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Politics and government
Is politics synonymous with government and government alone?
A. _________________
Political analysts have long since been obsessed with the analysis of government in order to
understand politics and even that government is politics. Although there is obviously a strong
connection between politics and government they have been pushed far too close together in their
understanding, to the extent that some declare them as one and the same, or synonymous.
B. _________________
There are an enormous number of definitions and variations on those definitions for the terms
‘politics’ and ‘government’. Depending on which are taken there can be arguments for and against
politics being synonymous with government. Thus it is necessary to start the discussion by pinning
down a relevant definition for both terms and investigating how these terms interact with each other.
In order to analyse the connection between politics and government it is first vital to have an agreed
definition of both concepts. Starting with the concept of government Crick offers us a broad
definition, “Government – The organization of a group of men in a given community for survival.”
(Crick, 2005) we find a more explicit definition from Heywood, “Government is commonly
understood to refer to the formal and institutional processes which operate at the national level to
maintain order and facilitate collective action. The core functions of government are thus to make
law (legislation), implement law (execution) and interpret law (adjudication).” (Heywood, 2000) From
this we can take that there are some central elements that a government requires such as, a
governing body; some source of income (taxation); a currency, i.e. a treasury and banking system;
courts and a legal system to see that the laws are applied; a method of enforcing laws (police); and
a military force to defend the interests of the government. Applying these fundamental criteria of
‘government’ to ‘politics’ we can see that none of them are crucial for the existence of politics,
therefore ‘politics’ cannot be synonymous with, or one and the same as, ‘government’. Following on
from this the question arises, if politics doesn’t need these criteria to exist then what does it
C. _________________
In its broadest sense Heywood describes politics as, “The activity through which people make,
preserve and amend the general rules under which they live.” (Heywood, 2005). Hay gives a list,
albeit non-exhaustive by his own admission, of twelve different ‘senses’ of the term politics. He notes
that some of these define politics as narrow and some as broad; he also draws a distinction between
politics as a function, process or arena. In the first sense politics is seen as “Any and all social
interaction occurring within the sphere of government.” (Hay, 2005) This is a very narrow definition
and defines politics independently of content and only as the arena in which it occurs; in this sense
politics and government are indeed synonymous. The fourth sense is, “Politics as the noble art of
preserving a community of citizens (the ‘republic’) through the construction, pursuit and defense of
the common or public interest.” (Hay, 2005) and is an example of politics as a function in which it
specifically ensures, “The common or collective interest of the community.” (Hay, 2005). It could also
be said for this definition of politics that it is also narrow but again provides a close synonymity with
government. The third sense provides us with a view of politics as a process, “Politics as a public and
formal set of processes and rituals through which the citizens of a state may participate, often at
arm’s length, in the process of government.” (Hay, 2005). Yet again this is a narrow explanation of
politics and once more runs, more or less, parallel with the idea of government. It is towards the
broader end of Hay’s list where we finally find sufficiently broad in context, but narrow in content,
definitions of politics which allow a presentation of the disparity between politics and government.
“The ‘Political’ as an adjective to describe the motivations of participants and non-participants in a
range of both formal and informal, public and private, processes – where such motivations are
political to the extent to which they reflect or express a view as to the legitimacy of the process.”
(Hay, 2007) This brings to light how politics can exist in both the public and private spheres whereas
government can only be located in the public sphere. And then as Hay and Marsh note when
defining politics as a process, “‘The political’ may occur in any institutional and social environment,
however mundane, however parochial.” (Hay and Marsh, 1999) This then touches on another area in
which politics exists and government does not, civil society. Civil society is made up of civic and
social organizations and institutions holding the state, or government, accountable and promoting
individual interest which may be seen as apolitical, pre-political or just totally overlooked by the
state. Here we find our first indication that although intrinsically linked politics and government are
also very much separate.
D. _________________
If we look now at how politics can exist exclusively of government we first turn to Heywood’s fourth
notion of politics in which “politics is about power: the ability to achieve a desired outcome, through
whatever means.” (Heywood, 2005) From this we can identify that there are certain activities in the
world that can lend themselves to the debate on the relationship between government and politics.
On the contemporary world stage, especially since the terror attacks in 2001 and 2005 in the U.S,
and U.K. respectively, there has been a great focus on terrorism and its related activities. Terrorism
can be identified as a political tactic and in recent times has become a tool used by political groups
all over the world. Many acts of terrorism have a political purpose, for example the attacks on the
World Trade Centre in both 1993 and 2001 were political attacks on the part of the terrorist
organization al-Qaeda. This has particular relevance to the relationship between politics and
government as al-Qaeda openly have a political agenda yet crucially are not connected to any
government. This would indicate that politics and political activity can, and do, exist outside of
government. Consequently if politics exists separately outside of government then logically it cannot
be synonymous with government.
E. _________________
There can also be evidence for the existence of government without politics. As Crick writes, Aristotle
believes that when a polis, which can be defined in modern terms as a community, becomes unified
it ceases to be a political community. If we scan for a ‘unified’ community that has a ‘government’
we can find examples in dictatorships; a dictator makes the decisions and everyone else ‘agrees’ or
is made to ‘agree’. As U.S. General George Patton once said, “When everyone agrees, someone is
not thinking.” So in a dictatorship there is no politics, as there is no need for conciliation between
groups, but a government does exist. This adds more evidence to the case that politics is not
synonymous with government otherwise politics would have to exist within a dictatorship where it
simply does not.
F. _________________
So if it cannot be said that politics is totally synonymous with government yet there is clearly a high
degree of interconnectedness between them, what is the best way to conceptualise their
relationship? Connection they share is that of ‘logical progression’. In most, if not all, cases of politics
and government existing in the same state or community, it seems that politics came first and laid
the seeds for government to follow and not vice versa . For instance, the heavily amplified focus on
environmental issues e.g. carbon footprints and global warming, over the past few years has been
clear for everyone to see. One of the interesting things this has thrown into the political arena is
global communities lobbying around political issues and the resulting effects on governance around
the world. The most recent boom of environmental lobbying, it can be said, has come about due to
the effects of globalization. The size, cause and effect of environmental issues is also far more
transparent than ever before, this has come through the increase in technologies, not least the
internet, and their power to shrink the world. As a result international NGOs and international
communities have caused a rise in the level of governance and government activity on the domestic
and world stage. Thus an increase in ‘politics’ has led to the growing and even emergence of
‘government’ activity. This supports the theory that politics comes before, or at least progresses,
government when they co-exist in a community. Government is the logical progression of politics.
It would be detrimental to politics to couple so closely with government that they become all but
interchangeable terms. This is not a slight on all things governmental but rather recognition that the
disillusioned public can only become more disenchanted and cynical towards politics if a clear
distinction is not made between it and the seemingly ever more ‘untrustworthy’ and ‘elite’ world of
‘The Government’.
1. Read the text and think about best heading for the paragraphs.
2. Match the words with definitions
a. rigorous
1. clear and exact
b. whereas
2. severe or difficult, esp. because at a high level; detailed
c. explicit
and careful
d. encompass
3. to include different types of things
e. intrinsically
4. showing interest only in a narrow range of matters,
f. mundane
especially those that directly affect yourself, your town,
g. parochial
or your country
h. disenchanted
5. causing harm or damage
i. fundamental criteria
6. conditions or facts used as a standard which is more
j. detrimental
important than anything else
7. in a way that is an extremely important and basic
characteristic of a person or thing
8. compared with the fact that; but
9. very ordinary and therefore not interesting
10. no longer believing in the value of something, especially
having learned of the problems with it
3. Answer the following questions in pair.
1. What are rigorous discussions for society nowadays?
2. What are intrinsically linked things in your family?
3. What is the difference between explicit and implicit question?
4. What are fundamental criteria of comfortable life for you?
5. Compare mundane matters (e.g. shopping for food, paying biils) in the past and now.
What are the main changes and why?
6. It is said that a politician should not accept any parochial views. Do you agree or
disagree? Why?
7. What has been the greatest disenchantment in your life?
8. What does a good essay encompass?
9. Do you believe that spontaneous decisions may be detrimental for a one’s future? Give
4. Write a rendering for the text.