- Definition of 'politics'
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- Introduction to Government and Politics
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Theoretical Perspectives on Government and Power. Until recently we might have been satisfied with an answer that examined how various political institutions and processes function in society: the state, the government, the civil service, the courts, the democratic process, etc.
However, in recent years, among many other examples we could cite, we have seen how the events of the Arab Spring in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt — put seemingly stable political institutions and processes into question.
What do we learn about the place of politics in social life from these examples? Revolutions are often presented as monumental, foundational political events that happen only rarely and historically: the American revolution , the French revolution , the Russian revolution , the Chinese revolution , the Cuban revolution , the Iranian revolution , etc.
Samuel Huntington defines revolution as:.
Revolutions are thus to be distinguished from insurrections, rebellions, revolts, coups, and wars of independence Huntington , p.
What is at stake in revolution is also, therefore, the larger question that Max Weber was asking about political action.
In a sense, the question of the role of politics in a whole way of life asks how a whole way of life comes into existence in the first place. How do revolutions occur? In Tunisia, the street vendor Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire after his produce cart was confiscated.
The injustice of this event provided an emblem for the widespread conditions of poverty, oppression, and humiliation experienced by a majority of the population. It was a moment in which, after living through decades of deplorable conditions, people suddenly felt their own power and their own capacity to act. Sociology is interested in studying the conditions of such examples of citizenship and power.
Sociologists have a distinctive approach to studying governmental power and authority that differs from the perspective of political scientists. For the most part, political scientists focus on studying how power is distributed in different types of political systems.
Definition of 'politics'
Government implies that there are relations of power between rulers and ruled, but the context of rule is not limited to the state. Think of the training regimes, studying routines, or diets people put themselves through as they seek to change or direct their lives in a particular way. The role of the state and its influence on society and vice versa is just one aspect of governmental relationships. On the other side of governmental power and authority are the various forms of resistance to being ruled.
Foucault argues that without this latitude for resistance or independent action on the part of the one over whom power is exercised, there is no relationship of power or government.
There is only a relationship of violence or force. One central question sociological analysis asks therefore is: Why do people obey, especially in situations when it is not in their objective interests to do so? This entails a more detailed study of what we mean by power. For centuries, philosophers, politicians, and social scientists have explored and commented on the nature of power.
Pittacus c. Indeed, the concept of power can have decidedly negative connotations, and the term itself is difficult to define. There are at least two definitions of power, which we will refer to below as power 1 and power 2. As we noted above, power relationships refer in general to a kind of strategic relationship between rulers and the ruled: a set of practices by which states seek to govern the life of their citizens, managers seek to control the labour of their workers, parents seek to guide and raise their children, dog owners seek to train their dogs, doctors seek to manage the health of their patients, chess players seek to control the moves of their opponents, individuals seek to keep their own lives in order, etc.
There is a give and take between the attempts of the rulers to direct the behaviour of the ruled and the attempts of the ruled to resist those directions. In many cases, it is difficult to see relationships as power relationships at all unless they become fixed or authoritarian. This is because our conventional understanding of power is that one person or one group of people has power over another.
In other words, when we think about somebody, some group, or some institution having power over us, we are thinking about a relation of domination.
They become institutionalized. As such, power affects more than personal relationships; it shapes larger dynamics like social groups, professional organizations, and governments. A dominant nation, for instance, will often use its clout to influence or support other governments or to seize control of other nation states.
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Endeavours to gain power and influence do not necessarily lead to domination, violence, exploitation, or abuse. Leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. Both men organized nonviolent protests to combat corruption and injustice and succeeded in inspiring major reform. They relied on a variety of nonviolent protest strategies such as rallies, sit-ins, marches, petitions, and boycotts. It is therefore important to retain the distinction between domination and power.
Power in this sense is the power we think of when we speak of an ability to do or create something—a potential. It is the way in which we collectively give form to the communities that we live in, whether we understand this at a very local level or a global level. Power establishes the things that we can do and the things that we cannot do.
Therefore, power is not in principle domination. Thus the critical task of sociology is to ask how we might free ourselves from the constraints of domination to engage more actively and freely in the creation of community. In a nation with a strong capacity for media censorship, social sites provided an opportunity for citizens to circumvent authoritarian restrictions Zuckerman As discontents in northern Africa used the internet to communicate, it provided them with an invaluable tool: anonymity.
Before the internet, meetings of protestors led by dissidents like Foetus and Waterman often required participants to assemble in person, placing them at risk of being raided by government officials. Thus, leaders would more likely have been jailed, tortured—and perhaps even killed—before movements could gain momentum.
Introduction to Government and Politics
The internet also enabled widespread publicity about the atrocities being committed in the Arab region. The fatal beating of Khaled Said, a young Egyptian computer programmer, provides a prime example. Said, who possessed videos highlighting acts of police corruption in Egypt, was brutally killed by law enforcement officers in the streets of Alexandria. Numerous other videos and images, similarly appalling, were posted on social media sites to build awareness and incite activism among local citizens and the larger global community.
What is politics? What is political? The words politics and political refer back to the ancient Greek polis or city-state. For the Greek philosopher Aristotle — BCE , the polis was the ideal political form that collective life took. The people of the polis take it upon themselves to collectively create a way of living together that is conducive to the achievement of human aspirations and good life.
Politics 1 is the means by which form is given to the life of a people. The individuals give themselves the responsibility to create the conditions in which the good life can be achieved. For Aristotle, this meant that there was an ideal size for a polis, which he defined as the number of people that could be taken in in a single glance Aristotle The city-state was for him therefore the ideal form for political life in ancient Greece.
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Today we think of the nation-state as the form of modern political life. A nation-state is a political unit whose boundaries are co-extensive with a society, that is, with a cultural, linguistic or ethnic nation. Politics is the sphere of activity involved in running the state.
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In fact, the modern nation-state is a relatively recent political form. Foraging societies had no formal state institution, and prior to the modern age, feudal Europe was divided into a confused patchwork of small overlapping jurisdictions. Feudal secular authority was often at odds with religious authority. Even then, Germany, for example, did not become a unified state until It was not governed by a state at all.
If politics is the means by which form is given to the life of a people, then it is clear that this is a type of activity that has varied throughout history. Politics is not exclusively about the state or a property of the state. The question is, Why do we come to think that it is?
The modern state is based on the principle of sovereignty and the sovereign state system. The sovereign state system is the structure by which the world is divided up into separate and indivisible sovereign territories.
At present there are member states in the United Nations United Nations The entire globe is thereby divided up into separate states except for the oceans and Antarctica. Thomas Hobbes — is the early modern English political philosopher whose Leviathan established modern thought on the nature of sovereignty.
In this contract, individuals give up their natural rights to use violence to protect themselves and further their interests and cede them to a sovereign. It is worthwhile to examine these premises, however, because they continue to structure our contemporary political life even if the absolute rule of monarchs has been replaced by the democratic rule of the people.
Therefore, democracy always exists in a state of tension with the authority of the sovereign state. The international sovereign state system is always potentially in a state of war of all against all.
It offered a neat solution to the problem of confused and overlapping political jurisdictions in medieval Europe, but is itself inherently unstable. However, as we have seen above, power is not always exercised through the use of force. Therefore, why do people submit to rule? Their influence came, in part, from their ability to advocate for what many people held as important values.
Government leaders might have this kind of influence as well, but they also have the advantage of wielding power associated with their position in the government. As this example indicates, there is more than one type of authority in a community.
Authority refers to accepted power—that is, power that people agree to follow.
People listen to authority figures because they feel that these individuals are worthy of respect. Generally speaking, people perceive the objectives and demands of an authority figure as reasonable and beneficial, or true.
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For instance, a person who sees the flashing red and blue lights of a police car in his or her rearview mirror usually pulls to the side of the road without hesitation. Such a driver most likely assumes that the police officer behind him serves as a legitimate source of authority and has the right to pull him over.
Not all authority figures are police officers or elected officials or government authorities. Besides formal offices, authority can arise from tradition and personal qualities.
Based on this work, Weber developed a classification system for authority. His three types of authority are traditional authority, charismatic authority, and rational-legal authority Weber Table