Politics has long been seen in two ways. On the one hand, it has been viewed positively. On the other hand, it has been viewed negatively. Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, called politics as the ‘master science.‘ By this he meant that politics referred to that activity through which individuals sought to improve their lives and build a Great Society. But many view politics as a pejorative thing. In their view, politics is a dirty word, and it is only bad people – cunning, corrupt and dishonest – who enter politics. Politics is an evil, they say.
The study of politics involves two difficulties. First, it has to be rescued from bias. Politics is neither an ethical activity undertaken to create a Great Society. Nor is it a total evil. The study of politics will be more meaningful if it is freed from such preconceived bias. Secondly, politics has been defined in different ways. Is politics making of decisions? Is it allocation of scarce resources? The word, ‘Politics’ has evoked debate and disagreement. Elaboration of different views of politics will shed more light.
Different Views of Politics
1. Politics as the Art of Government:
The word ‘politics’ has been derived from polis which means city-state. In ancient times, Greece was divided into a number of independent city-states, and the most important among them was Athens. Thus, politics may be interpreted as referring to the affairs of the polis or the affairs of the state. As the affairs of the state are conducted through government, politics may also refer to the affairs of government. Thus, politics may be understood as referring to the affairs of state and government.
This is, however, a restricted view of politics. While politics refers to the affairs of the state, it is not state-bound. It is no longer possible for the state to manage the large number of complex affairs of the society. Besides the state, several other organisations manage these affairs.
2. Politics as Public Affairs:
Those who argue that politics is state-bound, contend that politics is not played in the ‘civil society.’ The civil society consists of non-state bodies such as family and kinship organizations, class and educational and business organizations. The state is a ‘public’ entity while the ‘civil society’ is a private entity. This view, however, has a problem. The civil society, it is true, is private because it is not funded by public money. But it is also public as its membership is open to all. The civil society is able to significantly influence public policies because, with strong public support, it carries a lot of legitimacy or moral weight. Further, feminists criticize the view that politics is public-centric. They challenge the view that the state should not interfere in private domains like family in which women are dominated by men. They want the state to end the oppression and domination of women by men.
3. Politics as Compromise and Consensus:
Politics has been viewed as the ‘art of the possible’. It is possible for the state to maintain law and order without using force. Dissent is not necessarily to be crushed. Conflicts can be resolved through negotiation and compromise. Here, politics, far from being considered as an evil, is perceived as a civilized and civilizing force.
4. Politics as Power:
Scarcity of resources coupled with infinite interests leads to conflict. Thus, politics is struggle for power, struggle over scarce resources. And power is the means used for carrying on this struggle.
Feminists do not accept the public-private division and assert that power resides as much in the state as in non-state bodies like the family and other non-state bodies. In Sexual Politics(1969), Kate Millett says that politics is power-structured relationships, arrangements whereby one group of persons is controlled by another. According to feminists, relationships within the family, between husbands and wives, and between parents and children, are every bit as political as relationships between employers and workers, or between governments and citizens. Similarly Marxists view politics in class terms. Political power is the superstructure while the economic relations are the substructure. The ‘economic is political’, they argue.
However, for feminists and Marxists, politics is not totally a negative force. It can also be a positive force. The feminists advocate a sexual revolution to end patriarchy or domination of women by men. And the Marxists think that a revolution will end class struggle and build a classless society.