dark horse - someone in a race (including a political race) who is not well known and whose chances of winning are considered slight, except by a few.

decentralization - the breaking up of central authority and the distribution of it over a broader field, such as local or state authorities.


de facto - Latin phrase meaning by the fact of; in fact, whether right or not. For example, if a revolution has just taken place in a country, the new government will be the de facto authority, i.e. the actual, existing authority, regardless of whether they have any legal claim to the position. De facto is the opposite of de jure.

de jure - Latin phrase meaning from the law; by right. The opposite of de facto.

dead heat - a tie. When contestants in a race finish in exactly the same time. A political dead heat would be when, say, two candidates or parties show exactly the same level of support in an opinion poll, or when two parties in an election win the same number of seats or poll the same percentage of votes.

deadlock - when something comes to a standstill because of pressure from two equal but opposing forces, as when a jury is unable to reach a verdict.

default - failure to do something, such as pay money due (a country might default on its loan payments, for example), or appear in court when required to.

deficit financing - the practice of deliberately operating with a budget deficit, financed by borrowing. The purpose of deficit financing is to stimulate the economy by increasing government spending, which will increase purchasing power and create more jobs. In the U.S., governments have usually run budget defiicts. Only rarely has there been a budget surplus. There was a federal surplus in 1969, and then again in fiscal years 1999 and 2000. The twenty-first century, however, has seen a return of deficit financing.


deflation - a reduction in economic activity in an economy, marked by falling prices and wages (or a slowing of the increase), less employment, and less imports. Deflation marks the downturn in a business cycle. It can be produced by raising taxes, increasing interest rates, or cutting government spending. Deflationary policies may be pursued to improve the balance of payments by reducing demand, and so reducing imports.

defunct - no longer existing. The Soviet Union, for example, is a defunct organization.

delegate - a person authorized to act for others; a representative. To delegate means to give someone the authority to act as one's agent or representative.

delegation - a group of delegates, often representing a larger group.

demagogue - a person who tries to win political support by playing to people's fears and prejudices, trying to build up hatred for certain groups. Adolf Hitler, who stirred up the masses by telling them the Jews were responsible for German ills, was a demogogue. In the U.S., Senator Joseph McCarthy (1908-1957), who led a witch hunt for communists in the U.S. during the 1950s, was also a demagogue.

democracy - government by the people; the rule of the majority. There is no precise definition of democracy on which all could agree. Even communist countries tend to call themselves democratic, and the mere fact that a government is elected by a majority of the popular vote does not of itself guarantee a democracy. A broad definition might include the following points (based on Thomas R. Dye and L. Harmon Ziegler's book The Irony of Democracy): Participation by the mass of people in the decisions that shape their lives; government by majority rule, with recognition of the rights of minorities; freedom of speech, press, and assembly; freedom to form opposition political parties and to run for office; commitment to individual dignity and to equal opportunities for people to develop their full potential.

demographics - pertaining to demography, which is the science of statistics such as births, deaths, marriages, racial composition, etc., in a population. Political scientists study changing demographics in a community and analyse how that might affect voting behavior, etc. An example of such a change is the city of Los Angeles, which in the 1950s and early 1960s was almost exclusively white, but in the twenty-first century is one of the most multicultural cities in the country. Its demographics have changed dramatically.

deport - to send out of the country. An illegal immigrant, for example, may be deported if he cannot prove he has a right to stay in the country.

depression - in economics, the term refers to a prolonged slump in business activity, leading to low production, little capital investment, mass unemployment and falling wages. The worst depression in American history is known as the Great Depression. It began with the stock market crash in 1929 and did not end until World War II.

desegregation - the elimination of segregation by race in schools and public places. In the U.S. desegregation began in 1954, with the Supreme Court ruling in the Brown v. Board of Education case that "Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal." Although it faced plenty of opposition in the South, desegregation gathered strength through the Civil Rights movement that began in 1955 and reached its peak in the mid-1960s.

despot - a tyrant; a ruler with absolute power.

despotism - rule by a despot; the methods of a despot.

destabilize - to make unstable, or insecure. Often used in a political sense about a government or a nation, especially when the destabilization is deliberately created by dissidents or rebels within a country, or by agents of a foreign power that want to disrupt or overthrow the government. The U.S, like many governments, has done its share of destabilizing, notably in Chile in the early 1970s, when it engineered the fall of the Marxist government there.

deterrence - a defense policy in which a country ensures that it has sufficient military power to deter a potential enemy from making an attack. Deterrence is fundamental to U.S. policy, and underlies all the arguments about the need to keep the military strong. The greatest deterrents are considered to be nuclear weapons. Although they have existed since 1945, they have never been used since the end of World War II. The mere possession of nuclear weapons is sufficient to deter an enemy, because, unless a country's entire nuclear arsenal could be wiped out by a first strike, the destruction caused by the inevitable retaliation would be too great a price to pay. The doctrine ofdeterrence through nuclear weapons is a paradox: weapons of mass destruction have kept the peace. [The following is a comment from one of our readers, Hilary Rakestraw, M.A., George Washington University International Security Policy: "In the entry on deterrence, nuclear weapons are called the greatest deterrent. This, although true, should have a more nuanced interpretation. Deterrence exists on two levels, conventional and nuclear. The purpose of deterrence is to convince a potential enemy that an attack will not be worth it because of damage that will be inflicted during or in retaliation for the attack (a precondition is rationality on the part of the enemy decision makers, that a cost-benefit analysis will be heeded). Deterrence is a psychological concept - its presence is never convincingly proved, one sees it only when it fails (as in when an attack goes forward even in the face of retaliation threats). Conventional deterrence is the realm of armies on the ground, and nuclear weapons may or may not play a role. Nuclear deterrence is largely acknowledged to have little role in the conventional sphere, although this does not rule out nuclear retaliation in the case of attack by non-conventional weapons (such as chemical or biological weapons). Most officials of nuclear-armed governments know that the amounts of damage caused by nuclear weapons make them unsuited as a response to all but the gravest of conventional threats. For example, use of nuclear weapons was not threatened by the U.S. in Vietnam, Granada, Panama, or the Gulf War because they would have been disproportional to the level of the threat."]

devaluation - reduction in the value of a nation's currency in relation to other currencies. Devaluation usually takes place because of an emergency, such as a balance of payments deficit in which the value of a country's imports is far greater than the value of its exports. Devaluation has the effect of boosting exports (because they are cheaper in terms of foreign currencies) and reducing imports (because they are more expensive in terms of foreign currencies).

devolution - the redistribution or delegation of political power away from a centralized body to a lower, often regional, authority.

d??tente - the easing of strained relations between states. In recent history the term is applied to relations between the Soviet Union and the U.S. in the 1970s, that led to increased trade and arms control agreements. D??tente ended with the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979.

dialectic - originally meant the art of argument, a method of logical inquiry that proceeded by question and answer. The idea of dialectic was developed by the nineteenth century German idealist philosopher Hegel into a way of understanding all natural and historical processes: everything conformed to a dialectical process of thesis, antithesis and synthesis. One thing produces from within itself its own opposite or negation, and from the conflict between the two emerges a synthesis. Hegel's idea of dialectic was adapted by Karl Marx to form dialectical materialism, the foundation of Marxist doctrine.

dialectical materialism - the central theory of Marxism, which Karl Marx adapted from the idealist philosophy of Hegel. Marx applied Hegel's theory of dialectic to political and economic history. Capitalism (thesis), produced its opposite socialism (antithesis) from within itself, by means of the proletariat, out of which eventually emerged a communist society (synthesis). Marx believed this to be an inexorable law of history. See also dialectic; Marxism.

dictatorship of the proletariat - a Marxist concept that was in fact first formulated before Karl Marx (1818-83), by a Frenchman, Auguste Blanqui (1805-81). It refers to an interim period immediately after the proletariat (the working class) has triumphed over the bourgoisie (capitalists). The rule of the proletariat then gives way to the classless, or communist society.

dictatorship - a system of government in which power is concentrated in the hands of one person, the dictator. Dictatorships are rarely benevolent and often have scant regard for human rights. The classic dictatorships in the twentieth century were those of Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) in Germany, Benito Mussolini (1883-1945) in Italy, and Josef Stalin (1879-1953) in the Soviet Union.

diehard - someone who is extremely reluctant to relinquish his opinions or beliefs, even when they are outmoded. Today there are probably many diehard communists in Russia, or in the U.S. there are diehards who still believe in racial segregation.

diminishing returns - a principle of economics that states that if one factor of production is increased while others remain fixed, the resulting increase in output will level off after a time and then decrease. In other words, if a company decides to employ more workers but does not increase the amount of machinery it will eventually reach the point of diminishing returns, where the addition of each new worker will add progressively less to output than did the previous additions. To avoid diminishing returns the optimum relationship between all the factors of production at any given time must be evaluated.

diplomacy - the methods by which relations between nations are conducted.

diplomatic immunity - special rights given to diplomats, including immunity from the laws that operate in the country to which they are assigned.

direct action - when a group acts to achieve its goals without going through the accepted channels of communication or decision-making. If a group of workers, for example, goes on strike without the support of their union, or commits acts of sabotage, they are taking direct action.

direct democracy - democracy in which the people as a whole make direct decisions, rather than have those decisions made for them by elected representatives. A referendum is a form of direct democracy, as is the practice of recall, by which an elected offical may be voted out of office between elections if enough people sign a petition to remove him and then win the subsequent vote. A novel version of direct democracy was introduced into the American political scene by Ross Perot, when he ran as independent candidate for president in 1992. Perot proposed that some national decisons could be arrived at directly by the people through the use of electronic "town meetings." The idea arose because of widespread public dissatisfaction with the performance of Congress, which in the eyes of many was out of touch with the country as a whole.

directive - an executive order or general instuction.

dirty linen - in political speech the term refers to secrets such as sordid infighting, or outright scandal, that political parties would sooner keep secret. Displaying dirty linen in public is to have the less savoury aspects of one's life put on public view.

disarmament - reduction of armaments. Attempts have been made to reduce arms ever since the end of World War I. A disarmament conference was held in Geneva from 1932-34, but no agreement was reached. After World War II the United Nations established committees on disarmament and formed a Disarmament Commission in 1952. Talks were held from 1955 to 1957 on banning nuclear weapons. From the 1960s there was some limited success, including the nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (1963) and the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (1968). In the 1970s, as a result of the policy of détente between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, more treaties were signed, limiting the increase of nuclear weapons (see arms control). Further treaties in 1987, 1991, and 1993, reduced the superpowers' stock of nuclear weapons. A new START (strategic arms reduction treaty) treaty was signed by the United States and Russia in April 2010, but as of the end of 2010 had not yet been ratified by the U.S. Senate. Disarmament treaties, however, have done little to alleviate the continuing danger of nuclear proliferation. And as far as conventional armaments are concerned, the idea of disarmament seems no more than a visionary dream. The arms trade remains one of the world's biggest industries. The biggest exporters of arms are the United States, Russia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom; developing countries, led by India, Singapore, and Malaysia, were as of 2009 the world's leading importers of arms.


discrimination - treating a person differently and unequally because of race, gender, country of origin, color, age, physical handicap, or other factors. The existence in the U.S. of equal opportunity laws aims to prevent or redress discrimination in the workplace.

displaced person - a person who has had to leave his own country as a result of war or persecution.

dissident - one who dissents, or disagrees. In political speech, the term refers to a person who protests injustices or abuses perpetrated by the government of his country. Dissidents are common in totalitarian or communist countries. Many Chinese dissidents are imprisoned or persecuted for advocating democracy, as were Russian dissidents such as Andrei Sakharov in the Soviet Union under communism. Some dissidents, such as Lech Walesa of Poland, and Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic eventually won their battles against the state and, in these two cases, become presidents of their countries (Walesa from 1990 to 1995; Havel from 1993 to 2003).

divide and rule - the practice of keeping power by making sure that enemies are always kept divided and therefore too weak to mount an effective challenge. The Roman Empire perfected the strategy of divide and rule, and the British Empire employed the same tactic.

divine right - the terms usually refers to the divine right of kings, a medieval belief that the king was appointed by God to rule, and this divine right was passed on by hereditary alone. The belief had virtually died out by the end of the nineteenth century, except among a few diehard groups.

division of labor - a method of production on which modern industrial economies are based. It relies on specialization. Each worker performs only one, often very narrow task, in the production process. The division of labor is considered to be more efficient than other methods, in that workers do not waste time changing tasks, and can acquire more skill by specialization. The disadvantages of the division of labor is that work often becomes repetitive and boring, especially when the division of labor is carried to extremes, as in the modern auto plant, where tasks can be as narrow as the repeated tightening of nuts and bolts, all day, every day.

doctrinaire - theoretical and impractical. A doctrinaire person may have many theories for the regeneration of society, but will attempt to apply them rigidly, without allowing them to bend to fit particular circumstances.

doctrine - something taught as the principles or creed of a religion or political party. Similar in meaning to dogma. Doctrine also refers to certain foreign policies, such as the Monroe Doctrine or the Carter Doctrine.

dogma - a doctrine or belief, as laid down by an authority, such as a church. Also means an arrogant assertion of an opinion. When someone states his fixed beliefs and opinions and will not evaluate them objectively or listen to any counter-argument, he is speaking dogma.

dogmatism - rigid adherence to dogma; arrogant assertion of opinion, whether facts or evidence support it or not.

domestic - pertaining to one's own country. Thus, a government will have a domestic policy dealing with policies within its own borders, and a foreign policy for everything outside those borders.

domino theory - an idea current during the Cold War that justified U.S. support of South Vietnam against invasion by communist North Vietnam. The theory was that if one southeast Asian state went communist, others, such as Laos and Cambodia, would follow, giving the communists much greater influence. Sometimes used today to describe the spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

double jeopardy - the law that says a person cannot be tried twice for the same offense. It is part of the Fifth Amendment, which states that "No person shall . . . be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb."

draconian laws - severe or cruel laws. The phrase refers to Draco, a ruler of ancient Greece in the 7th century B.C., who imposed a severe code of laws on the city of Athens in 621. In political speech today, for example, a government that is facing social unrest or rebellion might take Draconian measures to restore order.

drawback - money collected as customs duty on imported goods and then refunded when the goods are sent out as exports.

due process - legal procedures designed to protect the rights and liberties of individuals. In the U.S., due process refers to the constitutional requirement that "no person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law." In practice it means that someone accused of a crime must be given a fair chance to present his own case.

dumping - in economics, a term that means selling a product in large quantities abroad for a lower price than it fetches in the domestic market. Usually this is done to dispose of a surplus, and to gain a competitive advantage with foreign suppliers.

dyed-in-the-wool - unchangeable, from the process of having yarn dyed before being woven, which makes it retain its color better. One might refer to someone for example, as a dyed-in the-wool conservative, meaning that he is never likely to change his conservatism.

dynasty - a succession of political rulers who belong to the same family. Dynasties are less common now than they used to be in the days when hereditary monarchs held sway, but in some countries power is still passed on by a ruler to another member of his family. Sometimes even in a democracy powerful political families seem almost to attain the status of a dynasty. Examples include the Kennedys in America, the Bhuttos in Pakistan, and the relatives and descendants of Mahatma Gandhi in India.

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