Politics (from Greek: Politiká: Politika, definition "affairs of the cities") is the process of making decisions applying to all members of each group. More narrowly, it refers to achieving and exercising positions of governance — organized control over a human community, particularly a state. Furthermore, politics is the study or practice of the distribution of power and resources within a given community (this is usually a hierarchically organized population) as well as the interrelationship(s) between communities.
- History of state politics
- The state
- The state and property
- The state and the justice system
- The state and legislation
- The state and the executive system
- Forms of political organization
- Global politics
- Political corruption
- Political parties
- Politics as an academic discipline
- Political values
- Left–right politics
- Authoritarian–libertarian politics
A variety of methods are deployed in politics, which include promoting or forcing one's own political views among people, negotiation with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including warfare against adversaries. Politics is exercised on a wide range of social levels, from clans and tribes of traditional societies, through modern local governments, companies and institutions up to sovereign states, to the international level.
It is very often said that politics is about power. A political system is a framework which defines acceptable political methods within a given society. History of political thought can be traced back to early antiquity, with seminal works such as Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Politics and the works of Confucius.
Formal Politics refers to the operation of a constitutional system of government and publicly defined institutions and procedures. Political parties, public policy or discussions about war and foreign affairs would fall under the category of Formal Politics. Many people view formal politics as something outside of themselves, but that can still affect their daily lives.
Informal Politics is understood as forming alliances, exercising power and protecting and advancing particular ideas or goals. Generally, this includes anything affecting one's daily life, such as the way an office or household is managed, or how one person or group exercises influence over another. Informal Politics is typically understood as everyday politics, hence the idea that "politics is everywhere".
The word comes from the same Greek word from which the title of Aristotle's book Politics (Πολιτικά, Politika) also derives; politika means "affairs of the cities". The book title was rendered in Early Modern English in the mid-15th century as "Polettiques"; it became "politics" in Modern English. The singular politic first attested in English 1430 and comes from Middle French politique, in turn from Latin politicus, which is the Latinization of the Greek πολιτικός (politikos), meaning amongst others "of, for, or relating to citizens", "civil", "civic", "belonging to the state", in turn from πολίτης (polites), "citizen" and that from πόλις (polis), "city".
History of state politics
The history of politics is reflected in the origin, development, and economics of the institutions of government.
The origin of the state is to be found in the development of the art of warfare. Historically speaking, all political communities of the modern type owe their existence to successful warfare.
Kings, emperors and other types of monarchs in many countries including China and Japan, were considered divine. Of the institutions that ruled states, that of kingship stood at the forefront until the French Revolution put an end to the "divine right of kings". Nevertheless, the monarchy is among the longest-lasting political institutions, dating as early as 2100 BC in Sumeria to the 21st century AD British Monarchy. Kingship becomes an institution through the institution of Hereditary monarchy.
The king often, even in absolute monarchies, ruled his kingdom with the aid of an elite group of advisors, a council without which he could not maintain power. As these advisors and others outside the monarchy negotiated for power, constitutional monarchies emerged, which may be considered the germ of constitutional government. Long before the council became a bulwark of democracy, it rendered invaluable aid to the institution of kingship by:
- Preserving the institution of kingship through heredity.
- Preserving the traditions of the social order.
- Being able to withstand criticism as an impersonal authority.
- Being able to manage a greater deal of knowledge and action than a single individual such as the king.
The greatest of the king's subordinates, the earls and dukes in England and Scotland, the dukes and counts in the Continent, always sat as a right on the council. A conqueror wages war upon the vanquished for vengeance or for plunder but an established kingdom exacts tribute. One of the functions of the council is to keep the coffers of the king full. Another is the satisfaction of military service and the establishment of lordships by the king to satisfy the task of collecting taxes and soldiers.
The state and property
Property is the right vested on the individual or a group of people to enjoy the benefits of an object, be it material or intellectual. A right is a power enforced by public trust. Sometimes it happens that the exercise of a right is opposed to public trust. Nevertheless, a right is really an institution brought around by public trust, past, present or future. The growth of knowledge is the key to the history of property as an institution. The more man becomes knowledgeable of an object, be it physical or intellectual, the more it is appropriated. The appearance of the State brought about the final stage in the evolution of property from wildlife to husbandry. In the presence of the State, man can hold landed property. The State began granting lordships and ended up conferring property and with it came inheritance. With landed property came rent and in the exchange of goods, profit, so that in modern times, the "lord of the land" of long ago becomes the landlord. If it is, wrongly, assumed that the value of land is always the same, then there is no evolution of property whatsoever. However, the price of land goes up with every increase in something benefiting the landlord. The landlordism of large land owners has been the most rewarded of all political services. In industry, the position of the landlord is less important but in towns which have grown out of an industry, the fortunate landlord has reaped an enormous profit. Towards the latter part of the Middle Ages in Europe, both the State - the State would use the instrument of confiscation for the first time to satisfy a debt - and the Church - the Church succeeded in acquiring immense quantities of land - were allied against the village community to displace the small landlord and they were successful to the extent that today, the village has become the ideal of the individualist, a place in which every man "does what he wills with his own." The State has been the most important factor in the evolution of the institution of property be it public or private.
The state and the justice system
As a primarily military institution, the State is concerned with the allegiance of its subjects, viewing disloyalty and espionage as well as other sorts of conspiracies as detrimental to its national security. Thus arises the law of treason. Criminal acts in general, breaking the peace and treason make up the whole, or at least part of criminal law enforced by the State as distinguished from the law enforced by private individuals or by the state on behalf of private individuals. State justice has taken the place of clan, feudal, merchant and ecclesiastical justice due to its strength, skill and simplicity. One very striking evidence of the superiority of the royal courts over the feudal and popular courts in the matter of official skill is the fact that, until comparatively late in history, the royal courts alone kept written records of their proceedings. The trial by jury was adopted by the Royal Courts, securing its popularity and making it a bulwark of liberty. By the time of the Protestant Reformation, with the separation of Church and State, in the most progressive countries, the State succeeded in dealing with the business of administering justice. Federalism shared power among states and federal government constituting a balance of powers between the Legislative, Executive, and Judicial branches.
The state and legislation
The making of laws was unknown to primitive societies.
That most persistent of all patriarchal societies, the Jewish, retains to a certain extent its tribal law in the Gentile cities of the West. This tribal law is the rudimentary idea of law as it presented itself to people in the patriarchal stage of society; it was custom or observance sanctioned by the approval and practice of ancestors.
The state of affairs which existed in the 10th century, when every town had its own laws and nations like France, Germany, Spain and other countries had no national law until the end of the 18th century, was brought to an end by three great agencies that helped to create the modern system of law and legislation:
- Records: From the early Middle Ages in Europe there come what are called folk-laws and they appear exactly at the time when the patriarchal was becoming the State. They are due almost universally to one cause: the desire of the king to know the custom of his subjects. These are not legislation in the sense of law-making but statements or declarations of custom. They are drawn from a knowledge of the custom of the people. Unwritten custom changes imperceptibly but not the written. It is always possible to point to the exact text and show what it says. Nevertheless, the written text can change by addition with every new edition.
- Law Courts: By taking some general rule which seemed to be common to all the communities and ignoring the differences, English common law was modeled after such a practice so that the law became common in all the districts of the kingdom. The reason why in the rest of Europe, there was no common law till centuries later is because the State in those countries did not get hold of the administration of justice when England did. One of the shrewdest moves by which the English judges pushed their plan of making a common law was by limiting the verdict of the jury in every case to questions of fact. At first the jury used to give answers both on law and fact; and being a purely local body, they followed local custom. A famous division came to pass: the province of the judge and the province of the jury.
- Fictions: Records and Law Courts were valuable in helping the people adapt to law-making but like Fictions, they were slow and imperfect. Though slowly, Fictions work because it is a well-known fact that people will accept a change in the form of a fiction while they would resist it to the end if the fact is out in the open.
Finally there is the enactment of laws or legislation. When progress and development is rapid, the faster method of political representation is adopted. This method does not originate in primitive society but in the State's need for money and its use of an assembly to raise the same. From the town assembly, a national assembly and the progress of commerce sprang parliaments all over Europe around the end of the 12th century, but not entirely representative or homogeneous for the nobility and the clergy. The clergy had amassed a fortune in land, about one-fifth of all Christendom but at the time, in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Church was following a policy of isolation; they adopted the rule of celibacy and cut themselves from domestic life; they refused to plead in a secular court; they refused to pay taxes to the State on the grounds that they had already paid it to the Pope. Since the main object of the king in holding a national assembly was to collect money, the Church could not be left out and so they came to Parliament. The Church did not like it but in most cases they had to come.
The medieval Parliament was complete when it represented all the states in the realm: nobles, clergy, peasants and craftsmen but it was not a popular institution mainly because it meant taxation. Only by the strongest pressure of the Crown were Parliaments maintained during the first century of their existence and the best proof of this assertion lies in the fact that in those countries where the Crown was weak, Parliament ceased to exist. The notion that parliaments were the result of a democratic movement cannot be supported by historical facts. Originally, the representative side of Parliament was solely concerned with money; representation in Parliament was a liability rather than a privilege. It is not uncommon that an institution created for one purpose begins to serve another. People who were asked to contribute with large sums of money began to petition. Pretty soon, sessions in Parliament would turn into bargaining tables, the king granting petitions in exchange for money. However, there were two kinds of petitions, one private and the other public and it was from this last that laws were adopted or legislation originated. The king as head of State could give orders to preserve territorial integrity but not until these royal enactments were combined with public petition that successful legislation ever took place. Even to the present day, this has always been the basis of all successful legislation: public custom is adopted and enforced by the State.
In the early days of political representation, the majority did not necessarily carry the day and there was very little need for contested elections but by the beginning of the 15th century, a seat in Parliament was something to be cherished. Historically speaking, the dogma of the equality of man is the result of the adoption of the purely practical machinery of the majority, but the adoption of the majority principle is also responsible for another institution of modern times: the party system. The party system is an elaborate piece of machinery that pits at least two political candidates against each other for the vote of an electorate; its advantage being equal representation interesting a large number of people in politics; it provides effective criticism of the government in power and it affords an outlet for the ambition of a large number of wealthy and educated people guaranteeing a consistent policy in a state.
These three institutions: political representation, majority rule and the party system are the basic components of modern political machinery; they are applicable to both central and local governments and are becoming by their adaptability ends in themselves rather than machinery to achieve some purpose.
The state and the executive system
The administration is one of the most difficult aspects of government. In the enactment and enforcement of laws, the victory of the State is complete but not so in regards to administration – the reason being that it is easy to see the advantage of the enactment and enforcement of laws but not the administration of domestic, religious and business affairs which should be kept to a minimum by government.
Originally, the state was a military institution. For many years, it was just a territory ruled by a king who was surrounded by a small elite group of warriors and court officials and it was basically rule by force over a larger mass of people. Slowly, however, the people gained political representation for none can really be said to be a member of the State without the right of having a voice in the direction of policy making. One of the basic functions of the State in regards to administration is maintaining peace and internal order; it has no other excuse for interfering in the lives of its citizens. To maintain law and order the State develops means of communication. Historically, the "king's highway" was laid down and maintained for the convenience of the royal armies not as an incentive to commerce. In almost all countries, the State maintains the control of the means of communication and special freedoms such as those delineated in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution are rather limited. The State's original function of maintaining law and order within its borders gave rise to police administration which is a branch of the dispensation of Justice but on its preventive side, police jurisdiction has a special character of its own, which distinguishes it from ordinary judicial work. In the curfew, the State shows early in history the importance of preventing disorder. In early days, next to maintaining law and order, the State was concerned with the raising of revenue. It was then useful to the State to establish a standard of weights and measures so that value could be generally accepted and finally the State acquired a monopoly of coinage. The regulation of labor by the State as one of its functions dates from the 15th century, when the Black Plague killed around half of the European population.
The invariable policy of the State has always been to break down all intermediate authorities and to deal directly with the individual. This was the policy until Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations was published promoting a strong public reaction against State interference. By its own action, the State raised the issue of the poor or the State relief of the indigent. The State, of course, did not create poverty but by destroying the chief agencies which dealt with it such as the village, the church and the guilds, it practically assumed full responsibility for the poor without exercising any power over it. The Great Poor Law Report of 1834 showed that communism was widespread in the rural areas of England. In newly developed countries such as the colonies of the British Empire, the State has refused to take responsibility for the poor and the relief of poverty, although the poor classes lean heavily towards State socialism.
Taking into account the arguably significant powers of the State, it is only natural that in times of great crisis such as an overwhelming calamity the people should invoke general State aid.
Political representation has helped to shape State administration. When the voice of the individual can be heard, the danger of arbitrary interference by the State is greatly reduced. To that extent is the increase of State activity popular. There are no hard and fast rules to limit State administration but it is a fallacy to believe that the State is the nation and what the State does is necessarily for the good of the nation. In the first place, even in modern times, the State and the nation are never identical. Even where "universal suffrage" prevails, the fact remains that an extension of State administration means an increased interference of some by others, limiting freedom of action. Even if it is admitted that State and nation are one and the same, it is sometimes difficult to admit that State administration is necessarily good. Finally, the modern indiscriminate advocacy of State administration conceals the fallacy that State officials must necessarily prove more effective in their action than private enterprise. Herein lies the basic difference between public and business administration; the first deals with the public weal while the second deals basically in profit, but both require a great deal of education and ethical conduct to avoid the mishaps inherent in the relationship not only relating to business and labour but also the State and the people administrating its government.
Forms of political organization
There are many forms of political organization, including states, non-government organizations (NGOs) and international organizations such as the United Nations. States are perhaps the predominant institutional form of political governance, where a state is understood as an institution and a government is understood as the regime in power.
According to Aristotle, states are classified into monarchies, aristocracies, timocracies, democracies, oligarchies, and tyrannies. Due to changes across the history of politics, this classification has been abandoned. Generally speaking, no form of government could be considered the absolute best, as it would have to be the perfect form under all circumstances, for all people and in all ways. As an institution created by human nature to govern society, it is vulnerable to abuse by people for their own gain, no matter what form of government a state utilizes, thus suggesting there is no 'best' form of government.
All states are varieties of a single organizational form, the sovereign state. All the great powers of the modern world rule on the principle of sovereignty. Sovereign power may be vested on an individual as in an autocratic government or it may be vested on a group as in a constitutional government. Constitutions are written documents that specify and limit the powers of the different branches of government. Although a constitution is a written document, there is also an unwritten constitution. The unwritten constitution is continually being written by the legislative branch of government; this is just one of those cases in which the nature of the circumstances determines the form of government that is most appropriate. England did set the fashion of written constitutions during the Civil War but after the Restoration abandoned them to be taken up later by the American Colonies after their emancipation and then France after the Revolution and the rest of Europe including the European colonies.
There are many forms of government. One form is a strong central government as in France and China. Another form is local government, such as the ancient divisions in England that are comparatively weaker but less bureaucratic. These two forms helped to shape the practice of federal government, first in Switzerland, then in the United States in 1776, in Canada in 1867 and in Germany in 1871 and in 1901, Australia. Federal states introduced the new principle of agreement or contract. Compared to a federation, a confederation has a more dispersed system of judicial power. In the American Civil War, the contention of the Confederate States that a State could secede from the Union was untenable because of the power enjoyed by the Federal government in the executive, legislative and judiciary branches.
According to professor A. V. Dicey in An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, the essential features of a federal constitution are: a) A written supreme constitution in order to prevent disputes between the jurisdictions of the Federal and State authorities; b) A distribution of power between the Federal and State governments and c) A Supreme Court vested with the power to interpret the Constitution and enforce the law of the land remaining independent of both the executive and legislative branches.
Global politics include different practices of political globalization in relation to questions of social power: from global patterns of governance to issues of globalizing conflict. The 20th century witnessed the outcome of two world wars and not only the rise and fall of the Third Reich but also the rise and fall of communism. The development of the atomic bomb gave the United States a more rapid end to its conflict in Japan in World War II. Later, the development of the hydrogen bomb became the ultimate weapon of mass destruction.
Global politics also concerns the rise of global and international organizations. The United Nations has served as a forum for peace in a world threatened by nuclear war, "The invention of nuclear and space weapons has made war unacceptable as an instrument for achieving political ends." Although an all-out final nuclear holocaust is out of the question for man, "nuclear blackmail" comes into question not only on the issue of world peace but also on the issue of national sovereignty. On a Sunday in 1962, the world stood still at the brink of nuclear war during the October Cuban Missile Crisis from the implementation of U.S. vs U.S.S.R. nuclear blackmail policy.
According to political science professor Paul James, global politics is affected by values: norms of human rights, ideas of human development, and beliefs such as cosmopolitanism about how we should relate to each:
Cosmopolitanism can be defined as a global politics that, firstly, projects a sociality of common political engagement among all human beings across the globe, and, secondly, suggests that this sociality should be either ethically or organizationally privileged over other forms of sociality.
William Pitt the Elder, speaking before the British House of Lords, 9 January 1770, observed: "Unlimited power is apt to corrupt the minds of those who possess it." This was echoed more famously by John Dalberg-Acton over a century later: "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."
Political corruption is the use of legislated powers by government officials for illegitimate private gain. Misuse of government power for other purposes, such as repression of political opponents and general police brutality, is not considered political corruption. Neither are illegal acts by private persons or corporations not directly involved with the government. An illegal act by an officeholder constitutes political corruption only if the act is directly related to their official duties and/or power.
Forms of corruption vary, but include corruption, extortion, cronyism, nepotism, patronage, graft, and embezzlement. While corruption may facilitate criminal enterprise such as drug trafficking, money laundering, and trafficking, it is not restricted to these activities. The activities that constitute illegal corruption differ depending on the country or jurisdiction. For instance, certain political funding practices that are legal in one place may be illegal in another. In some cases, government officials have broad or poorly defined powers, which make it difficult to distinguish between legal and illegal actions. Worldwide, bribery alone is estimated to involve over 1 trillion US dollars annually. A state of unrestrained political corruption is known as a kleptocracy, literally meaning "rule by thieves".
A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to attain and maintain political power within government, usually by participating in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.
Politics as an academic discipline
Political science, the study of politics, examines the acquisition and application of power. Political scientist Harold Lasswell defined politics as "who gets what, when, and how". Related areas of study include political philosophy, which seeks a rationale for politics and an ethic of public behaviour, political economy, which attempts to develop understandings of the relationships between politics and the economy and the governance of the two, and public administration, which examines the practices of governance. The philosopher Charles Blattberg, who has defined politics as "responding to conflict with dialogue," offers an account which distinguishes political philosophies from political ideologies.
The first academic chair devoted to politics in the United States was the chair of history and political science at Columbia University, first occupied by Prussian émigré Francis Lieber in 1857.
Several different political spectrums have been proposed.
Political analysts and politicians divide politics into left wing and right wing politics, often also using the idea of center politics as a middle path of policy between the right and left. This classification is comparatively recent (it was not used by Aristotle or Hobbes, for instance), and dates from the French Revolution era, when those members of the National Assembly who supported the republic, the common people and a secular society sat on the left and supporters of the monarchy, aristocratic privilege and the Church sat on the right.
The meanings behind the labels have become more complicated over the years. A particularly influential event was the publication of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848. The Manifesto suggested a course of action for a proletarian revolution to overthrow the bourgeois society and abolish private property, in the belief that this would lead to a classless and stateless society.
The meaning of left-wing and right-wing varies considerably between different countries and at different times, but generally speaking, it can be said that the right wing often values tradition and social stratification while the left wing often values reform and egalitarianism, with the center seeking a balance between the two such as with social democracy or regulated capitalism.
According to Norberto Bobbio, one of the major exponents of this distinction, the Left believes in attempting to eradicate social inequality, while the Right regards most social inequality as the result of ineradicable natural inequalities, and sees attempts to enforce social equality as utopian or authoritarian.
Some ideologies, notably Christian Democracy, claim to combine left and right wing politics; according to Geoffrey K. Roberts and Patricia Hogwood, "In terms of ideology, Christian Democracy has incorporated many of the views held by liberals, conservatives and socialists within a wider framework of moral and Christian principles." Movements which claim or formerly claimed to be above the left-right divide include Fascist Terza Posizione economic politics in Italy, Gaullism in France, Peronism in Argentina, and National Action Party in Mexico.
Authoritarianism and libertarianism refer to the amount of individual freedom each person possesses in that society relative to the state. One author describes authoritarian political systems as those where "individual rights and goals are subjugated to group goals, expectations and conformities", while libertarians generally oppose the state and hold the individual as sovereign. In their purest form, libertarians are anarchists, who argue for the total abolition of the state, of political parties and of other political entities, while the purest authoritarians are, theoretically, totalitarians who support state control over all aspects of society.
For instance, classical liberalism (also known as laissez-faire liberalism, ) is a doctrine stressing individual freedom and limited government. This includes the importance of human rationality, individual property rights, free markets, natural rights, the protection of civil liberties, constitutional limitation of government, and individual freedom from restraint as exemplified in the writings of John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume, David Ricardo, Voltaire, Montesquieu and others. According to the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies, "the libertarian, or 'classical liberal,' perspective is that individual well-being, prosperity, and social harmony are fostered by 'as much liberty as possible' and 'as little government as necessary.'" For anarchist political philosopher L. Susan Brown "Liberalism and anarchism are two political philosophies that are fundamentally concerned with individual freedom yet differ from one another in very distinct ways. Anarchism shares with liberalism a radical commitment to individual freedom while rejecting liberalism's competitive property relations."