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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/13/21

Seven Theories of Politics: The Rehabilitation of a Loaded Vice Word Part II

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Part II Radical and Reactionary Theories of Politics: Radical Feminism, Marxism, Rational Choice Theory, Bio-Evolutionary Theory

Orientation

The reason I wrote this article is to get people excited about the explanatory power of the word "politics" and to make sense of the world and how to change it. In Part I of this article, I brought up some of major confusions over how the word politics is used to describe actions as well as to define the word theoretically. I then posed 12 questions that any political theory would have to answer. The questions were:

  • Temporal reach: How far back into history does politics go?
  • Cross-species scope: Is politics an activity that is confined to the human species?
  • Spatial reach: Where is the arena in which politics takes place?
  • Political agency: Who does politics? Professionals or everyone?
  • Political action: How is politics different from strategies?
  • Interpersonal processes: How is politics different from convincing and persuading?
  • What is the relationship between politics and power? Does politics drive power or does power drive politics?
  • What is the relationship between politics and force or coercion? Are they interchangeable? Are they opposites?
  • Interdisciplinary span? To what extent is politics influenced by economics, technology, history?
  • What are the forces that shape politics?
  • What is the relationship between theories of politics and theories of political sociology?
  • What is the relationship between theories of politics and political ideologies?

Lastly, I identified seven political theories. In Part I, I focused on three political theories that occupy the centrist portion of the political spectrum: old institutionalists (mainstream political science), civil republicans and Weberian political economy. In Part II I discuss the remaining four theories: radical feminism and Marxism on the left and Rational Choice Theory and Bio-Evolutionary on the right. At the end of this article, there is a table that summarizes how each of the seven theories answers the twelve questions above.

Marxist political economy

Contradictory nature of politics in Marx

Marx's notion about politics is contradictory. In some places he lumps together politics with religion, morals, laws and contrasts this to the economic "base". However, in his more political writing on France, he seems to give politics more importance than in the first formulation above. In a formal sense, Marx thought that politics was a product of class conflict. In this sense, he saw the state as the concentration of political struggle. In a narrow sense, this would exclude egalitarian societies from politics because they didn't have any classes. Yet Marx was very interested in lack of private property and in the decision-making processes of these societies. But he implies that decisions about property relations and deciding whether or not to move to a new location are not political.

Politics is inseparable from economics

In Part I, we saw institutionalists and civic republicans both accept the separation of politics from economics, and institutionalists think what they are doing is "political science". We also saw Weberians will not make this separation, claiming that what they are doing is "political economy". Yet they will come down more on the side of the importance of politics. When Marx talked about economics, most explicitly in Das Kapital, Grundrisse, and in other works, he also did so out of a tradition called political economy. People like Adam Smith and David Ricardo would never separate economics from the politics of the day. Despite all these qualifications, we can safely say that for Marx there was no such thing as politics without economics. Marx would have heaped scorn on the disciplines of "political science" for ignoring the economy and the economists who pretend there is no politics in economics.

Historical sweep: politics as relative

Marx had the second broadest historical sweep of the evolution of politics because he points to changes from the relations of property going all the way back from communal, to slave, to feudal to capitalist property. This broad sweep of politics enabled Marx to see the relativity of politics in a way that institutionalists, civic republicans and even Weberians do not. For Marx, tribal societies practiced no politics because there were no social classes. At the visionary end of Marx's social vision, under communism there would be no politics because the existence of social classes would be abolished. Unlike any other theoretician of politics Marx believed politics emerged at a certain, relatively recent point in human history and it would wither away at a later point. Marx's perspective was not only historically depthful but his interdisciplinary reach included not only economics and world history, but also anthropology and sociology.

The state as passive

Both institutionalists and Weberians think that the state is very important for enacting politics, though for very different reasons. With civic republicans, Marx did not think the state was very powerful in its political activity. Marx saw the state as a relatively passive instrument of the capitalist class, its executive committee and its representative bodies as the "talking shop of the bourgeoisie".

Place of violence in politics

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Barbara MacLean and Bruce Lerro are co-founders and organizers for Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism. Follow them on Facebook and Twitter. http://planningbeyondcapitalism.org/

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