INTRODUCTION TO POLITICS
MEANING OF POLITICS
Politics in General
- The word “politics” comes from the Greek word “polis” which means “city-state.” In the ancient world, city-states are small countries regarded as centers of culture and civilization where people interact under a unified government. What transpires in the polis is politics. The origin of the word therefore suggests that politics is a term encompassing the totality of human activities transpiring within the city-state. As it is applied now, it denotes everything that transpires in the state as well as among states.
- Politics denotes a social activity. It is in essence the interaction of individuals. As the Greek philosopher Aristotle explains, it is the master science through which individuals collectively set structure, purpose, and ideals in their lives. Politics, therefore, does not emerge from the activities of a single individual but from that of many.
- Politics is about conflict and cooperation. On the one hand, conflict is caused by the diversity among individuals. People differ in the way they perceive things, and disagree in almost every conceivable aspect of life. On the other hand, cooperation is motivated by men’s common goal of achieving a happy life. While it is true that men argue and fight, it is also undeniable that they desire for peace. The process of overcoming conflict to attain order and thereafter maintain that order is politics. In other words, politics is essentially conflict resolution.
- Politics is the creation, maintenance, and amendment of societal norms or rules. While politics as conflict resolution aims at establishing order in the society, the basis of order today is law. Undeniably, religion and other archaic institutions have already lost their central role as sources of order. It is law now that serves as the undisputed order-establishing institution. Modern states and international organizations rely on the adequacy and efficacy of their laws to meet the demands of the people to attain domestic and international peace. Politics therefore, in its broad sense means conflict resolution through the creation, maintenance, and amendment of societal norms or rules.
Definition of Politics
- It must first be pointed out that politics is a vague term. As a matter of fact, scholars and authorities in the field cannot agree on a common definition of politics. The term includes so many concepts that it could mean almost anything (or everything). The descriptions above, for example, are overly broad and may overlap with the meaning of other sciences. Even worse, its vagueness made it readily associable to “deception, manipulation and corruption” so that its modern day connotation is simply everything that is “dirty.” From this perspective, the definition of politics will always be contestable. The following definitions therefore will only serve as starting points, and the meaning of politics will eventually be understood in the details of later discussions.
- Politics is the science of government. As a science, it is a systematic body of knowledge (for the most part, practical) that deals with the government and regulation, maintenance and development, and defense and augmentation of the state. It also deals with the protection of the rights of its citizens, safeguarding and enhancement of morals, and harmony and peace of human relations.
- However, other political scientists prefer to define politics as the art, rather than the science, of government. It is an art because it involves the exercise of control or authority within the society through the creation and enforcement of consensus arrived at by the leaders. It involves the process through which the government skillfully addresses the needs of the society by carefully allocating benefits, rewards, and penalties. This is what David Easton means when he defined politics as the “authoritative allocation of values.” Under this definition, politics takes place only within the polity or the machinery of the government. In other words, only the processes and events that happen in the government bureaus, departments, and offices are said to be “political” while those outside, like businesses, religion, and family, are “non-political.” It is in this sense also that politicians and political parties are said to be “political” while civil society is said to be non-political.
- Politics is the realm of public affairs or the state. Traditionally, “public” refers to the institution of the state which is funded by the people at large through their taxes to satisfy their common interest. This is contrasted to “private” which refers to the civil society that is privately funded to support their own interest. As the Greek used the term, state transactions (public) characterize the term political. When the Greek philosopher Aristotle said “man by nature is a political animal,” he means that man is naturally inclined to live in a society. Aside from his private life, man must have a public life, for this perfects his essence and gives him the “good life.” In addition, the social theorists even argued that the common good could only be attained through the active participation of the citizens. Education as well as moral and intellectual enlightenment, are among the few things that result from the public life. It must be noted that while there is a dichotomy of public life and private life, these two are intimately connected in that they mutually depend on each other. And under this traditional sense, politics (realm of the public/state) is intertwined with ethics (realm of the private/individual).
- Politics is who gets what, when, and how. This is the famous definition of Harold Lasswell. The definition underscores the reality of “scarcity” in the society. While human needs and wants are so diverse and numerous, the resources are always limited. The struggle involved in allocating the scarce resources, and determining what to produce, how to distribute, and use them is said to be politics. Modern political theories conform to this definition as it establishes the unique connection of politics and power. Power creates structures and explains the struggle among individuals or groups of individuals. It is in this sense that politics deviates from ethics inasmuch as any means could be used to get whatever is desired and whenever it is desired for as long as it serves the purpose.
- According to Ponton and Gill, politics is the way in which social affairs are understood and ordered, and by which people acquire greater control over the situation. The definition puts to light the different political ideologies and philosophies that underlie societal structures. “Order” and the “understanding of reality” are shaped by the political orientation of the people. That by which people view and organize the world is said to be politics. Without politics, there is anarchy and a state of constant war. But its existence establishes order in various forms. It gives rise to different kinds of governments: monarchy, aristocracy and democracy. That the society should be ruled by a single individual, by a selected few, or by all is a matter of preference that depends on the temperament of the affected group of people. What is important is that politics helps the people acquire greater control over the vagaries of their existence.
- From the foregoing definitions, it could be seen that politics could be defined in either of two senses: first, as associated to an “arena” or place, and second, as a “process.” In the first sense, something is said to be political if it transpires in any of the apparatuses of the government. Definitions in paragraphs 2 to 4 fall under this. In the second sense, something is political because it entails distinctive qualities that make it indeed political, regardless of the place it is performed. Definitions in paragraphs 5 and 6 fall under this.
BASIC CONCEPTS: ORDER, POWER, AND JUSTICE
To explain further the meaning of politics it is very helpful to dwell on political concepts, models, and theories. Concepts are general or universal ideas shared by people. Models refer to networks of ideas that seek to explain political realities. And theories refer to series of models which aim to systemically and empirically explain political realities. These are intimately connected because one leads to another – concepts lead to the formation of models, and models to theories.
The present section deals with three basic concepts: order, power, and justice.
- Order is central to the study of politics because it shows the different components of human societies. Politics after all exists in diverse forms or levels of societal structures. These structures or orders are community, government, and state:
(a) Community is one kind of social order which refers to an association of individuals who share a common identity. This identity is formed by the unique circumstances surrounding the group of individuals like geography, history, philosophy, religion, ideology, language, race, and allegiance. The cause of its existence is primarily protection of individuals. Economic prosperity, cultural enrichment and other social functions are only offshoots of the same.
(b) Government is a higher level of social order that exists primarily for the maintenance and perpetuation of the community. It is said to possess “sovereignty” if it can successfully assert its claim to rule. And it is said to “legitimate” if its claim to rule (authority) is willingly accepted. It has the following forms: Monarchy, Aristocracy, and Democracy. Monarchy is a kind of government in which one man (king) noted for his noble lineage and honor is vested with the right to rule and control the society. If this man pursues his own selfish interest instead of the common good, this form of government may turn into a “Tyranny.” Aristocracy is another kind of government in which a selected few who are known for their wealth and education have the right to rule. If this selected few pursue their own personal interests, it becomes an “Oligarchy.” And lastly, democracy is the rule by the people, for the people, and of the people. If this form of government downgrades into the rule of people’s passions instead of reason and law, it becomes “Demagoguery” or “Mobocracy.” Philippines has a democratic government.
(c) State is the largest social order today and in which the term politics is originally derived. It refers to a community of persons more or less numerous, permanently occupying a definite portion of territory, having a government of their own to which the great body of inhabitants render obedience, and enjoying freedom from external control. It could be seen in the definition that government is an element of the state. As a political concept, it has undergone many developments and its discussion still occupies the very heart of the study of politics. A separate chapter will be devoted for its discussion.
- The different social orders cannot be maintained without power. Their creation and perpetuation are brought about by the exercise of power and the concomitant establishment of structures.
- It is elementary to know that power has many sources aside from physical force. These include wealth, culture, diplomatic relations and intelligence, to name a few. The basic rule is that the more abundant the power source, the greater the capabilities of the government. In a narrower sense, power implies “power over” people rather than the “power or ability to” do something. This includes influence over the behavior of others, making them do things which they would not otherwise have done. Under such meaning of power, politics involves manipulation through the popular methods of reward and punishment.
- Political scientists and philosophers, like Niccolo Machiavelli and Friedrich Nietzsche, grounded their political treatises on the concept of power. They explained the nature of politics by studying the essence of power.
- It is said that the correct exercise of power produces justice. If in the exercise of its power and authority, the government gives what the people need, protect and respect their rights, and put the common good over and above the personal interest of the leaders, then there is said to be justice.
- It must be highlighted that the embodiment of order and power in this modern times is law, whether written or customary. Thus, law is said to be the approximation of justice. Justice is that on which law is anchored.
- However, since law is a mere “approximation” of the ideal concept of justice, it is never perfect. Sometimes the law becomes unjust because it can no longer capture perfect justice. An innocent person, for instance, may be convicted, or a perpetrator may be acquitted of a crime because of the technicalities and restrictions of the law on evidence. Nevertheless, law must still be upheld since it is still the best medium of justice and by which power may be exercised correctly for the promotion of societal order.
APPROACHES TO THE STUDY OF POLITICS
- There are two basic approaches to study politics: political philosophy and political science. On the one hand, political philosophy is the traditional approach in which the primary goal is to understand the essence or truth about politics. This approach aims to establish what politics ought to be. As such, it is normative or prescriptive, analytical, speculative, and essentially ethical. It is normative or prescriptive because it prescribes standards or rules of conduct; it establishes what “ought to be” the nature of politics and not “what it simply is.” Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are among the proponents of this approach. It is analytical because the approach is to a large extent an examination and literary analysis of the various classic writings of intellectuals and philosophers such as Confucius, Lao tzu, Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Machiavelli, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and Marx, to name some. It is speculative because it entails abstract, theoretical and not scientific explanations of the varied subjects of politics. And it is essentially ethical because the approach basically presumes that ethics is the foundation of politics; the ethical formation of the individual is a condition precedent the society’s political formation. The questions raised under this approach are “what is the essence of politics?”, “what is the ideal type of government?”, “who should be and what are the attributes of a ruler?”, “what are the limits of the government?”, and “what are rights and limits of individual freedom?”
- On the other hand, political science is the empirical approach in which it places little emphasis on abstract and normative questions, and concentrates on a dispassionate and objective description of the realities of politics. As such, it is descriptive, empirical, objective, and it avoids ethics. It is descriptive because it simply establishes “what politics is” and not “what it ought to be;” it describes the political phenomenon but does not prescribe standards or rules of conduct. It is empirical because it studies only observable facts, and not abstract values and concepts. It is objective because it adheres strictly to the methods of the natural sciences; it considers only the observable (quantifiable) facts that can be measured through the scientific method. It avoids ethics, in that values are not within its scope; only directly observable facts are studied.
- It is nevertheless wrong to ask which of the two approaches is better. They complement each other. While political philosophy provides the aim, purpose, and guidelines of politics, political science gives a realistic account of what is actually happening in politics. Political science concretizes the abstract concepts of political philosophy, while political philosophy provides a basis or direction to political science. As one writer aptly puts it, political philosophy without political science is lame, and political science without political philosophy is blind.
- What does politics have to do with conflict and cooperation?
- Should politics be defined as a process or an arena?
- Discuss briefly and distinguish from each other the basic concepts of politics.
- What is the relation of justice and law?
- How do political philosophy and political science as approaches in studying politics differ?
 See also Thomas M. Magstadt & Peter M. Schoten, “Understanding Politics: Ideas, Institutions, & Issues. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1988), p. 4.
 Garner, Introduction to Political Science, pp. 38-41.
 Magstadt & Schoten
 Amable Tuibeo, Politics and Governance.