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1114 Forms of Government

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Complete Transcript
Welcome to English as a Second Language Podcast number 1,114 – Forms of Government.

This is English as a Second Language podcast episode 1,114. I’m your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

Visit our website at ESLPod.com. Become a member of ESL Podcast. If you do, you can download the Learning Guide for this episode.

This episode is a dialogue between Margaret and Tony about different forms, or types, of government. Let’s get started.

[start of dialogue]

Margaret: Okay, the teacher said that we should set up an ideal form of government for our imaginary country and then work out detailed plans for governance.

Tony: I think the simplest is a dictatorship. I’ll make all of the decisions.

Margaret: You’re sounding like a fascist. This is supposed to be a partnership, remember?

Tony: Okay then, let’s make it a monarchy. I can be king and you can be queen.

Margaret: You’ll probably still make all of the decisions as king. Maybe we should consider an oligarchy. Your family and mine can rule equally.

Tony: That’s fine with me, but you’re the communist, or at least socialist. Don’t you think an oligarchy would be too elitist? I would think you would prefer a meritocracy of some sort.

Margaret: This isn’t about my personal politics. It’s about what’s best for our imaginary nation. How about a simple democracy?

Tony: There’s nothing simple about a democracy. How about no government at all?

Margaret: You mean anarchy?

Tony: Sure, that would be the simplest.

Margaret: Why do I get the feeling that you’re making suggestions based on the amount of work this assignment will take, rather than political considerations?

Tony: That’s because you’re very perceptive. I have a big weekend planned!

[end of dialogue]

Margaret begins our dialogue by saying, “Okay, the teacher said that we should set up an ideal form of government.” “To set up” is a two-word phrasal verb meaning to establish or start. Margaret and Tony are in a class in which the teacher has instructed the students or told the students to imagine that they are starting a form of government, an “ideal” (ideal) or perfect form of government. A “form of government” is the way that a country or some region within a country organizes itself – how it makes laws and enforces them or puts them into effect.

Margaret says that this ideal form of government is “for our imaginary” – or a made-up – “country.” The teacher also told the students to “work out detailed plans for governance.” “To work out” means to figure out, to think about, to plan. “Governance” (governance) refers to leadership and control over a group of people. Tony says, “I think the simplest is a dictatorship.” The “simplest” would be the one that is least complicated.

Tony is saying that the simplest form of government would be a “dictatorship” (dictatorship). A dictatorship is a system of government in which one person is in control and has complete authority over the government. A dictatorship is run by a “dictator,” a person who has absolute and complete control of the laws and the government in a country. Tony says that he’s going to be the dictator in this imaginary government. He says, “I’ll make all of the decisions.”

Margaret says, “You’re sounding like a fascist.” A “fascist” (fascist) is a person who supports a dictatorship where the nation, and/or a given race, is considered more important than the individuals. Now, “fascism” has a particular historical context that we’re not going to talk about here. People nowadays use this expression not to refer necessarily to, say, the government of Germany or Italy in the 1930s, but rather to someone who is basically an “authoritarian,” or who believes that the government should be able to do anything it wants. That’s a more general use of the term in English.

Margaret says, “This is supposed to be a partnership, remember?” A “partnership” is when two people work together for some particular purpose. Although nowadays, people talk about “partners” (partners) to refer not just to people with whom they have a partnership, but also for people who they might be in a romantic relationship with. I never quite understood this. I mean, if someone’s your “partner,” either he or she is your boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife. I mean, really, there aren’t any other choices. Are there? But for some reason, nowadays people prefer to say “partner.” I guess they want it to be a mystery, to keep you guessing, perhaps.

Anyway, Tony says, “Okay, let’s make it a monarchy.” Tony proposes making this imaginary government a “monarchy” (monarchy). A monarchy is a form of government that is led by a monarch – a king or a queen. There are various countries throughout the world that still have monarchies. The government of the United Kingdom – of Great Britain – is a monarchy, officially. The head of the government is the queen of England, Queen Elizabeth II (at least at the time of this recording).

There are various other monarchies throughout the world as well, and many countries that used to have a monarch but no longer do, such as France. Tony says, “I can be king and you can be queen.” Margaret says, “You’ll probably still make all of the decisions as king.” Margaret doesn’t really like this idea. She says, “Maybe we should consider an oligarchy. Your family and mine can rule equally.” An “oligarchy” (oligarchy) is a form of government led by a small group of people who don’t listen to anyone else. They decide how the government should be run.

The verb “to rule” (rule) means, in this case, to have and use power as a government. It’s often used in connection with a dictatorship, a monarchy, and other forms of government that are not democratic, although really, it could refer to any kind of government – the functioning of any kind of government. Tony says, “That’s fine with me,” meaning that’s okay with me; I agree. “But you’re the communist, or at least socialist.”

Tony refers to Margaret as a “communist” (communist). A communist is a person who supports a form of government in which everything is owned by the state, basically, and people are paid based on their needs with the assumption that everyone will contribute as much as he or she can. Of course, communism has different forms, and the real definition is a little more complicated than that, but you probably are familiar with communist governments such as the one that used to be in charge of the Soviet Union or the one that is currently in charge of China.

Tony says that Margaret is a “communist, or at least socialist.” A “socialist” (socialist) is a little more difficult to define. A socialist is a person who believes the government should have a very strong role in owning different parts of an economy and that the government should have a very active role in providing for the needs of the people. However, once again, people will differ on the exact definition of what a socialist is.

In some countries, such as the United States, the word “socialist,” and certainly the word “communist,” is meant as an insult. It’s not something that most politicians would want to say or admit to, although there is actually a senator from one of our states who is a socialist, but that’s quite unusual in terms of American politics.

Tony continues, “Don’t you think an oligarchy would be too elitist?” “Elitist” (elitist) refers to the idea that one thinks one is better than everyone else. You think that you are superior, that you and perhaps a small group of people know more or are better than the people around you.

Tony says, “I would think you would prefer a meritocracy of some sort.” The word “meritocracy” (meritocracy) refers to a system of government or to a system in general in which people are given power based on their qualifications – the most talented, the most able people are given more power. A meritocracy isn’t necessarily a democracy. A meritocracy could be a system of government where someone decides who is the most talented and gives people power based on that decision. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the people in general decide who is the best to lead the government.

Margaret says, however, “This isn’t about my personal politics.” Your “personal politics” are your own belief systems, your own desires, your own ways of interacting with other people. She says, “It’s about what’s best for our imaginary nation. How about a simple democracy?” “Democracy” (democracy) is a system of government in which people vote for the leaders of that government, and in some cases vote directly on laws that will be used by the government. It’s a government by the people.

The United States has a representative form of democracy, where we vote on people who then vote on the laws for the country. It’s not a direct democracy, if you will. We don’t usually vote on laws directly, although there are places, such as here in California, where sometimes we do vote directly on a law, on what are called propositions or referendums – but in general, the U.S. has a representative form of democracy.

Tony continues, “There is nothing simple about a democracy. How about no government at all?” Margaret says, “You mean anarchy?” “Anarchy” (anarchy) is a situation where there is in fact no government or no one who is in charge, no one who has authority. It’s generally considered a state of disorder, a situation where there is no government and things often are rather dangerous. Tony says, “Sure, that would be the simplest.”

Margaret says, “Why do I get the feeling that you’re making suggestions based on the amount of work this assignment will take, rather than political considerations?” Margaret is saying that Tony seems to be picking the forms of government that are easiest to write about for this school assignment, not that are best for their imaginary government or imaginary country.

Tony says, “That’s because you’re very perceptive.” “To be perceptive” (perceptive) means to be able to understand things that most people aren’t aware of or don’t understand. Tony is telling Margaret that she’s very perceptive – that the forms of government he is suggesting are the easiest ones to write about for the school assignment.

Now let’s listen to the dialogue, this time at a normal speed.

[start of dialogue]

Margaret: Okay, the teacher said that we should set up an ideal form of government for our imaginary country and then work out detailed plans for governance.

Tony: I think the simplest is a dictatorship. I’ll make all of the decisions.

Margaret: You’re sounding like a fascist. This is supposed to be a partnership, remember?

Tony: Okay then, let’s make it a monarchy. I can be king and you can be queen.

Margaret: You’ll probably still make all of the decisions as king. Maybe we should consider an oligarchy. Your family and mine can rule equally.

Tony: That’s fine with me, but you’re the communist, or at least socialist. Don’t you think an oligarchy would be too elitist? I would think you would prefer a meritocracy of some sort.

Margaret: This isn’t about my personal politics. It’s about what’s best for our imaginary nation. How about a simple democracy?

Tony: There’s nothing simple about a democracy. How about no government at all?

Margaret: You mean anarchy?

Tony: Sure, that would be the simplest.

Margaret: Why do I get the feeling that you’re making suggestions based on the amount of work this assignment will take, rather than political considerations?

Tony: That’s because you’re very perceptive. I have a big weekend planned!

[end of dialogue]

Many thanks to our perceptive scriptwriter, the wonderful Dr. Lucy Tse.

From Los Angeles, California, I’m Jeff McQuillan. Thank you for listening. Come back and listen to us again right here on ESL Podcast.

English as a Second Language Podcast was written and produced by Dr. Lucy Tse, hosted by Dr. Jeff McQuillan. Copyright 2015 by the Center for Educational Development.

Glossary
form of government – the way in which a country or state is organized to create and enforce laws and set rules

* A country’s form of government often reflects its cultural traditions and values.

imaginary – pretend; not real; only in one’s mind, especially with a lot of interesting and creative ideas

* Did you have an imaginary friend when you were growing up?

governance – leadership and control over a group of people

* The rules of governance for this organization’s meetings were established in the bylaws.

dictatorship – a system of government in which one person is in control and has complete authority; authoritarianism

* When he was growing up, his home seemed like a dictatorship where his father made all the rules without input from any other family members.

fascist – a person who supports a dictatorship where the nation and/or race is made more important than individuals; authoritarian nationalism

* Mussolini was a well-known fascist in the early 1900s.

partnership – a joint effort; a relationship between two people working together on a particular task or for a particular purpose

* The local college is trying to form partnerships with area businesses to give students opportunities to learn directly from successful business owners.

monarchy – a form of government led by a king, queen, or other royalty

* In a monarchy, once the king dies the oldest son becomes the new king.

oligarchy – a form of government led by a small group of people with little or no involvement by the people who are being governed

* Congress fears that the president and her advisors are acting like an oligarchy, because they aren’t consulting legislators about their plans.

to rule – to have and to use governing power, especially in a monarchy or dictatorship

* How much land and how many people did Caesar rule?

communist – a person who supports a system of government in which everything is owned by the public (everyone) and people are paid based on their needs, with the assumption that everyone will contribute as much as he/she can

* Jerome believes that people are too selfish to be true communists. They always try to get more while doing less.

socialist – a person who supports a societal structure in which things are owned by the community or by the government, people are paid for their work, and everyone receives the basic things they need, regardless of their contributions

* In this country, people who believe the government should provide free healthcare are sometimes called socialists by their opponents.

elitist – thinking that one is better than everyone else; snobbish; relating to a sense of superiority and the idea that some people should have important roles in society than others

* Liam is an elitist who thinks college-educated people are better than everyone else.

meritocracy – a system of government in which the decision-makers and other people in power have their positions because they are well qualified for them and have very strong abilities and talents

* If our government were a meritocracy, government health organizations would be led by doctors and the FBI would be led by a professional investigators.

personal politics – one’s own belief system, desires, and ways of interacting with other people

* His personal politics would never permit him to own a car that uses a lot of gas.

democracy – a system of government in which the people being governed vote for people who will represent them in lawmaking

* How can we have a functional democracy if people aren’t well informed about important issues?

anarchy – a state of disorder and chaos that results from the lack of a government or structure, with no rules or authority

* The country has been experiencing a civil war for years, and it’s on the brink of total anarchy.

perceptive – able to see, feel, and understand things that most other people miss or are not aware of

* A female author has to be extremely perceptive to write from a man’s perspective.

Comprehension Questions
1. Which of these forms of government has the tightest control?
a) A dictatorship
b) An oligarchy
c) A democracy

2. Which system has the least amount of control?
a) A monarchy
b) A meritocracy
c) Anarchy

Answers at bottom.

What Else Does It Mean?
imaginary

The word “imaginary,” in this podcast, means pretend, not real, or only in one’s mind, especially with a lot of interesting and creative ideas: “The teenagers played imaginary guitars, pretending they were on stage in front of a large audience.” As a verb, “to imagine” means to create a mental image or picture of something: “Can you imagine what heaven looks like?” The verb “to imagine” can also mean to have the wrong or incorrect idea about something: “Did she really say that, or was I just imagining it?” The phrase “imagine that” is used to express pleasant surprise over what another person has said: “He got his dream job right after graduation. Imagine that!”

rule

In this podcast, the verb “to rule” means to have and to use governing power, especially in a monarchy or dictatorship: “Someday little Prince Harry will rule the kingdom.” The phrase “to rule with an iron fist” means to be extremely strict and severe, possibly violent, when controlling a group of people: “You can try ruling with an iron fist, but eventually people will rebel.” The phrase “to rule the roost” means to be in charge, to be the authority, or to be the most important person in a group: “Who rules the roost in your family: your father or your mother?” Finally, the phrase “to rule (something) out” means to eliminate something as a possibility: “The doctors can run some tests to rule out cancer.”

Culture Note
Anti-Federalism

“Anti-Federalism” was a “movement” (the efforts of many people to change society in some way) in the late 1700s that “opposed” (disliked; went against) having a strong “federal” (national; not at the level of the states) government. Anti-Federalists feared that states were giving up too much power and control, and they feared that the U.S. President would have too much power, “potentially” (possibly) becoming more like a king than the leader of a democratic country.

The “Articles of Confederation” were the “predecessor to” (what came before something else) the U.S. “Constitution” (the most important legal document in the United States). Created in 1777, the Articles of Confederation gave a lot of power to the states and described a weak federal government. Many people recognized that the federal government would need to have more power, and they supported creation of the U.S. Constitution; these people became known as Federalists. Other people who continued to support the Articles of Confederation became known as Anti-Federalists.

Although the U.S. Constitution is “well established” (nobody questions its relevancy or impact) as the basis of the U.S. government, some people still oppose it. Like the Anti-Federalists, they believe that the Constitution gives too much power to the federal government. They also believe that the Constitution and the U.S. government “impinge upon” (harms; has a negative effect on) their “personal liberties” (freedom to do certain things in one’s personal life). They would like to see the Constitution be “amended” (changed) to give more power to state and local governments.

Comprehension Answers
1 - a

2 - c