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Politics is a process by which groups of people make decisions. The term is generally applied to behavior within civil governments, but politics has been observed in all human group interactions, including corporate, academic and religious institutions. It consists of "social relations involving authority or power" and refers to the regulation of a political unit, and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply policy.

The word "Politics" comes from the Greek word πολἰς ("polis") meaning city-state. The Greek word πολίτἰκος "Politikos" describes anything concerning the state or city affairs. In Latin, this was "politicus" and in French "politique". Thus it became "politics" in Middle English (see the Concise Oxford Dictionary).


From a historical perspective, societies in need of government have moved from the primitive to the patriarchal state and finally to the military, the real politics of modern times. The origin and development of government institutions is the most visible subject for the study of Politics and its history.

Primitive Societies

Regardless of how civilized the world is, there are still large numbers of people living in the most primitive conditions. The most important of these because most scientifically studied are the "aborigines" of Australia. The scientific study of the aboriginal Australian forms the basis of what is best known of primitive societies in general.

The aboriginal Australian understands neither the cultivation of the land nor the rearing of sheep and cattle. The dog is their only "domestic" animal. They take shelter in caves and in primitive huts. They have no food but the natural products of the earth. They know a very primitive form of fire-making and their cooking is very crude. They have no knowledge of metal work. Their weapons are the flint-headed spear, the axe and the wooden boomerang. They wear no clothing at all. Living like this on the point of starvation may have gone on for thousands of years. It could be said that isolation is the only single factor in the aboriginal Australian state of stagnation.

The Totem group is the real social unit of the aboriginal Australian. The Totem is not an Australian word but it is generally accepted to designate the name of an institution which is found everywhere among primitive people. The Totem group is primarily a group of people distinguished by the sign of a natural object, such as an animal or tree, who may not intermarry with one another - this is the first rule of primitive social organization; its origin is lost in antiquity ("Alcheringa") but its object is certainly to prevent the intermarriage of close relatives. Marriage takes place between men and women of differen Totems; the husband belongs to all the women of his wife's totem and the wife belongs to all the men of the husband's totem at the same time that a communal marriage is established between the men and women of the two different Totems - the men and women being of the same generation. This presents a most valuable objective lesson in social history. There are no unmarried couples; marriage for them is part of the natural order into which they are born.

The ceremonies are kept secret and are directed by a "Birraark" or sorcerer, usually an old man. The candidates are instructed in the history of their Totem and on the power of the Birraark. They are initiated into the mystery of the Totem, usually accompanied by an ordeal such as circumcision and then they are tattooed with a seal of identity that marks them for a given Totem and a given generation in that Totem. In this way is constructed the simple system of relationship of the aboriginal Australian. The mother takes a predominant role, for descent is almost always reckoned through females. Parent, child, brother and sister are the only recognized relationships. Rudimentary as this system may appear to be, it is widely spread among the Malay Archipelago and prevails widely among primitive peoples everywhere.

The Totem serves the purpose of forbidding intermarriage between close relatives and will deal destruction if this rule is not strictly enforced. These are the rudiments of two of the most important factors in human progress: Religion and Law. The rudimentary notion of Law is very specific about what is prohibited or Taboo. Primitive people do not recognize any duties towards strangers unless there is an abundant food supply in a given area. It is a sure sign of progress if the same area is able to maintain an ever larger number of people. In his own milieu, close to nature, the savage outwits the civilized man but both are subject to natural law.

Lewis H. Morgan author of Ancient Society considers the American Indians to be the link between the primitive and patriarchal state of society.

Patriarchal Societies

All patriarchal societies are known by certain characteristic features:

1).- Male kinship is prevalent. Men are counted as kin because they are descended from the same male ancestor.

2).- Marriage is permanent. It is not until one woman is married to one man that certainty of fatherhood appears in society but it is not a general rule of patriarchal society for polygamy does exist in the earlier stages of social development.

3).- Paternal authority is the ruling principle of the social order. In ancient Rome, the patria potestas extended to all descendants of one living male ancestor; it comprised control and punishment not to mention questions of life and death.

These features of the development of the patriarchal state of society are as common among the Jews as among the Arabs, among the Aryans as among the Dravidians and even among the Germanic and Celtic races.

The patriarchal state of society consists of two stages, tribe and clan. The tribe is a large group of hundreds of members who descend from one common male ancestor, sometimes from a fictitious character satisfying the etiquette that descent from the male is the only basis of society. The clan, on the other hand, is a smaller group reaching back into the past for only four generations or so to a common well-known male ancestor. The clan always breaks down into smaller units when its limit is reached. According to the Scottish historian W. F. Skene in volumen 3 of Celtic Scotland, the tribe or larger unit is the oldest. When the tribe breaks down, clans are formed. When the clan system breaks down, it leaves the households or families as independent units. Finally, with the withering away of patriarchal society, the family is dissolved and the individual comes into existence.

The State

The origin of the State is to be found in the development of the art of warfare. Historically speaking, there is not the slightest difficulty in proving that all political communities of the modern type owe their existence to successful warfare. As a result the new states are forced to organize on military principles. The life of the new community is military allegiance. The military by nature is competitive.

The stablishment of the western State is coincident to the spread of Christianity as a universal religion. Though Christianity in its early beginnings was a message to the meek and lowly, its great conquests in northern and western Europe were due to the conversion of kings and princes not to mention the conquest of American Indian civilizations. Under the cry of "one church one nation", England became a nation with church and state in intimate alliance.

Of the institutions by which the state is ruled, that of kingship stands foremost until the French Revolution put an end to the "divine right of kings". Nevertheless, kingship is perhaps the most succesful institution of Politics. However, the first kings were not institutions but individuals. The earliest kings were successful militarily. They were men not only of great military genius but also great administrators. Kingship becomes an institution through heredity. However, constitutional monarchies are not successful at all. Elective monarchy is one of the chimeras of political Utopia. Chosen by an electorate, the best they become is obedient puppets like the newly elected president of a Republic, obedient to whoever would pull the strings behind the scenes.

The king rules his kingdom with the aid of his Council, without it he could not hold his territores. The Council is the king's master mind. The Council is the germ of constitutional government. Long before the council became a bulwark of democracy, it rendered invaluable aid to the institution of kingship by:

1).- Preserving the institution of kingship through heredity.

2).- Preserving the traditions of the social order.

3).- Being able to withstand criticism as an impersonal authority.

4).- Being able to manage a greater deal of knowledge and action than a single individual such as the king.

The greatest of the king's subordinates, the earls in England and Scotland, the dukes and counts in the Continent, always sat as a right on the Council. A conqueror wages war upon the vanquished for vengeance or for plunder but an established kingdom exacts tribute. One of the functions of the Council is to keep the conffers of the king full. Another is the satisfaction of military service and the establishment of lordships by the king to satisfy the task of collecting taxes and soldiers.

The State and Property be it public or private

No political institution is of greater importance than the institution of property. Property is the right vested on the individual or a group of people to enjoy the benefits of an object be it material or intellectual. A right is a power enforced by public trust. Sometimes it happens that the exercise of a right is opposed to public trust. Nevertheless, a right is really the creation of public trust, past, present or future. The growth of knowledge is the key to the history of property as an institution. The more man becomes knowledgeable of an object be it physical or intellectual, the more it is appropriated. The appearance of the State brought about the final stage in the evolution of property from wildlife to husbandry. In the presence of the State, man can hold landed property. The State began granting lordships and ended up conferring property and with it came inheritance. With landed property came rent and in the exchange of goods, profit, so that in modern times, the "lord of the land" of long ago becomes the landlord. If it is wrongly assumed that the value of land is always the same, then there is of course no evolution of property whatever. However, the price of land goes up with every increase in population benefitting the landlord. The landlordism of large land owners has been the most rewarded of all political services. In industry, the position of the landlord is less important but in towns which have grown out of an industry, the fortunate landlord has reaped an enormous profit. Towards the latter part of the Middle Ages in Europe, both the State - the State would use the instrument of confiscation for the first time to satisfy a debt - and the Church - the Church succeeded in acquiring immense quantities of land - were allied against the village community to displace the small landlord and they were successful to the extent that today, the village has become the ideal of the individualist, a place in which every man "does what he wills with his own." The State has been the most important factor in the evolution of the institution of property be it public or private.

The State and the Justice system

As a military institution, the State is concerned with the allegiance of its subjects. Betrayal or defiance of allegiance is a risk to its national security. Thus arises the law of treason. Criminal acts in general, breaking the peace and treason make up the whole of criminal law enforced by the State as distinguished from the law enforced by private individuals. State justice has taken the place of clan, feudal, merchant and ecclesiastical justice due to its strength, skill and simplicity. One very striking evidence of the superiority of the royal courts over the feudal and popular courts in the matter of official skill is the fact that, until comparatively late in history, the royal courts alone kept written records of their proceedings. The most innovative proceeding introduced by the royal courts was trial by jury becoming not only popular but also the bulwark of liberty. By the time of the Reformation, with the separation of Church and State, in the most progressive countries, the State succeeded in dealing with the business of administering justice.

The State and the Legislative system

The making of laws was unknown to primitive societies.

That most persistent of all patriarchal societies, the Jewish, retains to a certain extent its tribal law in the Gentile cities of the West. This tribal law is the rudimentary idea of law as it presented itsel to people in the patriarchal stage of society, it was custom or observance sanctioned by the approval and practice of ancestors.

The intolerable state of affairs in the 10th century in France, Germany, Spain and England where every little town had its own laws and nations like France, Germany, Spain and other countries had no national law till the end of the 18th century, came to an end thanks to three great agencies that helped to create the modern system of law and legislation:

1).- Records. From the early Middle Ages in Europe there come what are called folk-laws and they appear exactly at the time when the patriarchal is becoming the State. They are due almost universally to one cause: the desire of the king to know the custom of his subjects. These are not legislation in the sense of law-making but statements or declarations of custom. They are drawn from a knowledge of the custom of the people. Unwritten custom changes imperceptibly but not the written. It is always possible to point to the exact text and show what it says. Nevertheless, the written text can change by addition with every new edition.

2).- Law Courts. By taking some general rule which seemed to be common to all the communities and ignoring the differences, English common law was modelled after such a practice so that the law became common in all the districts of the kingdom. The reason why in the rest of Europe, there was no common law till centuries later is because the State in those countries did not get hold of the administration of justice when England did. One of the shrewdest moves by which the English judges pushed their plan of making a common law was by limiting the verdict of the jury in every case to questions of fact. At first the jury used to give answers both on law and fact; and being a purely local body, they followed local custom. A famous division came to pass: the province of the judge and the province of the jury.

3).- Fictions. Records and Law Courts were valuable in helping the people adapt to law-making but like Fictions, they were slow and imperfect. Though slowly, Fictions work because it is a well known fact that people will accept a change in the form of a fiction while they would resist it to the end if the fact is out in the open.

Finally there is the enactment of laws or legislation. When progress and development is rapid, the faster method of political representation is adopted. This method does not originate in primitive society but in the State need for money and its use of an assembly to raise the same. From the town assembly, a national assembly and the progress of commerce sprang Parliament all over Europe around the end of the 12th century but not entirely representative or homogenous for the nobility and the clergy. The clergy had amassed a fortune in land, about one-fifth of all Christendom but at the time, in the 12th and 13th centuries, the Church was following a policy of isolation; they adopted the rule of celibacy and cut themselves from domestic life; they refused to plead in a secular court; they refused to pay taxes to the State on the grounds that they had already paid it to the Pope. Since the main object of the king in holding a national assembly was to collect money, the Church could not be left out and so they came to Parliament. The Church did not like it but in most cases they had to come.

The medieval Parliament was complete when it represented all the states in the realm: nobles, clergy, peasants and craftsmen but it was not a popular institution mainly because it meant taxation. Only by the strongest pressure of the Crown were Parliaments maintained during the first century of their existence and the best proof of this assertion lies in the fact that in those countries where the Crown was weak, Parliament ceased to exist. The notion that Parliaments were the result of a democratic movement cannot be supported by historial facts. Originally, the representative side of Parliament was solely concerned with money; representation in Parliament was a liability rather than a privilige. It is not uncommon that an institution created for one purpose begins to serve another. People who were asked to contribute with large sums of money began to petition. Pretty soon, sessions in Parliament would turn into bargaining tables, the king granting petitions in exchange for money. However, there were two kinds of petitions, one private and the other public and it was from this last that laws were adopted or legislation originated. The king as head of State could give orders to preserve territorial integrity but not until these royal enactments were combined with public petition that successful legislation ever took place. Even to the present day, this has always been the basis of all successful legislation: public custom is adopted and enforced by the State.

In the early days of political representation, the majority did not necessarily carry the day and there was very little need for contested elections but by the beginning of the 15th century, a seat in Parliament was something to be cherished. Historically speaking, the dogma of the equality of man is the result of the adoption of the purely practical machinery of the majority but the adoption of the majority principle is also responsible for another institution of modern times: the party system. The party system is an elaborate piece of machinery that pits at least two political candidates against each other for the vote of an electorate; its advantage being equal representation interesting a large number of people in politics; it provides effective criticism of the government in power and it affords an outlet for the ambition of a large number of wealthy and educated people guaranteeing a consistent policy in government.

These three institutions: political representation, majority rule and the party system are the basic components of modern political machinery; they are applicable to both central and local governments and are becoming by their adaptability ends in themselves rather than a machinery to achieve some purpose.

The State and the Executive system

The Administration.- This is one of the most difficult aspects of government. In the enactment and enforcement of laws, the victory of the State is complete but not so in regards to administration the reason being that it is easy to see the advantage of the enactment and enforcement of laws but not the administration of domestic, religious and business affairs which should be kept to a minimum by government.

Originally, the State was a military organization. For many years, it was just a territory ruled by a king who was surrounded by a small elite group of warriors and court officials and it was basically rule by force over a larger mass of people. Slowly, however, the people gained political representation for none can really be said to be a member of the State without the right of having a voice in the direction of policy making. One of the basic functions of the State in regards to administration is maintaining peace and internal order; it has no other excuse for interfering in the lives of its citizens. To maintain law and order the State develops means of communication. Historically, the "king's highway" was laid down and maintained for the convenience of the royal armies not as an incentive to commerce. In almost all countries, the State jealously maintains the control of the means of communication and special freedoms such as those delineated in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution are rather limited. The State's original function of maintaining law and order within its borders gave rise to police administration which is a branch of the dispensation of Justice but on its preventive side, police jurisdiction has a special character of its own, which distinguishes it from ordinary judicial work. In the curfew, the State shows early in history the importance of preventing disorder. In early days, next to maintaining law and order, the State was concerned with the raising of revenue. This led eventually to modern State socialism. It was then useful to the State to establish a standard of weights and measures so that value could be generally accepted and finally the State acquired a monopoly of coinage. The regulation of labor by the State as one of its functions dates from the 15th century, when the Plague or Black Death decimated most of Europe.

The invariable policy of the State has always being to break down all intermediate authorities and to deal directly with the individual. This was the policy until Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations was published promoting a strong public reaction against State interference. By its own action, the State raised the issue of the poor or the State relief of the indigent. The State, of course, did not create poverty but by destroying the chief agencies which dealt with it such as the village, the church and the guilds, it practically assumed full responsibility for the poor without exercising any power over it. The Great Poor Law Report of 1834 showed that communism ran rampant in the rural areas of England. In newly developed countries such as the colonies of the British Empire, the State has refused to take responsibility for the poor and the relief of poverty in spite of the fact, that the poor classes lean heavily towards State socialism.

Recognizing the great power of the State, it is only natural that in times of great crisis such as an overwhelming calamity the people should invoke general State aid.

Political representation has helped to shape State administration. When the voice of the individual can be heard, the danger of arbitrary interference by the State is greatly reduced. To that extent is the increase of State activity popular. There are no hard and fast rules to limit State administration but it is a fallacy to believe that the State is the nation and what the State does is necessarily for the good of the nation. In the first place, even in modern times, the State and the nation are never identical. Even where "universal suffrage" prevails, the fact remains that an extension of State administration means an increased interference of some by others, limiting freedom of action. Even if it is admitted that State and nation are one and the same, it is sometimes difficult to admit that State administration is necessarily good. Finally, the modern indiscriminate advocacy of State administration conceals the fallacy that State officials must necessarily prove more effective in their action than private enterprise. Herein lies the basic difference between Public and Business Administration; the first deals with the public weal while the second deals basically in profit but both require a great deal of education and ethical conduct to avoid the mishaps inherent in the relationship not only of business and labor but also the State and the Administration.

The Varieties of political experience

According to Aristotle, States are classified into monarchies, aristocracies and democracies. Due to an increase in knowledge of the history of politics, this classification has been abandoned. Generally speaking, no form of government could be considered the best if the best is considered to be the one that is most appropriate under the circumstances. All States are varieties of a single type, the sovereign State. All the Great Powers of the modern world rule on the principle of sovereignty. Sovereign power may be vested on an individual as in an autocratic government or it may be vested on a group as in a constitutional government. Constitutions are written documents that specify and limit the powers of the different branches of government. Although a Constitution is a written document, there is also an unwritten Constitution. The unwritten constitution is continually being written by the Legislative branch of government; this is just one of those cases in which the nature of the circumstances determines the form of government that is most appropriate. Nevertheless, the written constitution is essential. England did set the fashion of written constitutions during the Civil War but after the Restoration abandoned them to be taken up later by the American Colonies after their emancipation and then Francemarker after the Revolution and the rest of Europe including the European colonies.

There are two forms of government, one a strong central government as in France and the other a local government such as the ancient divisions in England that is comparatively weaker but less bureaucratic. These two forms helped to shape the Federal government, first in Switzerland, then in the United States in 1776, in Canada in 1867 and in Germany in 1870 and in the 20th century, Australia. The Federal States introduced the new principle of agreement or contract. Compared to a federation, a confederation singular weakness is that it lacks judicial power. In the American Civil War, the contention of the Confederate States that a State could secede from the Union was untenable because of the power enjoyed by the Federal government in the executive, legislative and judiciary branches.

According to professor A. V. Dicey in An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution, the essential features of a federal constitution are: a) A written supreme constitution in order to prevent disputes between the jurisdictions of the Federal and State authorities; b) A distibution of power between the Federal and State governments and c) A Supreme Court vested with the power to interpret the Constitution and enforce the law of the land remaining independent of both the executive and legislative branches.

As an academic discipline

Political science, the study of politics, examines the acquisition and application of power and "power corrupts". Related areas of study include political philosophy, which seeks a rationale for politics and an ethic of public behaviour, political economy, which attempts to develop understandings of the relationships between politics and the economy and the governance of the two, and public administration, which examines the practices of governance.

The first academic chair devoted to politics in the United States was the chair of history and political science at Columbia University, first occupied by Prussian émigré Francis Lieber in 1857.


Left-right politics

Recently in history, political analysts and politicians divide politics into left wing and right wing politics, often also using the idea of center politics as a middle path of policy between the right and left. This classification is comparatively recent (it was not used by Aristotle or Hobbes, for instance), and dates from the French Revolution era, when those members of the National Assembly who supported the republic, the common people and a secular society sat on the left and supporters of the monarchy, aristocratic privilege and the Church sat on the right.

The meanings behind the labels have become more complicated over the years. A particularly influential event was the publication of the Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels in 1848. The Manifesto suggested a course of action for a proletarian revolution to overthrow the bourgeois society and abolish private property, in the belief that this would lead to a classless and stateless society.

The meaning of left-wing and right-wing varies considerably between different countries and at different times, but generally speaking, it can be said that the right wing often values tradition and capitalism while the left wing often values reform and socialism, with the center seeking a balance between the two such as with social democracy or regulated capitalism.

According to Norberto Bobbio, one of the major exponents of this distinction, the Left believes in attempting to eradicate social inequality, while the Right regards most social inequality as the result of ineradicable natural inequalities, and sees attempts to enforce social equality as utopian or authoritarian.

Some ideologies, notably Christian Democracy, claim to combine left and right wing politics; according to Geoffrey K. Roberts and Patricia Hogwood, "In terms of ideology, Christian Democracy has incorporated many of the views held by liberals, conservatives and socialists within a wider framework of moral and Christian principles." Movements which claim or formerly claimed to be above the left-right divide include Fascist Third-position economic politics in Italy, Gaullism in France, Peronism in Argentina, and National Action Politics in Mexico.

Authoritarian-libertarian politics

Authoritarianism and libertarianism refer to the amount of individual freedom each person possesses in that society relative to the state. One author describes authoritarian political systems as those where "individual rights and goals are subjugated to group goals, expectations and conformities", while a libertarian political system is one in which individual rights and civil liberties are paramount. More extreme than libertarians are anarchists, who argue for the total abolition of government, while the most extreme authoritarians are totalitarians who support state control over all aspects of society.

For instance, classical liberalism (also known as laissez-faire liberalism, or, in much of the world, simply liberalism) is a doctrine stressing individual freedom and limited government. This includes the importance of human rationality, individual property rights, free markets, natural rights, the protection of civil liberties, constitutional limitation of government, and individual freedom from restraint as exemplified in the writings of John Locke, Adam Smith, David Hume, David Ricardo, Voltaire, Montesquieu and others. According to the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies, "the libertarian, or 'classical liberal,' perspective is that individual well-being, prosperity, and social harmony are fostered by 'as much liberty as possible' and 'as little government as necessary.'"

World Politics

The 20th century witnessed the outcome of two world wars and not only the rise and fall of the Third Reich but also the rise and fall of communism. The development of the Atomic bomb gave the United States the victory in World War II. Later, the development of the Hydrogen bomb became the ultimate weapon of mass destruction. The United Nations has served as a forum for peace in a world threatened by nuclear war. "The invention of nuclear and space weapons has made war unacceptable as an instrument for achieving political ends." Although an all-out final nuclear holocaust is out of the question for man, "nuclear blackmail" comes into question not only on the issue of world peace but also on the issue of national sovereignity. On a Sunday in 1962, the world stood still at the brink of nuclear war during the October Cuban missile crisis from the implementation of U.S.marker vs U.S.S.R.marker nuclear blackmail policy.

Former President Ronald Reagan was horrified by nuclear weapons and believed in the probable existence of life on other planets. For the President, the fantasy of an invasion from outer space that would force the nations of the world to unite against a common enemy was strong enough to convince anyone that mankind could unite in a common interest such as world peace. At their first meeting in Geneva in 1985, president Reagan brought up the subject of an invasion from outer space to Gorbachev. General Powell was convinced Reagan peace proposal to Gorbachev was inspired by the 1951 science-fiction film, The Day the Earth Stood Still. On September 21, 1987, Reagan told the General Assembly of the United Nations: "...I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world."


President George W. Bush declared America's war on terrorism as the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Centermarker on September 11, 2001. What came to be known as the Bush Doctrine, which was originally the policy voiced by President Bush after 9/11 that essentially there is no difference between the terrorists and the countries that harbor them, would rally the international community behind the United States in its war against the Taliban in Afghanistanmarker harboring Osama bin Laden and other Al-Qaeda terrorists but would distance the same community in the U.S. invasion of Iraqmarker.

See also


Related topics


  1. Definition of politics from
  2. Politics (definition)
  3. Definition of politics from "The Free Dictionary"
  4. cite book |last=Jenks |first=Edward |title=A history of politics |pages=112-124 |quote=We are so accustomed to look upon the administration of justice as an inevitable duty of the State...
  5. Bobbio, Norberto, "Left and Right: The Significance of a Political Distinction" (translated by Allan Cameron), 1997, University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0226062465
  6. Roberts and Hogwood, European Politics Today, Manchester University Press, 1997
  7. Ian Adams, Political Ideology Today (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001), 20.
  8. What Is Libertarian?, Institute for Humane Studies

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