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What Is Politics

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Why do we have to be interested in politics? If you’re not, others will influence the decisions that govern your lives. For example, who decides to declare war, to fix taxes….Ignorant is manipulated.
Aristotle, the founder of the discipline, called politics the “master science”: he meant that almost everything happens in a political context. For example, politics is connected to economics: suppose a hurricane or earthquake strikes a country, in this case it is the political system that decides for example which victims to aid. The disaster is natural, but its impact on society is controlled by politics.
Politics may be immoral: we have a misuse of power, corruption…. But even if we don’t like these features, we have to understand how things go on: how A gets B to do what A wants. This is what Political Science tries to explain. Political Science is related to the other social sciences:
- History: it’s an important source of data for political scientists (if we analyze the Cold War (1947-1989), we have to know the events so history). But the data are handled differently: political scientists look for generalizations, historians for details.
- Geography: physical and human (ethnic areas, regions …….)
- Economics: many political quarrels are economic. A good economic development may be the basis for democracy, only few poor countries are democratic.
- Sociology: Political Science starts by looking at society to see “who thinks what”about politics. For example, by demonstrating how political views vary among social classes, genders, age groups, religions….
- Anthropology: in Africa, voting and violence follow tribal lines.
- Psychology: how personalities are attached to politics. Studies of Hitler, Stalin and
- Mao Zedong are often based on psychological theories.

We can divide the discipline into several subfields:
- Comparative politics between nations, trying to establish generalizations.
- International relations (conflict, diplomacy, international law and international organizations).
- Political theories.
- Public Administration studies bureaucracies.
- Constitutional law: studies the application and evolution of the Constitution.

DEFINING POLITICS: The world politics is derived from polis meaning city-state. Ancient Greek society was divided into independent city-states with its own system of government. The most important of these was Athens.
Politics is defined in different ways: as the exercise of power, of authority, the making of collective decisions and so on…
The philosopher Niccoló Macchiavelli emphasized the role of POWER in politics. Power is a basic concept of the discipline. Power is the ability to influence the behavior of people. Authority is the right to do so.
Sometimes, Politics is the manipulation of symbols to gain power. Charismatic leaders such Benito Mussolini (founder of fascism in Italy) followed by Hitler in Germany, feed people myths to control the crowd. Bin Laden controls thousand of fanatical followers with the myth that America is the enemy of Islam, and these followers ended their lives in terrorist acts.
Politics is also seen as a resolution of conflict by compromise, conciliation and negotiation. So different interests are conciliated by sharing the power: the conflicts can be resolved without intimidation and violence, they can be resolved through compromise which means that concessions are made by all sides, leaving no one perfectly satisfied.
IS POLITICS A SCIENCE? Political Science can be scientific if we use the methodology of the natural sciences. We have to quantify data and manipulate them statistically to validate hypotheses. The problem is that large areas of politics are not quantifiable (how and why do leaders make their decisions? Many decisions are made in secrecy). Another problem is that models and theories of politics are not entirely value-free: family background, social experience, economic position, personal sympathies… build on every one of us preconceptions about politics.
So Political Science is an empirical discipline that accumulates both quantified and qualitative data. Following this methodology, we begin to generalize. When the generalizations become firmer, we call them theories. In a few cases, the theories become so firm that we may call them laws. And now we can talk about Politics as a science.
Concept: it’s a general idea about something expressed in a single word or a short phrase. It’s more than a noun or the name of a thing; it’s an idea. The problem is that words such “freedom”, “democracy” and “justice” have different meanings to different people. We don’t have one true freedom, one true justice.
Model: it’s a representation of something. Models help to interpret facts and then to organize them. This is a representation of empirical data.
Theory: it’s a proposition, an explanation of a body of empirical data. It is difficult to have theories that are purely empirical; values beliefs intrude.

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