cabinet - an advisory committee to a president or prime minister, formed by the heads of government departments.

cadre - the nucleus around which a permanent military unit can be built, such as a cadre of officers. Also refers to the most dedicated members of a political party.

caliphate - the office or rank of caliph (meaning ruler), in a Moslem country. The term derives from the title taken by the successors of Mohammed, the founder of Islam.

canon law - the laws that govern a Christian church organization.

canvass - to solicit votes; to examine carefully, as in to canvass public opinion.

capital - a city that is the seat of government of a state of nation; money used in business, where it refers to the wealth or assets of a firm. Capital is one of the three main factors of production, the others being land and labor.

Capitalism - an economic system in which the means of production, such as land and factories, are privately owned and operated for profit. Usually ownership is concentrated in the hands of a small number of people. Capitalism, which developed during the Industrial Revolution, is associated with free enterprise, although in practice even capitalist societies have government regulations for business, to prevent monopolies and to cushion domestic industries from foreign competition. Opponents of capitalism say that the economy should be organized to serve the public good, not private profit. Supporters say capitalism creates wealth, which creates jobs, which create prosperity for everyone.

capitulation - the act of surrendering or submitting to an enemy; a document containing terms of surrender. The term can also be used in a non-militaristic sense, as in, say,"the liberal members of the party felt that the president's policy was a capitulation to pressure from the right."

carpetbagger - an outsider. The term was originally applied to politicians from the Northern United States who went to the South after the civil war to try to exploit the unstable situation there for their own profit. (They often carried all their belongings in a carpetbag.) Now used to refer to a politician who runs for office in a state or other district that is not his or her home.

carte blanche - a signed paper, intentionally left blank so that the bearer can fill in whatever he pleases. To give someone carte blanche is to give them complete power to decide something, or to name their own conditions or terms.

Carter Doctrine - the doctrine enunciated by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, stating that "An attempt by any outside forces to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force." The Carter Doctrine, although it was not formally invoked, was put to the test after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990. The resulting Persian Gulf war in 1991 showed that the U.S. did indeed regard the attempt by a belligerent country to gain control of more than its allocated share of the region to be an assault on the vital interests of the U.S.

caste - an exclusive, often hereditary, class or group. Hindus in India live in a caste system, with four distinct classes, or castes, who traditionally are not allowed to mix with each other.

casus belli - an act or a situation that that justifies a declaration of war. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 was the casus belli that brought the U.S. into World War 11.

caucus - a private meeting of members of a political party to plan action or to select delegates for a nominating convention; also refers to distinct groups, either official or unofficial, in Congress, as in the Black Caucus in the House of Representatives.

censorship - the prevention of publication, transmission, or exhibition of material considered undesirable for the general public to possess or be exposed to. This can include the censorship, in the national interest, of military secrets, or of obscene material.


census - an offical count of the population of a district, state, or nation, including statistics such as age, sex, occupation, property owned, etc. In the U.S., a census is held at the end of every ten years.

centralization - the adminstration of a government by a central authority. Centralization, understood as the concentrating of power or authority in the hands of the state, is often associated with socialist or communist systems. [One of our readers, Richard Pond, comments that centralization is not always associated with socialist systems: "The Spanish socialists have been much more decentralist than the Spanish right. The French socialists decentralized during the 80s; the Gaullists in contrast had been very centralist. The British conservatives centralize more than the British left does. And most far-right, very conservative or fascist regimes have been very centralist."]

centrism - a political position that is neither left nor right but which occupies the middle ground.


chain of command - the order in which authority is wielded and passed down. A military chain of command would extend from the most senior officers in an unbroken link down to the ranks.

character assassination - an unrelenting series of attacks on a person's character, often employing exaggerated, distorted, or even false information. When used in political races, character assassination is a tactic designed to take attention away from issues and place it on the opposing candidate, who is portrayed as being unfit for office.

charisma - in political speech refers to a person's flair and personal magnetism, his or her ability to inspire voters. Charismatic candidates exude charm and power; they excite people and can persuade them to be devoted to their cause. To say a politician lacks charisma is virtually to say he is dull. Examples of charismatic leaders include President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

charter - the laws, including the powers and organization, granted to a city by the state legislature; the constitution of an international body, such as the United Nations.

chauvinism - an unreasoning and aggressive kind of patriotism. Also refers to any contemptuous attitude to another race, nation, or sex, as in male chauvinism.

cheap money - also called easy money, the term refers to economic conditions in which there are low interest rates and high credit availablity. The opposite is tight money.

checks and balances - a mechanism that gurads against absolute power in any governing body by providing for separate governing bodies having equal power. Power is equitably distributed orbalanced amongst the various branches of government (e.g., legislative, judicial, executive) and provisions are made for checking or restricting too much power in any one office. The system of checks and balances is a major part of the American system of government provided by the Constitution to prevent any person or persons or sector of government from gaining too much power. The system emphasizes the interdependence of various forms of government. It operates among the judicial, executive, and legislative branches of government as well as between state and national governments. Examples of how the systems works are: the ability of Congress to impeach a public official; the interpretation by the Supreme court of a legislative action; and the Presidential veto.

Christian Democrats - political parties in several countries in Europe, including Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands. Christian Democrats are usually Roman Catholics, and have had considerable influence on political policies in the above countries since the end of World War II, particularly in the area of social reform.

church and state - the U.S. constitution provides for the strict separation of church and state. The First Amendment states that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion." The amendment does not include the exact phrase, "separation of church and state," which was first used by Thomas Jefferson in a letter in 1802, in reference to this amendment. However, the U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the First Amendment provides for the separation of religion and government. In the 1990s and into the twenty-first century, controversy over the separation of church and state has arisen over the issue of whether prayer may be allowed in public school-sponsored extracurricular activities.


citizen - a person who is a member of a state or nation, either by birth or naturalization. Anyone born in the U.S. is a U.S. citizen (according to the Fourteenth Amendment) and is entitled to full civil rights.

civil disobedience - refusal to obey laws. This tactic is most effective when used by fairly large groups as a way of getting unjust laws changed. Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and his followers in India mounted many campaigns of mass civil disobedience in their campaign for independence from Britain. The American civil rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, led by Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-68), used the same tactic. Civil disobedience is usually passive and nonviolent, aimed at bringing injustices to the attention of lawmakers and the public at large. See also nonviolence.

civil liberties - the freedoms people have a right to in a society. They consist mostly of freedom of movement and association; freedom of religion, and freedom of expression. The idea of civil liberties is deeply embedded in the United States; it is enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

civil rights - rights granted by a state to all its citizens. In the U.S. this refers to the rights enshrined in the constitution and Bill of Rights. Civil rights prevent the government from intruding on personal liberties.

civil service - all nonmilitary employees of the government.

civil war - a war between different factions, whether geographcal or political, within one state or nation.

civilian - anyone who is not in military service.

civitas - a Latin term meaning citizenship.

clan - a close-knit social group held together by ties of kinship (as in clans in the Scottish Highlands) or other common interests. Sometimes writers refer to large or well-known political families as clans???the Kennedy clan, etc.

class - a number of people or things grouped together; a group of people that are linked together because of certain things held in common, such as occupation, social status, economic background: ruling class, middle class, working class, etc.

class struggle - conflict between different classes in a society. The idea of class struggle held an important place in Marxism. Karl Marx divided society into two broad groups: the capitalists, or bourgeoisie, and the proletariat, or workers. Their interests were inevitably opposed, according to Marx, because one group (the proletariat) was always being exploited by the other (the bourgeoisie), so that capitalist society was a constant struggle between them. Marx believed that eventually the proletariat would triumph and a new classless society would emerge. The idea of class struggle, as with other main tenets of Marxism, holds much less appeal worldwide now than it did for most of the twentieth century, because of the general failure and collapse of Marxist systems around the globe.

classical economics - the dominant theory of economics from the eighteenth century until superseded by neoclassical economics in the twentieth century. It is associated with Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations (1776) John Stuart Mill's Principles of Political Economy (1848), and the work of David Ricardo (1772-1823), who were the first to systematically establish a body of economic principles. The basic idea was that the economy functioned most efficiently if everyone was allowed to pursue their own self-interest. Classical economics therefore favored laissez faire; the primary economic law was that of competition. See also Keynesianism; neo-classical economics.

clemency - leniency or mercy to an offender or enemy.

closed shop - a business in which all the employees must be members of a labor union. The closed shop is most common in the printing, transportation and construction industries. The Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 made the closed shop illegal for firms engaged in interstate commerce.

closure - also called cloture, the term refers to the process by which a filibuster can be ended in the Senate. A motion for closure requires the votes of three-fifths of the Senate, i.e. 60 votes.

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