Free «American Government: Essay Questions» Essay Sample

I. The U.S. government has two main levels – the level of state and federal level. The basis of the construction of the state system in the U.S. is that it goes from the state to federation, and not vice versa, and each state has a full sovereignty over its territory, except for what was transferred to the federal government. Therefore, states pass their own laws and have their own taxes, and constitutions of many states are much longer and more detailed than the U.S. Constitution. However, the constitution and state laws should not contradict the Constitution of the United States.

Each state has its own constitution, legislature, governor, Supreme Court, and capital. Administrative division of the states is based on their constitutions. Just like the Congress, state legislatures are bicameral (except Nebraska) and, in most states, modeled as the U.S. Congress. They are also modeled similarly to the Congress, with the lower house usually called the House of Representatives, and the upper one – the Senate.

The procedure for forming branches in the states is very similar to the federal level, except for the judiciary. The exact length of time in office and the number of Supreme Court judges varies from state to state in accordance with the local constitution. People also elect lieutenant governor, who may belong to another political party. Some states hold referendums.

Louisiana has the Romano-Germanic law, while other states have the English (common) law. The competence of the state includes everything, except for what was assigned to the federal government. The jurisdiction of the federal government concerns such areas as education, including funding for public schools and universities and their management, construction of transport infrastructure, licensing of businesses and professionals, public safety and criminal justice, issuing driver’s licenses and permits for marriage, supervision of publicly funded hospitals and nursing homes, parks management, supervision of elections (including federal elections), etc. In most states, the budgets must be balanced, except in special situations enumerated in the Constitution of the State.

The most common state administrative units are districts and towns. These areas also have their own statutes, legislative, judicial and executive authorities, which are formed through elections. Although each of the local governments is relatively small in size, their total number is so high that among half a million of the elected officials in the U.S. less than 8,500 belong to the federal and regional level. Others work in local governments. In many counties, the positions of a sheriff, prosecutor, judge, magistrate, forensic expert, head of tax services, and auditor are elected. In the cities, people elect municipal councils and mayors. In some counties and cities, the highest executive power is concentrated in the hands of a professional manager who is assigned (i.e., hired) by the representative bodies of government.

Along with the counties and cities, there are special administrative territorial units of states that are responsible for water supply, water and natural resources conservation, fire safety, emergency assistance, transportation, and are financed by separate taxes. Their management is elected in some cases, in others it is appointed by the state government. Management of public schools is carried out by boards of education of the corresponding school district, which consist of either elected officials or of the trustees.

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In some cases, one power level can override another. For example, Congress can override the President’s veto by passing the bill again with no less than a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and the Senate. In this way, the bill will become a law despite the President’s veto. Another example is the federal government creating laws overriding local decision-making and unnecessarily conducting surveillance on the local community after the events of September 11, 2001.

II. At the federal level, three branches of power are represented by the Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court. The U.S. is a presidential republic. Its features include the combination of the office of president as head of government, extra-parliamentary method of electing the president and formation of government (heads of ministries are appointed by the president), the absence of the president’s right to dissolve the highest legislative body, prohibiting members of the government to be deputies of the Congress and vice versa. The basis of cooperation between all branches of government is the idea of mutual control and balance of powers, which does not allow amplification of one branch at the expense of another. For example, Congress may reject the President’s bill and the bill can be vetoed by President. Many presidential powers are realized only with the approval of the Senate (international treaties). The Supreme Court has the right to annul the laws of Congress and the acts of the executive branch.

The highest legislative body of the U.S. is the United States Congress. Congress establishes federal taxes, forms and finances the armed forces, declares war, defines the rules for obtaining citizenship, has the right to coin money, creates mail service, defines the units of measurement, establishes tribunals (inferior to the Supreme Court), and has authority in many other issues. The executive branch of federal government is headed by the U.S. President, who is both the head of state and head of government. The U.S. President directly supervises the activities of all executive branch agencies of the federal government. The highest authority of the federal judiciary is the Supreme Court of the United States. The jurisdiction of the Supreme Court is responsible for the cases in which one of the parties is the U.S. federal government, the cases between states, between a state and a citizen of another state, and others. If necessary, the Supreme Court interprets the Constitution, thereby fulfilling the functions of the Constitutional Court. The U.S. Supreme Court may cancel any law passed by Congress or any decree of the President. To cancel the decision of the Supreme Court, the amendment to the Constitution of the United States is required (in U.S. history, it happened only three times).

The system of elections in the United States is unique. It is very complicated, but it is quite transparent. After all, its founders believed their main task was not to create simple and transparent elections, but to create the system that will not allow a dictator or a tyrant to come to power. The U.S. president is not elected directly by the citizens of the country, but by the Electoral College. Each U.S. state has a certain number of electoral votes, which is determined based on the number of Senators and Congressmen representing the state. Each of the parties participating in the presidential race nominates candidates for president and vice president positions. During the vote, American citizens do not give their votes to the tandem of president and vice-president, but to each position separately. When the founders of the United States developed the system of elections, they pursued two goals. First and foremost, they wanted to create some kind of buffer zone between the president and the citizens of the country. They feared the appearance of marginalized politicians at the head of the country, who, as it often happened in the world, gain the support of people by demagogic promises. Thus, the Electoral College was created, representatives of which act as a group and meet only once, thus reducing to zero the chances that they can be manipulated. In addition, it was assumed small and sparsely populated states would gain more rights.

A rich history of American elections led to formation of a certain political tradition. Specialists in elective technologies and policies know whom the voters would prefer to vote for. One of the most widely used postulates is the principle that people prefer to vote for a candidate who reminds them of a certain ideal character. This postulate is based on the natural development of human consciousness – each person accumulates certain life experiences and his views on the world are constantly changing. These views are influenced by mass media and politicians.

III. Isaiah Berlin identified two main notions of freedom. A statement like “I’m no slave to anyone” is described by Berlin as a characteristic of negative freedom, i.e., freedom from direct interference by another individual. As an opposition to negative freedom he used the statement “I am my own master”. Here positive freedom is freedom to choose one’s own path in life.

Charles Taylor explained that negative freedom is the idea of opportunity (“opportunity-concept”), when an individual finds negative freedom if he is not enslaved by external forces and has equal access to public resources (no matter how he decides to spend his time). Positive freedom, according to Taylor, is based on “exercise-concept”: the positive freedom may mean that the individual is free internally and should be able to act prudently in accordance with his self. Positive freedom entails being in a position of an adult, mature man, capable of making decisions, free from internal constraints (weakness, fear, ignorance, etc.).

Thus, negative freedom is defined as freedom from interference by other people and is opposed to positive freedom, which is defined as the freedom of the individual from the constraints of the social system within society, such as classism, sexism, or racism (Starr, 2007).

The distinction between negative and positive freedoms was described by Isaiah Berlin in his lecture Two Concepts of Liberty. According to Berlin, this distinction is closely connected with the political tradition. The concept of negative liberty is associated with British philosophers, such as Locke, Hobbes, Adam Smith, Jeremy Bentham, and the notion of positive freedom with continental thinkers, such as Hegel, Rousseau, Herder, and Marx.

According to Berlin, the sense of negative freedom is meant to answer the question: What is the area within which the subject - a person or group of persons - is or should be left to do or be what he is able to do or be, without interference by other persons? (Berlin 1958, p.2). Restrictions of negative freedom, imposed by people, are not related to natural causes or the inability of the individual.

The concept of negative freedom is an object for debates. For example, today the most known debate concerning the ideal of freedom is the debate between the supporters of the republican notion of negative freedom, particularly Quentin Skinner and Philip Pettit, and the supporters of the predominant liberal notion of negative freedom, particularly Ian Carter and Matthew Kramer. The discussion involves the question of what negative freedom is. In the article Freedom and the Rule of Law (2009), Matthew Kramer argues that negative freedom is merely the absence of interference. On the other hand, according to Philip Pettit, negative freedom is most importantly the absence of arbitrary power to interfere (in other words, domination) and only after that the absence of interference.

I think there is no such thing as a free space (for example, I do not believe there is a “free” market). Therefore, considering freedom as no government (or other type) of intervention is basically meaningless. The notion of liberty would then turn on the issue of how or when people embrace or appropriate the forms of organization and authority that make up the structure of society and economy.


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