The Definitions And Concept Of Politics

The analysis of political behaviour has its roots in ancient times where one of the most notable philosophers introduced their perception of politics. Aristotle and his famous work ‘Politics’ are the basis for contemporary researchers whose the main aim is to determine how the subject should be described as to present the definition in the most accurate sense that is possible. Nonetheless, the question is where we should put the boundaries of politics, and if there are any. The definition that is frequently cited in order to give an idea of the field of study was introduced by an American political scientist Harold Lasswell whose title of the book ‘Politics: Who Gets What, When, How’ (1936) depicts most simply the complexity of the subject. As this definition is open to interpretation, this essay will present the variety of definitions comparing to the Lasswell’s view, then introduce the concept of power and authority and at the end, discuss the importance of conflict and compromise in terms of analyzing the political process.

Over the years political scientists struggled to find one definition that could explain what politics is about. The subject was defined as: distribution of scarce resources, allocation of goods, the exercise of power and these are not the only definitions in use (Heywood 2013: 2). For better understanding, it is crucial to analyze the details, distinguishing politics as an arena and politics as a process (Leftwich, 2004: 13). The first one refers to the place in which political affairs take place. That is, for instance, governmental institutions. Supporters of defining the subject as an arena claim that these are the governments whose main role is to implement the rules that are to affect the citizens and whole societies. However, certain groups claim that politics occurs in all environments and does not limit itself to the institutional form and go beyond the public sphere. Perceiving politics only as a set of institutions and a location where the political actors make the decisions depict a very narrow approach and, as a result, certain groups, for example, feminists, reject to accept this. Thus, politics is also seen in terms of an ongoing process of allocating goods and exercising power (Hay 2002: 73). It is a governments’ responsibility to introduce the social policies that can be implemented usually thanks to the modifications of the tax policy. It is a changing process because the scarcity occurs in different sectors and different periods. This approach of defining politics seems to be more accurate to Lasswell’s definition who is leaning towards this perspective of the subject.

Politics is inseparable from the concept of power and authority. The subject is concerned with power, in that sense, who and how makes the decisions. However, these two terms are often seen as synonyms, we should emphasize the crucial differences by defining what power and authority are about. Power can be briefly defined as the ability to influence others. A different definition was given by a political theorist Robert A. Dahl that says ‘power is a relation, and that is a relation among people’ (1957: 203). In other words, certain groups, institutions or individuals has power over people. Nonetheless, one of the most notable discussions about power was provided by Steven Lukes who developed the three-dimensional view of power. In this perspective, he distinguished three ways in which power can be exercised. The first one is known as a decision-making approach which can be explained by a quotation ‘A has power over B to the extent that he can get B to do something that B would not otherwise do’ (Dahl 1957: 202-203). In contrast, The second ‘face’ of power is seen in terms of preventing from making these decisions. As Lukes (1974: 23) explains ‘The most effective and insidious use of power is to prevent such conflict from arising in the first place’. However, these two approaches exhibit an essential idea of the notion of power, they seem to be based on the assumption that all the sides of the ‘relation’ are relatively aware of the process. The absence of complaints is not equivalent to consent (1974: 24). There is a possibility that the individuals were influenced by the process of indoctrination or propaganda. This ‘face’ of power known as a thought control approach is the ability to shape individual preferences and views. Having said this, the authority should be seen as a legitimate power that is usually associated with consent (Garner, et al. 49). Nonetheless, this one definition provides a very limited view of the phenomenon. Referring to Max Weber, the term should be distinguished into three ways; these are Traditional, Charismatic and Legal-rational authority. The first two are commonly seen as a relict of the past in developed countries because the legitimacy is derived from, respectively, tradition and charisma of the ruler and ‘the modern world exhibit a greater tendency towards legal-rational authority'(2016: 51). Discussing power, it is important to mention the two groups that had a great impact on political thought and the concept of power and influence. The first one, feminist’s approach, argues that politics is not limited to the institutional form and should be seen as a process in every sphere of life both public and personal. This theory is concerned with the under-representation of women and male domination over every stage of politics (Stoker 2010: 117-118). A similar approach was presented by Marxists, however, with a fundamental difference. In this perspective, the power is a relationship between the owners (bourgeoisie) and the workers (proletariat) where those in power hold the means of production suppressing and exploiting the working class. Both theories adopted previously discussed ‘process’ approach to political analysis with the perception of politics as a form of oppression of one group over another.

As the resources are limited, and the even distribution of wealth and goods is merely a utopian idea, the emergence of conflict is inevitable. Diversity of society, different needs, values and interests create disputes over certain issues. The importance of this concept was outlined by Crick (2013: 10) ‘The more one is involved in relationships with others, the more conflicts of interest, or of character and circumstance, will arise. These conflicts, when personal, create the activity we call ‘ethics’; […] and such conflicts, when public, create political activity’. All sides of the dispute are likely to seek a solution, at the same time keeping their interests. Nonetheless, no one can be fully satisfied because consensus means an abandonment of certain demands to dispose of the inefficient process (Heywood 2013: 8). The process of the regime transformation in Poland, in particular, the events from 1989 present in a clear way the stages of rivalry, dialogue and a final agreement. The conflict of interest between the communist elite and the anti-government activists were to be resolved through ‘Round Table Talks’ that resulted in holding a partially-free parliamentary election. As a result, 65% of the seats in the Sejm (lower chamber) was secured for the communist activist and the rest of the seats was freely elected (Brzechczyn: 2010). The election results showed the opposition’s success as it managed to gain all the possible seats in the lower chamber and 99 out of 100 seats in the newly-established fully democratically-elected Senat (upper chamber). The compromise was achieved through the process of democratic negotiations. Both sides saw the violent alternative of coercion as ineffective and, as a result, the transformation of the regime proceeded without bloodshed.

The emergence of new theories and inevitable changes in societies challenge political scientists in terms of providing the narrow definition that could satisfy all that the existing groups and individuals. In order to define politics, it is vital to analyze the concepts that, at first glance, are not closely related, however, provide a basic understanding of political behaviour. Lasswell’s general definition of the field accurately represents politics in its ambiguity. A huge amount of effort had been put to decide if we should and if so, in what way extend or narrow the definition. Which spheres of life could be considered as affected by politics and who could be seen, using a certain interpretation of the term, as a political actor. However, definitions and opinions provided by prominent political scientists help give the notion of the area of the study, still, a lot of questions remain unanswered and the matter of interpretation the term plays an important role in political science.