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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 9/3/21

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

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Seven Theories of Politics
Seven Theories of Politics
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Author: Bruce Lerro, co-founder and organizer for Socialist Planning Beyond Capitalism

"Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn't mean politics won't take an interest in you."

Pericles, 430 BC

Part I Foundational Questions and The Centrist Politics: Old Institutionalists, Civic Republicans and Weberian Political Economists


Politics is a slippery set of actions

We normally think art and literature are different from politics, but how do we explain what the difference is? There are occasions when art and literature are banned by the state. What happens to make them political?

Which of these are political examples demonstrate that, and why?

  • House of Commons debating a Bill
  • U.S. ambassador mediating between warring states in the Middle East
  • Elders deciding on the day a nomadic tribe should move on to the next pasture
  • Salesman wondering how to counter a rival's advertising campaign
  • Man beating his slave
  • Priest giving a sermon
  • Family deciding whether to have a holiday abroad this year or not
  • Small boy pleading with his older sister to buy him an ice cream

Linguistic obstacles to defining "politics": Politics is a loaded, vague, and ambiguous word

"Politics" is one of those words which is loaded. Whatever your opinion about politics, it is likely to be "charged" and is a good bet to get you to rev your engines. As Adrian Leftwich points out in What is Politics? the word "politics" has gotten bad press. Here are some associations and their implied opposites: Politics can be:

  • Hypocrisy - baby kissing (not saying what you feel)
  • Wheeling and dealing (as opposed to following through on promises)
  • Fraud (as opposed to honesty)
  • Unpleasant squabbles (as opposed to agreeableness)
  • Can be violent (as opposed to being non-violent)
  • Done by professionals (as opposed to by the average person)
  • Character assassination (as opposed to sticking with the issue)
  • Unnecessary "don't get political" (as opposed to a necessary activity)
  • Temporary (intrinsic and functional activities which are not political)
  • Distasteful "It's a dirty job, but someone has to do it" (as opposed to enjoyable)

Those who claim to hate politics probably draw from at least some of these associations. However, these reservations still have embedded in them their own definition of politics. Even those who claim to be "apolitical" still have a vague definition about what politics is in order for them to decide to withdraw from it. Lastly, many of those who claim to like politics often have a very narrow and conventional definition of what it actually is.

Besides the word "politics" being loaded, it is also one of those words that everyone thinks is commonly agreed upon. I am not talking about specific political positions, for instance conservative or liberal. What I mean is a simple working definition of the word. The word politics is vague in the sense that the borderline between it and other related terms in sociology is murky.

As Leftwich points out:

There are institutional jealousies, border police, with well-placed and often concealed booby-traps, diversions and dead ends. Some people who attempt to work in such areas never seem to emerge alive. Those who do, often re-emerged tattered and in such a state of shock that they never seem able to say anything about any concrete politics of problems of the world again. (117)

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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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