Politicsa is the set of activities that are associated with group decision-making, or other forms of power relations between individuals, such as the distribution of resources or status. It is also the art, doctrine or practice concerning the governance of states, promoting citizen participation by possessing the ability to distribute and execute power as necessary to ensure the common good in society.
It can be used positively in the context of a “political solution” that is compromising and nonviolent, or descriptively as “the art or science of government,” but often has a negative connotation as well. For example, abolitionist Wendell Phillips stated that “we do not play politics; the fight against slavery is no joke with us.” The concept has been defined in a variety of ways, and different approaches have fundamentally different views on whether it should be used extensively or narrowly, empirically or normatively, and whether conflict or cooperation is more essential to it. Politics is the science of power and the ability of a person or group of people to influence the will of others even when it is against their own will.
A variety of methods are implemented in politics, including promoting one’s political views among people, negotiating with other political subjects, making laws, and exercising force, including war against adversaries. Politics is exercised at a wide range of social levels, from clans and tribes in traditional societies, through local governments, corporations, modern institutions and sovereign states, to the international level. In modern nation states, people often form political parties to represent their ideas. Party members agree to take the same position on many issues and agree to support bills and their leaders. An election is usually a competition between different parties. A political system is the framework that defines acceptable political methods within a society.
Political science is a branch of social science that deals with the activity by virtue of which a society, composed of free human beings, solves the problems posed by its collective coexistence.
In English politics has its roots in the name of Aristotle’s classic work, Politiká, which introduced the term from the Greek (Πολιτικά, ‘affairs of cities’). In the mid-15th century, Aristotle’s composition would be translated into Early Modern English as Polettiques [sic], which would become Politics in Modern English.
The word politics is attested in the first Spanish translation of 1584 by Simon Abril of Aristotle’s “Politica” in turn taken from politicus, a Latinization of the Greek πολιτικός from πολίτης (polites, ‘citizen’) and πόλις (none: polis, lit. ‘city’).
A broader definition (coined from various readings) would have us define politics as any activity, art, doctrine or opinion, courtesy or diplomacy, tending to the pursuit, exercise, modification, maintenance, preservation or disappearance of public power.
In this broad definition we can clearly observe the object of political science, understood as the public power subtracted from human coexistence, whether of a State or of a social group: a company, a trade union, a school, a church, etcetera.
For this reason, when the broader definition of “politics” is used, it is usually made clear that this is an activity from which it is very difficult to escape, since it is found in almost all areas of human life.
A stricter definition would propose that politics is only the result officially expressed in the laws of coexistence in a given State.
A definition that restricts the life of non-state groups and organizations, limiting them only to the legal provisions of their States.
An opposing perspective sees politics in an ethical sense, as a disposition to act in a society using organized public power to achieve objectives beneficial to the group. Subsequent definitions of the term have thus differentiated power as a form of collective agreement and decision, from force as the use of coercive measures or the threat of their use.
An intermediate definition, encompassing the other two, must incorporate both moments: means and end, violence and general interest or common good. It could be understood as the activity of those who seek to obtain power, retain it or exercise it with a view to an end that is linked to the good or the interest of the generality or people.
Gramsci conceived the science of politics both in its concrete content and in its logical formation, as an organism in development. In comparing Machiavelli with Bodin he states that the latter creates political science in France on a much more advanced and complex terrain than Machiavelli and that Bodin is not interested in the moment of force, but in that of consensus. On the same page Gramsci believes that the first element, the pillar of politics, “is that there are really governed and governors, leaders and led. All political science and art is based on this primordial, irreducible fact (in certain general conditions).
The exercise of politics makes it possible to manage the assets of the national state, it also resolves conflicts within the societies attached to a specific state which allows social coherence, the norms and laws determined by political activity become obligatory for all the members of the national state from which such dispositions originate.
Frank Goodnow makes a special emphasis on the function of politics that corresponds to the will of the state. This is complemented in its execution by the government. Politics is only functional when it allows the establishment of rules between the rulers and the ruled, who are subjected to the will of the actions that are desired to be oriented with the purpose of achieving a certain end. In turn, in the modern era, politics has managed to widen the spectrum of conflict in the private and public life of citizens, due to the will to promote individual and collective interests.
Plato and Aristotle in Raphael’s fresco The School of Athens.
History of political doctrines, history of political theory, history of political ideas or history of political thought are expressions used to denote a historiographical discipline confluent with the part of the history of philosophy that refers to politics (political philosophy). It is understood, generically, as part of the history of ideas and, specifically, as a historiographical aspect of political science or political science, one of the social sciences.
The history of political thought dates back to early antiquity, with seminal works such as Plato’s Republic, Aristotle’s Politics, Chanakya’s Arthashastra, as well as the works of Confucius.
Frans de Waal argued that already chimpanzees engage in politics through “social manipulation to secure and maintain influential positions. “The earliest human forms of social organization – bands and tribes – lacked centralized political structures. They are sometimes referred to as Stateless Societies.
In ancient history, civilizations did not have defined boundaries like today’s states, and their borders could more accurately be described as frontiers. Early Dynastic Sumer, and Early Dynastic Egypt were the first civilizations to define their boundaries. In addition, until the 12th century, many peoples lived in non-state societies. These ranged from relatively egalitarian bands and tribes to complex and highly stratified chiefdoms.
There are a number of different theories and hypotheses about early state formation that seek generalizations to explain why the state developed in some places but not in others. Others believe that generalizations are not useful and that each case of early state formation should be treated separately.
Voluntary theories hold that diverse groups of people came together to form states as a result of some shared rational interest. The theories focus largely on the development of agriculture, and the demographic and organizational pressure that followed and led to state formation. One of the most prominent theories of early and primary state formation is the hydraulic hypothesis, which holds that the state resulted from the need to build and maintain large-scale irrigation projects.
The ‘Conflict theories of state formation consider conflict and the dominance of one population over another to be the key to state formation. In contrast to voluntary theories, these arguments believe that people do not voluntarily agree to create a state to maximize benefits, but that states form because of some form of oppression by one group over others. In turn, some theories argue that warfare was central to state formation.
The earliest states of sorts were Early Dynastic Sumer and Early Dynastic Egypt, which emerged from the Uruk period and Predynastic Egypt respectively around 3000 B.C. Early Dynastic Egypt was based around the Nile River in northeast Africa, the borders of the kingdom were based on the Nile and extended to areas where oases existed. Early dynastic Sumer was located in southern Mesopotamia with its borders extending from the Persian Gulf to parts of the Euphrates and Tigris.
Although state forms existed before the rise of the Ancient Greek empire, the Greeks were the first known people to explicitly formulate a political philosophy of the state and to rationally analyze political institutions. Prior to this, states were described and justified in terms of religious myths.
The Peace of Westphalia (1648) is considered by political scientists as the beginning of the modern international system, in which external powers must avoid interfering in the internal affairs of another country. The principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries was expounded in the mid-18th century by the Swiss jurist Emer de Vattel. States became the main institutional actors in a system of interstate relations. The Peace of Westphalia is said to have put an end to attempts to impose supranational authority on European states. The “Westphalian” doctrine of states as independent agents was reinforced by the rise in nineteenth-century thought of nationalism, whereby legitimate states were assumed to correspond to nations’, i.e., groups of people united by language and culture.