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Backstage Politics

The meaning of politics


Politics has to do with power relations in society. There are different conceptualizations of politics, but they all have something in common.




Today, I want to speak to you about the meaning of politics. Despite the existence of many different views on this, politics is something that has to do with the way power relations organize society. In this respect, politics is a controversial matter, and that defines its essence. Politics has two dimensions. One of them is the way society organizes power relations. The other one is the decisions made by the authority.

So, the current discussion will pivot on these two aspects of politics.


The political organization of society


Politics is mainly related to the way society organizes power relations. That means who makes binding decisions, namely, who wields power, and how to get that position. It also is related to the scope of politics. I refer to those matters that the political authority regulates. So, politics has to do with the regulation of social relations, which makes it a controversial question. Why? Society is plural, and this makes conflicts arise. People have different interests, values, goals, and so on. These differences play an important role because every individual or social group has a specific opinion on managing social conflict. That involves different perspectives on how to organize society, and what rules should regulate it.

Consequently, there are many different ways to organize society, depending on each actor’s political stance. And every organizational model determines who wields the authority to make political decisions. So, this is what makes politics a controversial matter.

You may wonder what the function of politics is. Politics is the way societies have to keep their cohesion, and therefore their existence in the long run. That differs from each society because they find their path to solve their conflicts. For this reason, they develop different political organizations and structures according to their specific peculiarities.

So, politics has to do with the way power relations articulate society. They organize social relations, and that is related to the scope of politics. How much far does politics go? That depends on the political structure of society, and also on the decisions of the political authority.

On many occasions, politics involves struggles that revolve around the political organization. In these cases, current rules are under question, and different factions try to change them. These quarrels are rooted in profound social differences about interests, values, ideology, social conditions, and so forth. Thus, they become existential struggles insofar as they compromise the principles of those groups involved in them. In these situations, the existence of the community itself is at risk due to the polarization it entails.

These political fights have serious implications because they may involve the complete change of the political system. I’m talking about how different institutions organize society, the role they play, and their respective political weighs. It also has to do with those rules that define how they interact and how society works. These rules usually adopt the form of laws. They determine who wields political authority, and how to get access to that post.

However, in stable countries, the political debate is about government decisions and how it manages the social conflict. That leads us to the next section of this discussion.


Governmental activity


When the political system is not under question, and every actor recognizes it as legitimate, political quarrels revolve around government decisions, and who the best to rule the country is. As a result, each political actor mobilizes supporters and puts forward their program to raise more support. At least, that’s the usual scenario y constitutional regimes.

Therefore, how the government manages social conflict constitutes a fundamental matter in politics, and it contributes to defining it. The existence of social differences involves diverse and sometimes divergent points of view about how to manage conflicts. So, this dimension of politics has to do with decisions made by the political authority. Naturally, that shows us how social differences may become a political matter and boost the politicization of certain social groups. Indeed, social differences are an endless source of conflict. In this regard, politicization processes explain very well the inner dynamic of politics in any community.

I talked about politicization in another episode, so I recommend you check it out.

The political structure of society determines the scope of government activity. It settles the means available to exercise its authority. Because of that, the extent of politics depends on that governmental capacity to manage public affairs. The government’s political decisions may involve a change in that scope, and, as a result, the politicization of some matters that weren’t a political issue before. In this way, the political authority extends its powers by intervening in more domains that were beyond its jurisdiction before.

This dynamic drives political quarrels because conflicts arise. As a result, they end up in the spotlight of the political debate. In these cases, the discussion is about the regulation of this matter. Naturally, due to the politicization, it also involves how to manage the resulting conflict. Then, we witness how different social groups take sides, depending on their interests. Some groups defend this politicization, and others reject it. Besides this, we see how different approaches pose opposing ways of managing the issue and conducting the conflict.

In addition to all of this, we shouldn’t overlook the twofold dimension of politics in the government’s activity. I refer to how political decisions affect society because they transform not only the scope of politics but also the way politics may change a community. In this respect, politics might be at the same time a means to maintain social cohesion, but also a means to drive political crisis and social change. Therefore, politics is instrumental because it may serve to achieve any political goal. It might contribute to the cohesion of society, or fuel social conflict and the change of political structures.


Question of the day


Question of the day! What is politics for you? Post your opinion in the comments section below, and I’ll check it out.

Bibliography used:

Strayer, Joseph, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State

Strayer, Joseph, Medieval Statecraft and the Perspectives of History

Gilbert, Felix (ed.), The Historical Essays of Otto Hintze

Tilly, Charles, Coercion, Capital, and European States: AD 990-1992

Mann, Michael, The Sources of Social Power

Poggi, Gianfranco, The Development of the Modern State

Anderson, M. S., The Origins of the Modern European State System 1494-1618

Spruyt, Hendrik, The Sovereign State and its Competitors

Le Goff, Jacques, La Baja Edad Media

Giddens, Anthony, The Nation-State and violence

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