Politics: the inescapable stalker of our society
Politics is a process by which a group of people, whose opinions or interests might be divergent, reach collective decisions that are generally regarded as binding on the group and enforced as common policy.
Political theory or political philosophy is as old as the oldest civilisations. The Greek philosophers, such as Aristotle and Plato, developed important political theories and methods of government alongside their more abstract philosophies. One may contest that every society and every belief we hold is a reflection of the political system we live under. Politics, in it absolute form, is a concept of society that definitely intrudes into every aspect of human life. No one can escape it.
The word politics comes from the Greek word “polis”, meaning the state or community as a whole. The concept of the “polis” was an ideal state and came from the writings of great political thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle. In his novel “The Republic”, Plato describes the ideal state and the means to achieve it. Hence, the word politics originally has connotations in the ways in which to create the ideal society. An ideal society is in practice a rather difficult aim and even an impossible aim to achieve. Imperfections in society inspired Aristotle and Plato to compose the first written political philosophies. In Aristotle’s “The Politics”, he states that, “Man is by nature a political animal”, in another words, it is a primal instinct of man. Therefore, in his statement, Aristotle concludes politics is not a dreamt up concept, but rather an inherent feature of mankind. Argument, in our lives and about the way that we live them is a fundamental part of our sociological make-up.
A main factor in modern government is what is dubbed “Party Politics”. Each party with its manifesto attempts to gain parliamentary superiority over others in each general election. People vote for the party that broadly represents the individual’s values. Although, the average turnout for elections
The most common method of categorising political theories is by use of a horizontal line from right to left (the far and moderate right, the right of centre, the centre and the left of centre, the moderate left, and the far left) gradually.
What follows is an attempt to clarify this contentious issue of categorisation. It is not a definitive analysis because it is too short and just skims over the surface. In addition, these definitions are strictly theoretical. In practice, they often work out differently.
Most of these ideologies shown in the linear diagram have representation of some form in Britain, whether it be through recognised political parties, pressure groups or non-PC organisations. The three main parties in the UK are Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrats and in our case, their name broadly represents their place on our linear spectrum of political thought. There are other ways of defining the above spectrum, the horseshoe version sees the same diagram bent into the shape of a horseshoe, but more recently, one with the approval of Tony Blair no less, is the Two Dimensional Spectrum:
Although the central government disperses power to national and local authorities, the UK Government in its present form is not federalist at all. It may provide power and funding – taken from its intervention into our mixed economy – and distribute it to our Local Authorities, but for there to be total federalism in the UK, there must be an equal dispersal of power between all of the local bodies.
The main properties of this establishment are the parts of the “Welfare State”. Pioneered by the Labour Government of Clement Attlee, the Welfare State revolutionised the UK. National Insurance, National Assistance, and National Health Service (NHS) Acts were passed, the last of these being the creation of Attlee’s flamboyant left-wing Minister of Health, Aneurin Bevan.
Our own “puppet government” – as seen by some – the Scottish Executive, has remit for much of what was formerly discussed at Westminster. Agriculture; fisheries and forestry; economic development; education; environment; food standards; health, home affairs; law; police; fire service; local government; sport and the arts; transport; training; tourism; research and statistics; and social work are now under the Executive’s authority. This apportion of power to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish governments allows politics to affect more people and allows more people to get their views noticed.
People, to some extent believe that they have escaped the wrath of politics and government. However, if for a minute we stop and contemplate life without politics as we see it today. Life without Politicians would please some. “They cost too much money” and, “their wages are extortionate” are common beliefs for the general public. It seems that the only thing which people associate politicians with nowadays, coming second to the House of Commons, is sleaze. Moreover, we in Scotland would be highly hypocritical if we were to try to prove otherwise. Could we honestly say that we could live in some order without any kind of representation, the fact is we could not.
The distinction of where the individual is in a society, and what role s/he plays is an underlying question in life. J.S. Mills summed it up quite acutely in his “On Liberty”,
“Where does the authority of society begin? How much of human life should be assigned to individuality, and how much to society?”
According to some psychologists, a sense of being and contributions to the society they live in is fundamental to their reason for living. In fact, some sociologists see a movement towards a Federal Europe inevitable.
Our post war politics have greatly been focussed on Europe and the coming together of a “European Federal Government”. Under the Treaty on European Union, European citizenship was granted to citizens of each member state. Customs and immigration agreements were enhanced to allow European citizens greater freedom to live, work, or study in any of the member states, and border controls were relaxed. A goal of establishing a common European currency (European monetary union) was set for 1999, and trading in the single European currency, the Euro, commenced in January 1999. Britain joined this collective on January 1, 1973 along with Ireland and Denmark. The EU is very influential in policies in the UK, the most notable being the Common Agricultural Policy. This protects farmers and other workers in agriculture against weather, disease etc by the Union paying farmers to produce an expected norm. If they were to produce more than this mark, and therefore make the price of the product fall, the government would make up the difference and vice-versa. This lead to the scandal of “Wine lakes” and “Butter Mountains” during the nineties.
The UK central Government puts its own caps on certain items as well resulting in a certain amount of a certain item going into the market for sale. We live in a mixed economy, where if it were not for the Government intervention we would be a purely market economy. It raises or lowers taxes depending on the state of this economy, this is decided twice yearly in the Chancellor of the Exchequers Budget report.
Intervention on behalf of the Government is a reality in every wake of life. Some would argue (Classical Liberalists) that its main purpose would be to defend its citizens and to provide law and order. In reality, after the devastation of both world wars, if we were to revert to that kind of pre war status there would be a civil upheaval.
The above shows that the Government has a broad remit into our lives and the others around us. It affects business through taxes and caps and it affects our careers with a large majority of us being employed by the public sector. Our and any other government is based on politics and the policies of the group that voted them into power.
Many people imagine that studying politics is just studying government. Government is important, but Politics is much more than this. Politics (sometimes called political science) is a diverse, sprawling and dynamic discipline, which is not defined by a particular method or approach, but by a concern with themes of human community, power, conflict and change.
Politics is the means to creating a more organised and peaceful society, by providing methods to resolve conflict that naturally occurs in society. From this, politics also endeavours to further society to perfection and to create an absolute harmony between the ruling body and the populace. It thus aims to replace violence and prevent us from returning to chaos. Authority and order are the underlying features of politics and ensures its enforceability. Power underscores its very existence; it is necessary for politics exist. Without authority, politics simply is not feasible. The most visible and widely accepted example of politics is the workings of the governmental institutions. However, although at first glance one may not be aware of it, politics in its various forms is present wherever and whenever humans form a community. Returning to the writings and beliefs of Aristotle, politics is an intrinsic feature of mankind.
“Politics”, Heywood, Palgrave. 1997
“The Republic”, Plato (Tr Des. Lee), Penguin, 1987
“On Liberty”, J.S.Mills, Penguin, 1985
BBC Politics page: