Cultural Differences: American and British Governmental and Political Structures Mark H. Barbieri ANT 101: Cultural Anthropology Daniel Beteta Jr. February 16, 2009 Abstract The objective of this paper is to contrast the governmental structures of two very similar, but different, cultures, the American and British cultures. This paper contends that although the cultures have many similarities, their governmental structures are quite different. This paper concludes that there are major differences between a culture with a bicameral legislative branch of government and a bicameral parliamentary form of government.
Although both governments are very different in makeup, both cultures incorporate an effective means of governing and share some of the most basic forms of governmental structure. British and American Governments Government, what does it mean to you? Depending on your culture, the term government may hold many different meanings. In many modern societies and cultures, the term government refers to a governing body or official who has the power and authority to generate and enforce laws with a given organization, culture, or group.
This paper will highlight the differences between the governments of the American and British cultures and will compare some of the similarities between these two similar, but very different, cultures. The Monarchy A monarchy is a form of government in which the ruling authority is typically a king or queen. The monarch is also known as the Crown. In traditional monarchies, the monarch holds true and absolute power and control over a land or kingdom. The United Kingdom has what is called a constitutional monarchy.
A constitutional monarchy is a form of government in which the king or queen fulfills certain roles within the government and doesn’t have absolute and sole authority over the government. A constitutional monarchy has a democratic government which limits the monarch’s power and control. “The ability to make and pass legislation resides with an elected Parliament, not with the monarch” (The Royal Household [TRH], 2008, para. 2). The monarch for England is Queen Elizabeth II. According to The Royal Household (2008), the Queen is Head of State in the United Kingdom.
As a constitutional monarch, Her Majesty does not ‘rule’ the country, but fulfils many important ceremonial and formal roles with respect to the British Government. She is also Fount of Justice and the Head of the Armed Forces. “A constitutional monarchy also provides stability, continuity and a national focus, as the Head of State remains the same even as governments change”(TRH, 2008, para. 3). The British Parliament Parliament, Britain’s legislature is made up of two houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
Similar to the legislative branch of government in the United States, the British Parliament is bicameral and maintains a series of checks and balances over the government. The parliament is the highest legislative authority in the United Kingdom. According to the British Parliament (2009), together, the House of Lords and the House of Commons has the responsibility for examining, debating, and approving new laws. The House of Lords The members of the House of Lords are not democratically elected, but are mostly appointed by the Crown.
According to the British Parliament (2009), there are a fixed number of members of the House of Lords that are elected internally. The House of Lords include a limited number of lords spiritual, the archbishops and bishops of England; and the law lords, who assist in the judicial functions of the of the House of Lords. According to the British Parliament (2009): The House of Lords is the second Chamber of the United Kingdom’s Parliament. It plays an important part in revising legislation and keeping a check on government by scrutinizing its activities.
It complements the work of the House of Commons, whose members are elected to represent their constituents. Members of the Lords are not elected and are unpaid. They have a wide range of experience and provide a source of independent expertise. The House of Lords also has a judicial role as the final Court of Appeal. “The House of Lords is made up of 1,185 hereditary and life peers and peeresses, and the two archbishops and the 24 most senior bishops of the established Church of England” (British Information Services [BIS], 2004, para. 7). The House of Commons
The House of Commons is the true political power in England. “Unlike the Members of the House of Lords, the members of the House of Commons are publicly elected individuals. The House of Commons is the party with the largest number of members. According to the British Parliament (2008), The Commons has 651 elected Members of Parliament (MPs), who represent local constituencies. Of the total 659 constituencies, approximately 530 are housed in England. Of the approximately 659 members of the House of Commons, there is a division between members of the majority political party and the minority political party.
Members of the majority and majority political parties reside on separate sides of the house and are seated directly across and face one another. “Parliament is characterized by democracy, sovereignty, and supremacy over the monarch. Powers in the legislature have been fused together in the House of Lords and Commons. The House of Lords is basically powerless compared to the House of Commons” (The Outlaw, 2009, p. 1). The United States Government The United States Government is one of the most powerful governments in the world today. The American form of government is what is referred to as a constitution-based federal republic. Since the Second Continental Congress declared America’s independence from Great Britain on July 4, 1776, the United States government has sought to realize the fundamental principle on which our nation was founded: that all people have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” (The White House [TWH], n. d. , para. 1). The architects and founders of the American Constitution desired a strong centralized government that did not allow a single individual or entity to have sole authority or control, a lesson learned while under the rule of the British.
With this concept in mind, the architects drafted the Constitution so that it provided for a division of powers. The outcome of this division was the creation of three separate branches of government: the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch, and the Executive Branch. Each branch of the United States Government has its own roles and responsibilities which differ from the roles and responsibilities of the other two branches. Although each branch has different roles and responsibilities, the three branches work together to ensure the country functions and operates smoothly.
Together, the three branches of government work to ensure that the rights of all American citizens, as called out in the Constitution, are not neglected, violated, or ignored. Similar to the manner in which the British Parliament: House of Commons and House of Lords, performs checks and balances on one another and the government, the three branches of American Government perform their own series of checks and balances. “A branch may use its powers to check the powers of the other two in order to maintain a balance of power among the three branches of government” (USGPO, 2001, para. ). The Legislative Branch The Legislative Branch was established by Article One of the Constitution of the United States of America. The Legislative Branch consists of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The two houses, together, form what is called the United States Congress. This form of legislature is what is referred to as a bicameral legislature and is similar to the bicameral legislature that comprises the British Parliament, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
The House of Representatives is made up of approximately 450 elected members and is divided among the 50 states in accordance to the population of the state that they represent. Additionally, there are non-voting members, representing the American districts, commonwealths, and territories. “The presiding officer of the chamber is the Speaker of the House, elected by the Representatives. He or she is third in the line of succession to the Presidency” (TWH, n. d. , para. 2). The Executive Branch
The Executive Branch of the United States Government is made up of the President of the United States, the Vice President of the United States, and the Presidential Cabinet members. The Executive Branch of the United States government holds the responsibility for executing and enforcing the laws created by the United States Congress. “The power of the Executive Branch is vested in the President of the United States, who also acts as head of state and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces”(TWH, n. d. , para. 1). Although the President holds significant power, his power limited by the constitution.
The President is an elected official and serves a maximum of two, four-year terms, in office. The President, under Article Two of the United States Constitution, has the power to sign legislation into law and has the power to veto bills established by the Congress. The President appoints the heads of the federal agencies, including the Cabinet. “The Vice President is also part of the Executive Branch, ready to assume the Presidency should the need arise”(TWH, n. d. , para. 2). The Judicial Branch The Judicial Branch was established by Article Three of the United States Constitution.
Members of the Judicial Branch are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The Judicial branch is the branch that decides the meaning of the laws created by Congress and consists of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest court in the United States and holds complete authority over the federal courts, yet holds limited power over state courts. The Supreme Court consists of one chief justice and several associate justices. Where as the Executive and Legislative branches are elected by the citizens, the members of the Judicial Branch are appointed by the President of the United States.
One of the Supreme Court’s most important responsibilities is to preside over cases in which there are questions relating to the interpretation of the Constitution. “Article III of the Constitution, which establishes the Judicial Branch, leaves Congress significant discretion to determine the shape and structure of the federal judiciary. Even the number of Supreme Court Justices is left to Congress — at times there have been as few as six, while the current number (nine, with one Chief Justice and eight Associate Justices) has only been in place since 1869” (TWH, n. d. , para. 5).
Cultural Similarities and Differences in Government and Politics Of all the nations that share cultural similarities with the United States of America, it is the British culture that shares the closest cultural similarities. Not only do they share the same principle language, English, they share similar customs, traditions, and a common history. The similarity between the two cultures can best be observed in areas such as the democratic approach to government and politics that both cultures embrace. Both the United States Legislature and the British Parliament embrace bicameralism.
Bicameralism is the practice of having two separate legislative or parliamentary bodies. The legislative bodies within both cultures share similar responsibilities such as making laws, legislation, checking the work of the government, scrutiny, and debating current topics. “Other unique features about the British government is the remarkable similarity of the legislature to the American House of Representatives and Senate” (The Outlaw, 2009, p. 2). One main difference between the legislature of the United States and the houses of the British legislature is that both houses of the American legislature are comprised of elected officials.
American citizens elect members of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. In contrast, members of the House of Lords are typically appointed by the crown and are not appointed by the British citizens. Another difference between these two similar cultures can be observed by the differences in the forms of their constitutions. Both the British Government and the United States Government have constitutions. A major difference between the two constitutions is that the American constitution is a single document and the British government has multiple constitutions.
England’s constitution, unlike the United States, which is a single document, consists of multiple documents. The written part is comprised of the Magna Carta (1215 A. D. ) signed by King John, which took away the king’s absolute power and gave some of it to the nobles. The Petition of Rights, passed by parliament in 1628, and the Bill of Rights of 1689. All laws passed by parliament are regarded as constitutional. The Crown gives its royal assent to legislation, but this has no more legal bearing. (“England’s Government”, n. d. , para. 3) American and British Politics
In addition to the similarities that exist between the two structured forms of government and legislature, bicameral legislatures of the American government and British Parliaments, there are other similarities and differences that exist within the two political systems. The similarities between American and British politics can be observed in many forms of modern legislation. One area where political similarities exist can be observed is in the British and American approach to the minimum mandatory sentencing requirements for reoccurring criminal offenders, which both Britain and nearly all America states have adopted.
According to research of Jones (2006), there was a marked move away in the United Kingdom from the just deserts-influenced Criminal Justice Act of 1991 in early 2001. This move, introduced by the Michael Howard, Britain’s Home Secretary, contends that minimum sentencing, a variant of the American two and three strikes sentencing structure, was appropriate. “The two strikes bracket (automatic life sentence for a second offence) as appropriate, according to Howard, for serious violent and sexual offenders”(Jones, 2006, p. 785).
Britain now has similar minimum sentencing requirements for repeat offenders and models the American slogan ‘three strikes and you’re out. ’ Another area in which similarities exist between British and American politics is in the area of election campaign financing and reform. Both cultures seem to share similar concerns regarding this highly debated topic. “In recent years major new laws have been passed in both the United Kingdom and United States of America reforming the systems of party and election campaign funding” (Grant, 2005, p. 71). Election campaign funding in the 2001 UK general election ? 26. 7 million was spent across the country by only 36 political parties, with all but three million pounds of that accounted for by the Conservative and Labour parties”(Grant, 2005, p. 72). Grants research illuminates the contrast between campaign funding of the UK general elections and campaign funding associated with the American general election funding. According to Grant (2005), in 2001-02 a total of $936 million was spent by 2,097 congressional candidates in primary and general elections.
These extremely high levels of campaign spending are frequently criticized and considered excessive by members of the United States as well as the United Kingdom. Grants comparative analysis on party and election finance in Britain and America illuminates the shared concern for this highly debated topic. Conclusion and Summary The British Government is one of the most stable governments in Europe. Britain’s system of government is called a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch, Queen Elizabeth II. The monarch, also referred to as the Crown, is the head of state in England.
The Crown serves as the head of the judiciary, commander in chief of the British Armed Forces, and the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and Scotland. (TUKP, 2009) Britain’s legislature is made up of two houses: the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The members of the House of Lords are appointed by the Crown. According to House of Lords (2008), the Lords acts as a revising chamber for legislation and its work complements the daily business of the House of Commons. In contrast, the members of the House of Commons are publicly elected.
The House of Commons is responsible for granting money to the government via the approval of bills that may raise taxes and spending. “Members of the House of Commons (MPs) debate the big political issues of the day and proposals for new laws” (TUKP, 2009, para. 2). The United States has no equivalent of the Crown. The head of state and commander in chief is the President, who is head of the executive branch of the United States Government. The United States Government is divided into three Branches of Government: the Legislative Branch, the Judicial Branch, and the Executive Branch.
The Legislative Branch is made up of the Senate and the House of Representatives. Together they form the United States Congress. The Judicial Branch of the United States Government consists of the Supreme Court and is responsible for the interpretation of the laws, how laws are applied, and whether they violate the Constitution. Lastly, the Executive Branch of the United States Government consists of the President of the United States, the Vice President, and the cabinet. Many similarities exist between the American and British cultures.
Two areas of where commonalities exist between the British and American cultures are governmental structures and politics. Both cultures employ bicameral forms of legislative bodies and both have at least one house or cabinet that’s members are publically elected. Two areas within politics that both cultures share common interest in is in the areas of campaign finance reform and criminal justice. Although these two cultures have very different forms of government, a constitutional monarchy and a constitutional based federal republic, both share many common elements and both are an effective means of governing.
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