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1.

THE FOUNDATIONS AND STUDY OF POLITICS:


AN INTRODUCTION
1.1. General and specific understandings

1.1.1. What is “Politics”, and why “Politics” is important?

- ”Politics” have existed since the beginning of human life


- The word “Politics = Greek terminology ”polis” = city-state/state
- In other words = the organisation of human life and living within a
society; an institution to manage and regulate (control??) human
behaviour, i.e. government, state
- Politics = “the ways human beings govern and are governed” (Magstadt
2009: 4)
- Politics = “the science dealing with the form, organisation and
administration of a state, or part of one, and with the regulations of its
relations with other states” (Oxford English Dictionary)

- According to Aristotle (384 – 322 BC) – ”Man is a political (and social)


animal”
- Human nature = inclination to live in groups, yet possesses inherently
negative/unconstructive characteristics, i.e. individualistic, greedy, self-
centred, aggressive, rebellious, tendency to quarrel/disagree.
- Consequentially = propensity to trigger disagreement, tension/friction,
and penchant to be involved in conflicts and disputes
- That said, (wo)man also has the proclivity to cooperate/work together for
mutual interests and benefits, i.e. to realise a better/more ideal life (good
life) (i.e. ability to fulfill basic needs and wishes)

- All types/forms of human relationship and activities within society =


political; political activities = fundamental part of human life – in practice
since (wo)man live in groups/societal living

- Study of Politics = a study of

i) various ways to manage/govern human activities within a


society;
ii) various ways in which (wo)men in society exercise control over
the actions of their fellows;
iii) means/methods of resolving problems/disputes/conflicts in
human relationship, amicably, and in a peaceful, conciliatory,
and effective manner
iv) means by which people debate and resolve the most important
values in a society (Moten and Islam 2005: 6)

- Politics = ”the art of the possible” ; “art of living and working together’
- For Aristotle, the study of Politics = ”mother of all knowledge”, knowledge
to seek a “good life” and to achieve “the highest good”

- Politics = apparent in daily/everyday life (omnipresent) i.e. when you


vote; pay taxes; protest or demonstrate; obtain a scholarship or place in
university (or otherwise); fined for speeding, or driving illegally without a
licence; boycott certain products; practice recycling and conservation,
etc.
- Related common, everyday terms = office politics; football field politics;
household politics, etc.

- General definition/s of ”Politics”:-

1) all forms of decision-making process involving a large group of people,


and that involves mutual action/s
2) competition over ”who gets what, when, and how (as well as how much
and why) (Lasswell 1978) ; or
3) all kinds of human activities involving the distribution of limited
goods/values in society (i.e. power, skills, knowledge, wealth, justice,
freedom and liberty, truth, respect)

** Definition of ”Value” – ”goals in life” and “human/societal conditions


that are desired” (Syed Ahmad Hussein 2006: 36)

- Specific definition/s of ”Politics” = i) general concept encompassing all


kinds of activities, institutions, and processes of administering/ managing
a political unit (state), i.e. power, authority, government and institutions
concerning rule and governance, political ideas, as well as the role/s of
the authority, individual, group, society in the political process (namely
the process of distributing the limited values in society by the authorities)
- Summary – the term ”politics” = nebulous, subjective, multi-faceted,
multi-dimensional, comprises a multitude of meanings due to the
vastness of the field of politics
- Definition/s of ”Politics” commonly dwell on the questions of :

i) Power and Authority (i.e. ability to make decision/s, control, force,


influence, etc./ authority = legitimate power)
ii) Order (structures/regulations/institutions/procedures/practices that
shape a particular political system, i.e. state, government)
iii) Justice (involves the question of the distribution of goods/values –
who gets what, when, how, how much, and why)

1.1.2 Fundamental Problem/Questions in Politics

- A question of morality = how to create an ”Ideal Society”


(Perfect/Utopian)
- Definition of ”Ideal Society” = society that is just, equal, and peaceful,
which comprises free and prosperous individuals/members
- The ultimate goal of politics = to realise an ”Ideal Society”
- Essence of the political question = 1) what is the most ideal form of
Society for human beings; 2) what is the best way/s to realise it
- A subjective question = main source for philosophical question; the role
of ideology; normative values in politics (Why subjective??)
- A universal question = apparent in both Western and Eastern political
philosophy (i.e. Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Mill, Rousseau, Kant,
Montesquieu, Marx, Hegel, Nietzche, Hayek, Rawl, Al-Mawardi, Al-
Farabi, Ibn-Khaldun, Confucius, Mencius, Kautilya, etc.

1.2. The Sub-fields of Political Studies

- Can be generally divided, and categorised into:

i) Political Thought/Philosophy and Political Theory


ii) Comparative Politics
iii) Public Administration
iv) Political Sociology & Political Culture
v) International Relations
1.3. Political Thought (Political Philosophy)

1.3.1 What is ”Political Thought”?

i) Ideas concerning the problem and questions of political morality,


namely regarding the ideal form of political rule and the scope and
nature of what the government ought to do
ii) Normative/evaluative/abstract Ideas on how government and people
should behave
iii) Ideas concerning the types of political institutions that we
should/ought to have, namely all kinds of institutions (i.e. government,
legal, social, economic, culture, etc.) that determine the “basic
structure” of a society (Rawl 1971)

- Focus = ideas and evaluation of ideology/belief system


- emphasis on normative/evaluative questions, i.e. ”what ought to”; rather
than empirical questions, i.e. ”what actually is”
- ”value-laden” in nature = evaluate what is deemed as ”good” and ”bad”,
and to provide prescription on “what ought to be done”
- Examples of normative- vs. empiricist-oriented question: ”how state and
society ought to/should be governed”, and ”how individuals/people ought
to/should behave” vs. questions regarding ”how state and society are
actually governed” and “how individuals/people do actually behave” (S.A.
Hussein 2006)

1.3.2 Why is Political Thought/Philosophy important?

- dwells on, and generates normative/evaluative ideas to address the


fundamental problem/questions of “politics” = Good/Ideal Society;
Freedom and Liberty, Justice, Equality, Rights and Responsibility;
Morality and Ethics, etc.

- The importance of normative/abstract ideas:

i) promotes deeper/critical understanding and thinking on various/


certain issues and strategies behind the shaping of public policy
ii) as a guideline and standard by which we can judge political life in
reality (current political institutions/system)
iii) to make criticisms of existing political institutions and practices
iv) to provide constructive suggestions for their reform or replacement
1.3.3 Political Thought/Philosophy, Political Theory, and Political Ideology:
Similarities and Differences

- All three terms are commonly used to refer to different ways of thinking
about political ideas
- Political Ideology = relates to the beliefs of a group (belief system)
- Political Theory = more empirical in nature – scientific methodology to
understand political phenomena based upon data/facts and findings
(political science)
- Interrelated and interconnected to one another, can be used inter-
changeably, in a general sense; not exclusive of each other

1.4 The fundamental problem / questions of Political Thought/


Philosophy

- Questions concerning :

1) Good/Ideal Society (What, Why, and How)


2) Who gets What, When, How, Why, and How Much

- Questions regarding “what” and “how” to develop the “best”, most “just”,
“equal” and “legitimate” political system

Set of general questions commonly asked/addressed in political thought:


(cf. Sargent 2003: 15-16)

i) Human Nature
a. What are the basic characteristics of human beings as human beings?
b. What effect does human nature have on the political system?

ii) The origin of society and government or the state


a. What is the origin of society? Why does it develop?
b. What is the origin of government or the state? Why does it develop?

iii) Political obligation (duty, responsibility, law)


a. Why do people obey the government?
b. Why should people obey the government, or should they obey it at all?
c. Is disobedience ever justifiable?
d. Is revolution ever justifiable?

iv) Law
a. What are the nature and function(s) of law?
b. Should the regulation of society depend on the immediate decisions of
individuals or on sets of rules and regulations that place limitations on all
members of society, including political leaders - in other words, the “rule
of law”?
c. Should there be sets of fundamental laws or constitutions that cannot be
changed by the ordinary processes of legislation?

v) Freedom and Liberty (rights – substantive and procedural)


a. Are men and women free in any way vis-à-vis the government?
b. Should they be free vis-a-vis the government?
c. Assuming that some type or types of freedom are both possible and
desirable, what should these be? Should they be limited or unlimited?
Who places the limit?

vi) Equality
a. Are individuals in any way ”naturally” equal?
b. Should they be in any way equal?
c. Assuming that some type or types of equality are both possible and
desirable, what should these be? Should they be absolute or relative? If
relative, what criteria should be used to establish them? Who establishes
them? Who enforces the criteria?

vii) Community (fraternity)


a. Should ties among individuals composing a group form a bond that
takes precedence over the needs and wishes of the individual members
of the group?
b. If this is desirable, how can it be encouraged? If this is undesirable, how
can it be discouraged? Who decides?

viii) Power (authority)


a. Should any individuals or group of individuals be able to control,
determine, or direct the actions of others?
b. If this is desirable, what form or forms should it take? Should it be limited
or unlimited? Who limits it and how?
ix) Justice
a. It is usually assumed that justice is desirable, but what is it? Is it
individual or social?
b. Who decides the characteristics of justice? Who enforces these
characteristics?

x) The end/ultimate reason of society or government


a. For what purpose or purposes does society or government exist?
b. Who decides what these purposes are, or are they consciously chosen?

xi) Structural characteristics of government


a. What is the best or best possible form of government? Why?
b. Are there alternative forms of government that are equally good?
(adapted from Sargent 2003: 15-16)

1.5. Political Thought: Traditional/Ancient, Modern and Contemporary

- Traditional Thought = ancient times, works of Greek, Chinese, Indian,


Christian and Muslim thinkers, i.e. Plato, Pericles, Aristotle, Confucius,
Mencius, Kautilya Al-Farabi, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, etc.
- Modern Thought = during the “Enlightenment” (16th – 19th century), i.e.
Hobbes, Locke, Hume, Bentham, Mill, Rousseau, Smith, Burke, Owen,
Russell, Hegel, Kant, Marx, etc.
- Contemporary Thought = beginning from the 20th century ; i.e. De
Tocqueville, Hayek, Weber, Rawls, Berlin, Ronald Dworkin, Nietzsche,
Foucault, Nozick, Friedman, Habermas, Waltzer, de Beauvoir, Anderson,
etc.
- Similarities = dwells on the same, time immemorial and fundamental
problem of politics

Differences = needs and interpretations according to change of time, and


related political contexts.