrats and others deemed unsuitable by agency officials. The list was destroyed.

black market - illegal trading in goods, at prices that are higher than the legal or usual prices. In many countries in which consumer goods are scarce, a black market forms a kind of underground economy through which people get what they want if they are prepared to pay the price.

black consciousness - a movement that emerged in the U.S. in the 1960s, on the heels of the civil rights movement that began in the 1950s. It refers to the cultivation among blacks of their own distinct cultural identity, and the realization that being black was something they could be proud of. Black consciousness tended to reject white liberal thinking about racial issues and set out to chart an independent course for black social and political progress. Black consciousness was linked to the movement sometimes known as "black power" that also emerged in the mid-1960s. Black consciousness was also a strong force in South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s, as part of the growing opposition to the system of apartheid.

bloc - a grouping of individuals, groups, or nations who work together to achieve common objectives. A bloc can be economic, military, or political in nature. For example, the countries of Eastern Europe under communism were referred to as the Eastern bloc; the 27 countries that make up the European Union form a trading bloc; a group of legislators from different parties might come together on a certain issue and form a bloc to vote on that issue.

block voting - when multiple votes are cast by one group, on behalf of its members.

blockade - any military action by sea or air designed to isolate an enemy and cut off his supply and communication lines. In 1962 the U.S. instituted a naval blockade of Cuba (although it was called a "quarantine") in response to the presence of Soviet nuclear missiles in that country.

Bolshevism - synonomous with communism. The term comes from the Russian word bolshinstvo, which means majority, and referred to the party lead by Lenin (leader of the communist revolution in 1917), after it won a majority of votes at the Russian Social-Democratic Party conference in 1903. Used in the West in a derogatory sense.

bourgeois - used by Marxist theorists to describe anything associated with capitalists, including manufacturers, merchants, and small business owners such as shopkeepers. These groups were the opposite of the proletariat, or working people. Bourgeois has come to refer simply to the middle classes, those between the upper classes and the working classes on the social scale. The term is often used in a derogatory sense to refer to anything conventional, respectable, etc., as in "bourgeois values."

boycott - to refuse to do business with an organization or nation, as when the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Also refers to a refusal to buy or sell something, as when, say, consumers are urged by an interest group to boycott a particular manufacturer's goods.

breach of the peace - a violation of the public peace, as in a riot. Also refers to any disorderly conduct. See also secondary boycott.

brigandage - theft or robbery.

brinkmanship - in political diplomacy or negotiation, the art of taking big risks, even to the brink of war, in the hope that the adversary will back down. Brinkmanship can be a way of testing an adversary's resolve. In 1994 Iraq massed troops on the Kuwaiti border, testing U.S. response—this was an act of brinkmanship on the part of Iraq's Saddam Hussein. Hussein backed down, and withdrew the troops when it became clear that the U.S. would mobilize to repel a possible invasion of Kuwait. Much of brinkmanship consists of bluffing, but it can be a dangerous game to play if either side misinterprets the moves of the other.

budget - a statement of estimated income and expenditure over a given period for an individual, group, government or organization. If revenues exceed expenditures, there is a budget surplus; if expenditure is greater than revenue, there will be a budget deficit.

bureaucracy - the administration of a government; all government offices taken together; all the officials of a government. The term is often used in a negative sense, when someone wants to point the finger at perceived inefficiencies or incompetence. Large bureaucracies are often seen as inflexible, with too many rules and red tape, making them unresponsive to the real needs of people.


Bush Doctrine - named after President George W. Bush, the Bush Doctrine referred to U.S. willingness to wage preemptive war against any nation that presented a threat to its national security, and to act unilaterally. The Bush Doctrine was developed in response to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 against the U.S. 

business cycle - the general pattern of expansion and contraction that businesses go through. In terms of the national economy, the existence of business cycles means that a period of growth is usually followed by a recession, which is followed by a recovery.

by-election - an election to fill an office that has become vacant before its scheduled expiration date. If a Congressman dies in office, for example, a by-election would be held to fill the seat.

by-laws - laws made by local authorities; regulations made by social or professional associations.

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