labor movement - organized labor unions in the U.S., and their history. At the beginning of the twentieth century, only about 3 percent of the country's labor force belonged to unions. Up to the 1930s, unions were actively suppressed by employers. Workers inclined towards organizing were often fired and blacklisted, and sometimes even beaten up or locked out of the plant. The courts often ruled that union attempts to increase wages and influence working conditions through strikes and picketing were illegal. But membership grew nonetheless, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s. By the 1960s, over 30 percent of the labor force was unionized. Since then membership has declined, in part because of the decline of highly unionized industries such as railways and the clothing trade, and the increase in white-collar workers, who have less of a tendency to organize than blue-collar workers. By 1990, the percentage of the labor force that was unionized dropped to about 18 percent. In 2009, it was down to 12.3 percent. The political influence of the labor movement has declined accordingly.

labor union - an organization of workers that negotiates collectively with employers over wages, working conditions, etc.

laissez-faire - a guiding principle of free enterprise systems, laissez-faire is a French phrase which literally means "let do." It refers to the belief that government should not intervene in the conduct of trade and industry. Proponents of laissez-faire argue that the principle promotes freedom and economic growth.

lame duck - someone who is ineffectual or helpless. Sometimes used of an office holder who is nearing the end of his term of office and either is not seeking, or is not eligible for, another term. His authority is considered to be considerably eroded. For example, when President Lyndon Johnson announced in 1968 that he would not seek his party's nomination for president, he became a lame duck president for the remaining months of his term.

landlocked - encompassed by land, i.e. without a sea coast.

landslide - an overwhelming victory in an election. Of recent U.S. presidential elections, those in 1980, 1984, and 1988 can be considered landslides, because the Democratic candidates carried only a few states in each case, and were thus "buried" under a landslide.

law and order - the condition existing in a society when the vast majority of the population observes the generally established rules of conduct. Traditionally "law and order" has been a rallying cry for conservatives, especially at election time, who want tougher measures to deal with crime and criminals.

layman - someone who is not a member of a profession, or who is not an expert on a specific topic, as in, to the layman, the language of lawyers can be unintelligible.

leadership - those who hold the positions of power in a party, government, legislature, etc.; the ability to lead—not only to be able to manage people and institutions, but to show others a path and inspire them to want to follow it. Societies going through periods of uncertainty often bemoan the lack of leadership, and long for a "strong leader," but in many cases they get more than they bargained for. Dictators of all stripes may be "strong leaders" but that doesn't mean that they leave their societies better than they found them. Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger recently made a distinction between the modern political leader and those of a former generation, such as Sir Winston Churchill: "The political leaders with whom we are familiar generally aspire to be superstars rather than heroes. . . . Superstars strive for approbation; heroes walk alone. Superstars crave consensus; heroes define themselves by the judgment of a future they see it as their task to bring about. Superstars seek success in a technique for eliciting support; heroes pursue success as the outgrowth of inner values." See also statesman.

League of Arab States (LAS) - also known as the Arab League; the 22 member nations are: Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. The LAS works toward peace in the Arab region, promotes cooperation amongst members in military, health, communication, and cultural matters. The headquarters is in Tunisia.

lease - a contract in which one party gives to another the use of property, such as land or buildings, for a specified time for a specifed payment.

leftist - a person or group that adheres to the left-wing on political issues. Often used to describe insurgents, as in leftist guerrillas.

left-wing - on the left of the political spectrum. The term can include communism, socialism, or liberalism. It originated in the seating arrangements in nineteenth century European parliaments, where the conservatives would sit on the right side of a semi-circle (as seen from the point of view of the presiding officer, often the king) and the socialists on the left. The more radical the group, the further to the left they sat. Left-wingers advocate generous spending on the welfare state, vigorously promote the rights of women and minorities, are suspicious of high spending on defense, tend to be internationalist in outlook, favor government controls on the free market system, and generally favor social welfare over business interests. In the U.S. the left-wing is not a major factor in national politics, as far as elections are concerned. The Democratic party has some left-wing adherents, but it tries to minimize their influence when election time comes round, since in the U.S., left-wing policies are generally vote-losers. Left-wing groups however, often form powerful interest groups that do exert influence on particular issues. See also communism; liberal; liberalism; Marxism; socialism.

legalism - strict adherence to the letter of the law, or to bureaucratic red tape, to the exclusion of all else, including common sense.

legalistic - the same as legalism.

legality - the condition of being legal; in conformity with the law.

legislation - laws enacted by a legislature; also the process of making laws.

legislator - a person who is a member of a legislative body, elected to represent the interests of his constituents.

legislature - the branch of government that is responsible for making laws. In the U.S., as laid down by the constitution, only Congress can make laws.

legitimacy - the attribute of a government that came to power through legal means; the state of being sanctioned by law.

legitimation - making something lawful, or allowable, or acceptable, as in the invitation to speak at a prestigious conference gave legitimation to his controversial views.

leisure class - any group of people who do not have to work for a living, or who work very little and have time for leisure and recreation. Despite predictions in the 1950s and 1960s that new technology would mean that people would have to work less hours, this hasn't happened: Americans now spend more time working than they did several decades ago. The leisure class has not got any bigger.

Leninism - the modern form of Marxism as developed by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924). Lenin led the uprising that overthrew the Russian government in the October Revolution of 1917. He applied Marxism to the new kinds of capitalism that had developed since Marx's day, such as the increasing concentration of capital in larger organizations of producers. Lenin believed that the constant search for raw materials, driven by the need to make a profit, resulted in imperialist policies that led to recurrent wars. The state was merely a tool of the ruling class and therefore had to be destroyed. One of the distinctive aspects of Leninism was the creation of the party, a disciplined group of revolutionaries who would act as the vanguard of the proletariat. Lenin did not believe that capitalism would collapse merely through the weight of economic forces-there had to be a catalyst, and this was the party. Through the party, Lenin justified extreme measures for seizing and consolidating power, and laid the basis for the authoritarianism that transformed the Soviet Union into a dictatorship and kept all power in the hands of the communist party (where it remained until as recently as 1991). Thus the original Marxist idea that the state would gradually wither away turned out to be the opposite of the truth-the power of the state continued to grow and grow.

Leninist - an adherent of Leninism.

liaison - a linking up or connecting to, so as to coordinate activities, especially of a military nature.

liberal - in political speech now in the U.S. a liberal is a person who believes it is the duty of government to ameliorate social conditions and create a more equitable society. Liberals favor generous spending on the welfare state; they exhibit a concern for minorities, the poor, and the disadvantaged and often see these conditions as a product of social injustices rather than individual failings. This also applies to crime and juvenile delinquency, where liberals are as concerned with removing the social causes of such behavior as they are with detection and punishment. Liberals also tend to be concerned about environmental issues, the defense of civil liberties, and do not favor excessive military spending. The label of liberal is something that many politicans now seek to avoid, since it is out of keeping with the public mood. In the presidential campaign of 1988 George Bush used this to telling advantage, labeling his Democratic opponent Michael Dukakis a liberal, and making the term sound subversive and un-American. President Bill Clinton tried to distance himself from traditional liberalism in his campaign of 1992, calling himself a New Democrat instead. Liberals continue to vote for Democratic candidates, however, and helped to elect Barack Obama as president in 2008, although he too tried to avoid being labeled as a liberal. See also liberalism.

liberalism - in the nineteenth century in Europe, the great age of liberalism, the term stood for freedom from church and state authority and the reduction of the power of royalty and aristocracy, free enterprise economics, and the free development of the individual. Liberalism advocated freedom of the press, religious toleration, self-determination for nations. It was liberalism that established parliamentary democracy. The Founding Fathers might be termed liberals. In the twentieth century, liberal parties were caught in between conservatives and socialists and their influence declined. Today, liberalism stands for something rather different than it did in the nineteenth century (more government rather than less government). See also liberal.


libertarianism - the belief that government should not interfere in the lives of citizens, other than to provide police and military protection. Libertarianism cannot easily be placed on the left-right scale that is usually used to analyze political philosophies. Libertarians are strong supporters of capitalism and free trade and yet also tolerant on social and lifestyle issues, which are considered none of the government's business. The basic philosophy is "live and let live." For example, libertarianism would remove the ban on consensual activities, often called "victimless crimes," such as drug use and prostitution, which do not harm the person or property of another. A Libertarian Party was formed in 1971 and regularly contests presidential elections, winning just over half a million votes in 2008, amounting to 0.4 percent of the vote.

liberation - freedom, emancipation; often applied to the freeing of a people after enemy occupation (the liberation of France in 1944, for example). Revolutionary movements sometimes call themselves liberation movements-meaning liberation from an oppressive government. Liberation can also simply mean the gaining of equal social and economic rights, as in the women's liberation movement, now more usually called feminism.

liberty - freedom, particularly from any unnecessary restraints imposed by governmental authority. Liberty was one of the slogans of the French Revolution ("Liberty, equality, fraternity") and it has proved a rallying cry ever since. It is central to America: liberty is one of the inalienable rights described in the constitution ("life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"), and it has always been what America sees itself as standing for, as, for example, in President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address in 1961, when he said "Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survivial and the success of liberty."

lien - a legal term which refers to the claim a lender has on someone's property, as security in the event of nonpayment of a debt.

limited government - the clarion call of American conservatives from the mid-1990s to the present, a limited government is one that does not have enormous power. Such a government is in fact provided for in the constitution, with its methods of checks and balances. However, many argue that over the last four decades the federal government has become too big, taking on more responsibilities and powers than the constitution intended, and created a huge bureaucracy that is unresponsive to public needs. It is this that has led to calls for a more limited, smaller, central government.

limited war - a war in which a nation does not use all the military or economic resources it possesses. The war in Vietnam was for the U.S., a limited war, with only gradual increases in force being applied, and the military being held back by political considerations. The Persian Gulf War in 1991, in which massive and overwhelming force was used, was still a limited war because at no point did the U.S. consider using nuclear weapons, nor, it seems, did the Iraqis use the chemical weapons they apparently possessed. Limited war is the opposite of total war. See also total war.

lobby - similar to interest group, a lobby is any individual or group that attempts to exert an influence over legislation or other government action. Lobbyists come from all sectors of society: business, professional, labor, farm, education, church, consumer associations. The practice of lobbying, according to its advocates, give ordinary people a voice in government; but those who argue that special interest groups are too powerful say that lobbying hinders democracy, because what is good for the special interest may not be good for the country as a whole.

local government - any government that is not state or federal, such as county, city, town, village.

logistics - the branch of military science that deals with the movement, supplying and quartering of troops.

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