The Nature of Politics - Introduction
(Power points will be posted on eclass after every class)
• What is politics?
- Greek word = polis (city state or community)
- Aristotle: ‘man is a political animal’ (naturally predisposed to organize ourselves into
hierarchy's and political groups)
- Athens and Sparta
- The study of politics is so multifaceted that finding a clear/common definition of the
field is difficult...
Some classic definitions: (involves different opinion)
- Harold Lasswell (1936): Politics can be understood as the mechanism used to determine
“who gets what, when, and how” Based on the assumption of scarcity. Someone has to
decide what people will get, because there is simply not enough resources to go around
to please every person 100%.
- David Easton (1967): “the authoritative allocation of values for a society”
- Karl Marx: politics is “merely the organized power of one class for oppressing another”
He’s saying there are two classes (the oppressor and the oppressed), there are those who
determine what’s what, and those who are oppressed by this power class.
• Is politics inevitable?
- Is conflict and politics a necessary part of any society, or is it a greater level of cooperation and
social cohesion possible?
- Karl Marx claims that politics is “merely the organized power of one class for
oppressing another” (To eliminate the basis for classes is to eliminate the need for
politics or the state). Two types of classes...
1. The oppressors, the rulers, the bourgeoisie:
2. The oppressed, the ruled, the proletariat:
- Francis Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis envisions a liberal democratic triumph that
puts an end to ideological conflict. (he’s more of a modern Karl Marx)
Cold War: A war between two ideologies, between the US and the USSR. in 1990, the Soviet
Union collapses, so Fukuyama’s argument was that history has ended. His prediction was that
there would be no conflict between ideologies, because the two main contenders were between
communism and liberalism. Since liberalism “won” he predicted that conflict, as well as history,
had come to an end. - Many other alternative views about the role of politics in an increasingly globalizing world are
- Tension “between politics and fate”
- How much change can people actually make?
- If politics is about “who gets what, when and how” then what values do those decisions serve?
- The benefit of few, of the many, or all?
- Who makes the decisions and who ought to make them?
- Once a decision is made, how is it enforced?
Aristotle's Classification of States:
Number Ruling Good Form (for the benefit Corrupt Form (for the
of all) benefit of the ruler)
One Monarchy Tyranny
Few Aristocracy Olig