'The word politics derives from two Greek words: "poli", meaning "many", and "tics", which are blood-sucking insects.' - Gore Vidal

(I've probably paraphrased that slightly)

I rarely run into anything that makes me say, "Yep, that just about says it all," but this is definitely one of those things.
"In our time the destiny of man presents its meanings in political terms." --Thomas Mann

How can I, that girl standing there,
My attention fix
On Roman or on Russian
Or on Spanish politics,
Yet here's a travelled man that knows
What he talks about,
And there's a politician
That has both read and thought,
And maybe what they say is true
Of war and war's alarms,
But O that I were young again
And held her in my arms.

W.B. Yeats, 1938

BTW, the quote was inserted by the poet when Politics was composed.

Politics was defined by Aristotle as the 'Master science': that by which we try to improve our lives. The improvement of one's life is not politics in itself, but that which results from the process is politics. Each individual or group of individuals trying to better their life naturally leads to disagreement, as not everyone is the same.

These disagreeements tend to hover over two main areas: how 'we' should live, and how this should be decided. This social activity can be considered a form of conflict resolution (more a search for the solution than its achievement) through the process of conflict between aspirations, and cooperation as these aspirations are reconciled in order to function together, and not resort to violence and/or disorder. This concept of conflict resolution to make, preserve and amend social rules is however restricted to western style democracies.

Politics can be considered in a broader manner as the 'art of government'. This view stems from the Ancient Greek system of the 'polis': city state. It is concerned with policy making and amending, as the government is 'politics' by responding to pressure from the population, and controlling what David Easton described as the "authoritive allocation of values" - its policy output. Again, however, this view is restricted as it revolves around a system of society that has a (democratic) government.

A more catch-all definition is given by politics being public affairs: all interaction in the public sphere, that is, units in society which are open (in theory) to all members of society; is political and therefore politics. That which is in the 'private' arena, the domestic and cultural sphere, is not politics. This idea has definite pitfalls as it specifies the area in which 'politics' operates, yet does not specify the nature of what politics is.

Politics can be best defined with the introduction of another concept: power. This cynical view of the process see politics as the ability to achieve a desired outcome through whatever means, using scarce resources available. Lenin expressed "Politics is the most concentrated form of economics"(sorry). This definition encompasses all spheres of society from the trade union to the parliament to the community centre and family. Naturally, many elements of the other ideas should be incorporated into this, as due to the very nature of politics, it cannot be contained under a single concept or idea, however in order to consider 'politics' and not 'democracy' or 'government' it is important to consider that politics operates in all spheres of society with many different processes and methods.

Politics explained through its twelve most important texts:

The Republic by Plato (circa 360 BCE)
Politics is shaped by the people themselves on rational principles, and not by some super deity. Government should consist of a benevolent cadre of governing elites, rather than let democracy cause the state to flounder like a directionless ship of fools.

The Politics by Aristotle (circa 350 BCE)
Politics is shaped by people's own perceptions and desires, or human nature. Government should obtain the consent of the governed, and rule in harmony with the citizens' values.

Summa Theologica by St Thomas Aquinas (1266-1273)
Politics is shaped by people choosing to adhere to relevant natural laws, such as not hurting other people. Government should make and enforce secular laws based on these natural laws.

The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli (1513)
Politics is shaped by the behaviour of rational, calculating politicians who seek to hold and retain power. Government should be amoral and durable enough to withstand the duplicity of its actors.

Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes (1651)
Politics is shaped by how a government seeks to suppress the innate tendency people have aggressively and selfishly compete for wealth, relationships and power. Government should be limited to a single monarch who can apply law universally and impartially.

Patriarcha by John Locke (1680)
Politics is shaped by citizens tacitly choosing to belong to society in order to protect their property. Government should be small, non-interventionist, impermanent, subject to checks and balances and answerable to the ruled.

Second Discourse by Jean Jacques Rousseau (1753)
Politics is shaped by the unnatural development of contracts between property owners and others, all who chose to corrupt themselves for the sake of safety and expediency. Government should only exist as the will of the people, that encourages people to support the common good, even at the cost of individual rights.

The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (1776)
Politics is shaped by unrelentless market forces. Government should not try to intervene, even to mitigate inequality.

An Introduction to the Principles and Morals of Legislation by Jeremy Bentham (1789)
Politics is shaped by the innate selfishness of people, rather than any ideological forces or natural law. Government should rule on utilitarian principles - maximising happiness to the greatest number of people - through a regulated free market.

The Philosophy of Right by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1806)
Politics is shaped by a progressive narrative of collective human consciousness, consisting of a complex set of relationships between individuals and society, which have metamorphised as competing dialectic ideas. Government should be strong yet subject to codified laws, in order to protect rights.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill (1859)
Politics is shaped by the innate selfishness of people, rather than any ideological forces or natural law (like Bentham). Government should be democratic, but mindful of minority interests.

Das Kapital by Karl Marx (1867)
Politics is shaped by the dialectic ideas themselves, which were created by people of different classes doomed to compete for economic imperatives . Government should expect to be inevitably overthrown by a proletarian-led vanguard, who will then enforce a classless state.

Pol"i*tics (?), n. [Cf. F. politique, Gr. (sc.). See Politic.]

1.

The science of government; that part of ethics which has to do with the regulation and government of a nation or state, the preservation of its safety, peace, and prosperity, the defense of its existence and rights against foreign control or conquest, the augmentation of its strength and resources, and the protection of its citizens in their rights, with the preservation and improvement of their morals.

2.

The management of a political party; the conduct and contests of parties with reference to political measures or the administration of public affairs; the advancement of candidates to office; in a bad sense, artful or dishonest management to secure the success of political candidates or parties; political trickery.

When we say that two men are talking politics, we often mean that they are wrangling about some mere party question. F. W. Robertson.

 

© Webster 1913.

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