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Politics is..
Politics is as old as human history. It is a form of behaviour, concerning disputes and decisions about human ideals and interests.
The problem we face is that there are many different competing definitions of Politics. We will look at some of the main ones to
develop our own working definitions.
Harold Laswell: “who gets what, when and how much in a society.”
Lenin: “Who does what to whom.”
Mao Tse Tung: “bloodless war.”
Bismarck: “the doctrine of the possible, the attainable.”
Politics is the social act, which attempts to resolve the conflict between human needs and social facts.
Social act: Any purposeful exchange between 2 or more individuals or groups.
Conflict: A disagreement, a disparity.
Human needs: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, things/conditions we need for both psychological (affection/love) and
physiological (water/food) satisfaction.
Social fact: The reality of scarce resources, moral and ethical conflicts
Political structures have numerous dimensions:
1) Politics as behaviour: Political behaviour is a function of the relations humans have with their environment. Two primary
dimensions of political behaviour are the psychological and the social.
Psychological: political behaviour is seen as thought, perception, judgement, attitudes and beliefs. Personality, expectations and
motivations help explain individual and group responses to environmental stimuli.
Ex: Leaders will possess certain personal characteristics than do followers
Selling issues and candidates – propaganda & entertainment
Psychological manipulation of voter preferences
Social: are actions such as voting, protesting, campaigning, and lobbying. Can also be seen as most fundamental relations in
families, businesses, churches and the professional & leisure associations of people.
2) Politics as culture: Since every society has its own unique past, every political culture is therefore unique and many nations will
experience different political subcultures flourishing within them.
Beliefs: Convictions/assertions that we each maintain (proven or unproved) that are based on one or more fundamental
assumptions about political behaviour.
e.g. humans are selfish; therefore government should legislate and enforce sharing of resources.
Customs: Conventional and accepted practices that may be recognized as a functional part of the political system. It may be
reinforced through the legal actions of the state.
e.g. when a cabinet minister resigns because of inappropriate behaviour.
Expectations: Standard assertions about what people believe ought to happen in the political world.
e.g. avoid patronage
Institutions: Complex structures organized around a central decision-making activity or social need.
Laws: Norms sanctioned by government decree or legislative action.
Skills: Knowledge, procedures, strategies and tactics for achieving desired social goals.
Symbols: Things that represent something else.
e.g. the maple leaf, the beaver.
Values: attitudes and standards of judgement about what things are important, desirable and right.
Politics as Values: Shared beliefs that provide standards for judging human thought and action.
Values in society allow people to judge whether they are satisfies or dissatisfied with the distribution of social rewards that
flow from community expectations.
Political scientist Harold Laswell lists 9 values that generate politics and are sought after by all people in all societies.
Power: In Canada, power and political institutions are intimately related.
See power as an authority that is granted by authority/consent; the right to rule rather than ruthlessness in obtaining it.
Power is passed onto the person who occupies the office – when that person leaves, the next person is also granted the same
rights & obligations.
While in that office, a person is expected to behave in accordance with certain values & standards of conduct.
Wealth: The level of industrialization of a country has a direct impact on the wealth of a society.
Not only wealth, but also poverty
In 1997, Canada’s net worth was calculated at $2 trillion. If you divide the $2 trillion by 27 million people, it comes to about
$100,00 per Canadian.
Health: Canadians try to improve public health.
Enlightment: Education requires great investment to pay for schools, teachers, libraries, etc.
Therefore politics of education are very important
In industrial societies, education is one of the means for upward mobility
Education is a primary value in all societies
Though grade school is open to all, access to post-secondary education is limited
Employment: Work or employment is the basis of all cultures.
Employment links a person to a network of socially rewarding interactions
Without work, people feel disfranchised from their social & political systems, they become alienated from society
Provided social interaction
Justice: Canadians want a system that is fair and impartial.
Hard to qualify what’s right or wrong sometimes because issue of right vs right
The way a government operates, it’s legal and court systems is an integral part of its social value system
Respect: It includes the rights & freedoms people demand form society (charter of Rights)
Domestically, respect for achievement & freedoms
Internationally, territorial integrity of states & principle of non-intervention
Security: Not only in military terms, but also defined as the ability of society to satisfy basic human needs.
Affliction: A country’s treaties & co-operation between nations
Politics as Ideology: Ideology is a value system through which we perceive, explain and accept the world
e.g. anarchism, capitalism, conservation.
Conflicts arise between various ideologies:
Conservatism vs Liberalism
Capitalism vs Socialism
Some political cultures appear more ideological based than others
e.g. Cuba vs Canada
5) Politics as a Nation-Building: Economic & social base of any society requires political decision, this leads to the building blocks of
national development.
Politics embraces all activity that impinges upon making binding decisions about who gets what, when and how. It is an
activity through which contending interests and differences may be reconciled for the supposed advantage of society.
Political activity arises either to conserve society as it is, or to change society (Leo Strauss)
Political Activity brings about:
conservation or change
society evaluates its choice
this evaluation is the basis of our judgment of justice or injustice (we made the right/wrong choice)
Example: the debate surrounding an issue such as abortion
There are two positions/considerations regarding abortion as a political activity:
the life of the child (against)
the autonomy of women (for)
Once a position is taken, laws are then created, and those that agree with the law find it fair, while those who do not, find the law
unfair (evaluation).
Politics is the art of governing or getting things done, through the use of power, authority, and influence.
Politics is often seen as the art of the possible and the art of compromise. Political problems rarely have a satisfying solution –
usually results in a compromise in which both sides are not happy but can live with it.