A New Handbook of Political Science

By Robert E. Goodin; Hans-Dieter Klingemann | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Political Institutions: An Overview

Bo Rothstein


I Introduction

AMONG political scientists the basic understandings of the origins of any kind of formalized political power come in two different variants. The first, we can call it the "good" or "democratic" or "community-based" type, embodies the following story. A group of people share some common characteristics. They live in the same area, for example, or they work at the same place, or they are dependent on the same type of natural resources. In their daffy lives, they soon discover that they have not only individual interests but also a number of common interests. As a geographical community, they realize a common need for laws regulating conflicts about property and other types of individual rights, and for the effective enforcement of such laws. Or they discover a need for an organization to pursue their common interests of better wages and working conditions, or a need to regulate use of natural resources to avoid "the tragedy of the commons" ( Hardin 1982; Ostrom 1990). So, they get together as equals and form an organization to solve their collective interests, which is to say, they form a government. Or, per the other two examples, they establish a union or an economic co-operative of some kind--which from this perspective are to be seen as just different sorts of governments.

In all three cases, the members of the community soon discover that, in order to pursue their common interests, they need four basic types of political institutions. One type of institution is needed for making collectively binding decisions about how to regulate the common interests (a rule- making institution). A second type of institution is needed for implementing these decisions (rule-applying institutions). A third sort of institution

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