What is a term politics
The following text shows the complexity of the concept of politics. This is associated with power, conflict, rule, order, common good or peace, but there is no really objective definition. Rather, every description appears selective and thus at the same time constructive. The different readings can be assigned to four types of terms: a normative, a pragmatic, a Marxist and an empirical-analytical political term. In order to grasp the multidimensionality of the political, the terms polity (form), policy (content) and politics (process) are also used in political science. Understood in a narrow sense, politics encompasses state institutions such as governments, parliaments and firmly regulated institutional channels for decision-making and implementation. In a broader sense, politics includes all negotiation processes between people and groups.
The term politics comes from the Greek word polis from. To explain the meaning of this word, Alexander Demandt (2000: 10) writes:
The word poli [...] for Homer refers to the castle, then the walled city, personified as a political body. But there are no sovereign cities either polei hot, the term is broader, and since sovereign territorial states are not included, it is narrower than our "state".
This definition makes it clear that there are differences between the terms Country (in today's sense) and polis consist. The completely different social, economic and cultural conditions in the ancient and modern world do not allow a simple transfer of the traditional Greek concept of politics to the present, even if certain relationships can be established.
Since the early classical political teachings, beginning with Aristotle, the definition of politics has been tried again and again. However, to date no growing consensus has been reached on the concept of politics. Whether power, conflict, rule, order, common good or peace are the real substance of politics remains controversial.
There is also a possibility to approach the term politics by comparing different definitions with each other (quotations from Thöndl, Schaal / Heidenreich and Rohe):
- Aristotle understands politics to be man's innate striving for life in community with friends.
- "Politics is the sum of all means that are necessary to come to power and to stay in power and to make the most useful use of power." (Machiavelli, 1414)
- "For us, politics would mean striving for a share of power or for influencing the distribution of power, be it between states, be it within a state between the groups of people it includes." (Max Weber, 1919)
- "Politics is the struggle for a just order." (Gablenz, 1951)
- “The political system is a decision-making system whose decisions are particularly relevant because they concern the distribution of goods. This distribution is done authoritatively, since it usually has to be respected and the system keeps sanctions ready for deviant behavior. The sanctions would apply to society as a whole. "(D. Easton, 1954)
- "The object and the goal of politics is peace [...] peace is the ultimate political category." (D. Sternberger, 1961)
- "Politics [is] social action [...] aimed at regulating social conflicts in a binding manner through values." (G. Lehmbruch, 1968)
- "Politics [is] the struggle of the classes and their parties, states and world systems, which pervades all areas of social life, for the realization of their socio-economic interests and goals [...]." (Dictionary of Marxist-Leninist Sociology, 1969)
- The political is to be seen as a follow-up problem to a problematic social situation (according to K. Rohe, 1994).
- "Politics is the totality of activities to prepare and produce decisions that are binding for society as a whole and / or that are oriented towards the common good and benefit society as a whole." (T. Meyer, 2003)
- “Politics is the creation of a 'good' order for all people and the maintenance of this order by guaranteeing internal and external security. The means for this is power. "(M. Thöndl, 2005)
The quotations listed above make it clear that it is the "true", objective definition of Politics does not exist, rather the different definitions produce a selective effect, as Andreas Kley (2005: 3) explains:
The political terms reproduced here cover very different aspects of the complex social reality that is qualified as "political". First it is the problem of the good life, then the friend-foe relationship or the problem of the class struggle. The highlighting of individual aspects necessarily creates the avoidance of other accents. The use of these terms therefore has a selective effect. However, this fact cannot be complained about as a shortcoming. Because there is no comprehensive term that takes into account all facets of politics. The formation and use of a certain political term precedes the interest in knowledge directed towards social reality. This is a creative, spontaneous process in which the subjectivity of the knower inevitably enters into the formation of the concept and into what is to be known. This subjectivity is not to be equated with arbitrariness, because the concept of the "political" is diffuse and the researcher must necessarily determine the contours of his subject himself. The selective effect of the political terms turns out to be inevitable.
But you can also say that the term politics is an autological concept (N. Luhmann), d. H. he only attains the reality he describes through himself, and thus he has constructive power.
Groups of policy terms
If one tries to order the different definitions, one can distinguish four types:
- The normative concept of politics: The focus is on community and good order as the purpose of the state and the community.
- The pragmatic concept of politics: Above all, it revolves around the phenomenon of power, i.e. the acquisition and maintenance of rule.
- The Marxist concept of politics: For its representatives, politics is only a phenomenon of the superstructure and therefore of the class struggle due to the material-economic conditions, especially the relations of production.
- The empirical-analytical concept of politics: It is based on the political decision-making system in complex and conflict-ridden societies.
Three systematic dimensions of the concept of politics
In order to adequately grasp the multidimensionality of the political, German political science has adopted the Anglo-Saxon terminology: In contrast to the German language, which only knows the word politics, the English language distinguishes three terms: polity, policy and politics.
Polity: the political framework for action
Politics always take place within a certain framework, i. H. in certain permanent forms that are difficult to change. First of all, these requirements or conditions include the constitutional order:
- It specifies central principles, such as B. Democracy, rule of law, welfare state or federalism.
- It regulates the relationship between the state organs.
- It standardizes the basic rights that draw the boundaries of state action.
Current and future politics must move within these limits.
The institutionally entrenched forms of politics also include:
- other laws, standards and rules, d. H. the entire legal system,
- international agreements and treaties,
- the parliament, the government and the courts,
- other organizations and institutions such as parties, associations, corporations and schools.
Through this widely distributed system of institutions, the formation of political will is channeled, the scope for action is defined, and the content and course of politics are determined.
Ultimately, however, political culture also belongs to the political framework. By this one understands the political typical for a certain society
- Orientation pattern and
Policy: the content dimension of politics
Second, politics has a normative, content-related dimension that is related to goals and tasks. It is always about the way the task is performed, the question of how solutions to problems can be found and political shaping is possible.
For example, parties or governments formulate appropriate policy programs that seek to set the course and activities for a large number of policy areas. This applies equally to the areas of family, social, environmental, energy, educational policy, etc.
It is always about material as well as normative decisions and results of politics that affect individuals in the form of privileges or disadvantages. This results in different evaluations of political achievements.
Correspondingly, the content-related scope of politics is filled with conflictual material due to the contradictory nature of interests. This is especially true when financial resources become scarce.
A good government policy therefore stands for a policy that succeeds in solving political problems in such a way that legitimacy and effectiveness are sufficiently guaranteed.
Politics: politics as a process
Politics has a procedural dimension that relates to the interactions that take place between those involved in political events. The first question here is who is involved in the decision-making and decision-making processes and in what way. It provides information on how a specific policy is created.
Since the interests usually differ greatly, the settlement of conflicts is usually in the foreground. Politics means the struggle between different groups and people for power, shares of power and influence.
On the part of the government, efforts are in the foreground to use politics to gain approval and support for the political programs it has designed.
To do this, it must acquire, expand and maintain power. Furthermore, it must convey the wishes, interests and demands of groups and people to one another through politics, but also enforce them. This happens through consensus, compromise or majority decision.
The ability to manage this process successfully is also known as the art of governance.
Polity, policy, politics at a glance
Conflict and consensus, interest, power
If you ask German political scientists, as Böhret (1985: 308) did, in a very specific survey what they themselves consider to be the indispensable terms in political science, you get a dazzling palette. The 256 respondents named 639 different terms, 414 of which only appear once (from disarmament to economic democracy).
The four most cited concepts - conflict and consensus, interest and power - deserve special recognition.
Conflict and consensus
The term conflict has often been the trigger for conflicts in the theoretical debate in the social sciences. The question “How do you deal with the conflict or do you maintain consensus?” Divided the social sciences into two camps. Consensus was not only propagated in a political conservatism and the corresponding political-scientific accompanying theories as social harmony under the umbrella of the state embodying the common good, but also in the foreground of sociological theoretical drafts of functionalism by Talcott Parsons. Ralf Dahrendorf, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of social conflict as a natural and not necessarily system-endangering element in the maintenance and change of societies. Conflicts are settled, lead to compromises and a temporary equilibrium, which, however, always remains unstable and can lead to new conflicts. Conflicts are no longer dichotomous (characterized by a simple contrast, i.e. bipolar), but have become more multifaceted in a pluralistic society due to multiple overlaps of interests, memberships in groups and different role expectations. Proponents of the pluralism theory therefore link conflict and consensus, since they assume that there is no general consensus, except that the basic rules of the game of conflict resolution must be respected. They reduce consensus to adhering to procedural rules that are beyond everyday discussion.
The term interest has shaped society, social politics and social sciences for 200 years. The concept of interest has three aspects in particular in the social sciences:
- the individual Dimension of interests in relation to the basic needs and drives of individual people;
- the material Aspect of interest that the basic economic structure of a society in particular is able to convey;
- the social Aspect of interest that addresses the link between individual and collective, material and immaterial interests.
In a certain way, political science is a “science of interest”, since the mediation of interests in society between individuals, groups and the state has a formative meaning.
The ambiguity of the word interest is surpassed by the term power. Power is certainly a universal phenomenon. There is power in all forms of society and at all levels of social and political relationships. The concept of power, classically formulated by Max Weber as “every chance within a social relationship to enforce one's own will against resistance, regardless of what this chance is based on”, remains relatively diffuse. To this day it is controversial whether power should be viewed realistically and pragmatically or rated normatively and therefore controlled and restricted by democratic politics.
Politics as a narrow and a broad concept
Politics as an area-specific task
Politics in the multi-dimensional form described above is first of all a task that is carried out by the political system in the narrower sense, i. H. is perceived by the state institutions, in particular by the government or parliaments.
In this institutional framework, both in terms of scope and scope, the decisive decisions are made in various policy fields such as social, European, security or transport policy. Politics thus fulfills an area-specific task.
Naturally, depending on the policy area, these are very different concrete measures, but these decision-making processes are united by something general and common.
In essence, it is a matter of political decisions trying to secure the coexistence of people and groups, who differ in their convictions, interests and desires, through generally binding regulations. The road traffic regulations as well as the general compulsory schooling are authoritatively prescribed regulations that apply to everyone, i. H. are generally binding.
Interweaving of politics and society
However, the narrower concept of politics does not encompass the whole of politics. According to this, politics is not only an administrative-state, but also a social phenomenon. It is important to distinguish between politics in the broader sense and politics in the narrower sense.
This is a recent development. In the 19th century, the public and private spheres were relatively sharply separated from one another. This separation has lost much of its validity today. The associated interdependence of politics and society can be observed in practically all areas of society, albeit with varying degrees of intensity.
In concrete terms, this means that today we must assume a “politicization” of the social sector. This also applies to social institutions such as the family, school and university, the club or the company, which at first glance appear to be completely apolitical. In these institutions, the actual objective is naturally in the foreground; it is primarily about social activities and not actually about politics. Nevertheless, political phenomena are also present in these social structures, albeit in a secondary form, and can be experienced in multiple ways.
This can be felt through the fact that public policy tries to influence these social institutions.It does this by deciding, in the form of family, education, leisure or company policy, on the regulatory and framework conditions of social areas and the subgroups located there. But that also means that politics has a strong influence on social life.
However, this process is not a one-way street that runs from top to bottom on one side. Rather, impulses, suggestions and demands in the direction of the political system also emanate from the social sub-areas. They are addressed to politicians with the expectation to exert influence and to bring about generally binding decisions of the state-administrative system in terms of their own group goals. This influence is mainly exercised by associations.
Claudio Caduff, University of Education Central Switzerland, Lucerne University of Applied Sciences
Carl Böret (1985): On the status and orientation of political science in the Federal Republic. In policy research in the Federal Republic of Germany. Opladen: West German publishing house.
Alexander Demandt (2000): The ideal state. The political theories of antiquity. Cologne, Weimar, Vienna: Böhlau.
Andreas Kley (2005): Additional documents for the lecture on general constitutional law. Zurich: Unpublished script.
Karl Rohe (1994): Politics. Concepts and Reality. Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne: Kohlhammer.
Gary S. Schaal, Felix Heidenreich (2006): Introduction to the Political Theories of Modernity. Paderborn etc .: UTB.
Michael Thöndl (2004): Introduction to Political Science. Vienna, Cologne, Weimar: Böhlau.
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