Politics is the process by which groups make decisions. It is the authoritative allocation of values. Although the term is generally applied to behavior within governments, politics is observed in all human group interactions, including corporate, academic, and religious institutions.
In its most basic form, politics consists of "social relations involving authority or power". In practice, the term refers to the regulation and government of a nation-state or other political unit, and to the methods and tactics used to formulate and apply government policy.
In a broader sense, any situation involving power, or any maneouvring in order to enhance one's power or status within a group, may be described as politics (e.g. office politics). This form of politics "is most associated with a struggle for ascendancy among groups having different priorities and power relations."
Political science (also political studies) is the study of political behavior and examines the acquisition and application of power. Related areas of study include political philosophy, which seeks a rationale for politics and an ethic of public behavior, and public administration, which examines the practices of governance.
A government is the body that has the authority to make and enforce rules or laws. Government may be classified in numerous ways; the philosopher Plato classified governments into monarchy (the rule of one individual), oligarchy (rule by a small elite), timocracy (rule by one race or group over another) and democracy (rule by the whole people).
In more recent times, the distinction between forms of government has become more complex; in a constitutional monarchy, for instance, there is a monarch as head of state, but actual power is typically held by a parliament or legislative assembly of some description. A republic is the term usually used to describe nations without a monarchy. Likewise, the definition of "democracy" has become less clear in more recent times; many nations with widely differing forms of government describe themselves as democratic. The North Korean constitution, for instance, describes North Korea as a democratic state, but some commentators in Western nations have described it as a totalitarian dictatorship.
Dictatorship is a form of government in which unlimited or near-unlimited power is held by an individual or group, without effective constitutional limitations, who derive their power from force, rather than legitimacy. The term is frequently viewed as pejorative, and many nations described as "dictatorships" have disputed this claim.
The Politics of the European Union are different from other organisations and states due to the unique nature of the European Union (EU). The EU is similar to a confederation, where many policy areas are federalised into common institutions capable of making law.
However the EU does not, unlike most states, control foreign policy, defence policy or direct taxation. These areas are under the control of the EU's member states although a certain amount of co-operation takes place in these areas. EU laws override national laws and policy areas are more numerous than historical confederations, however the EU is legally restricted from making law outside its remit or where it is more appropriate to do so at a national or local level (subsidiarity).
The common institutions mix the intergovernmental and supranational (similar to federal) aspects of the EU. The EU treaties declare the EU to be based on representative democracy, and direct elections take place to the European Parliament. The Parliament, together with the Council, form the legislative arm of the EU. The Council is composed of national governments, thus representing the intergovernmental nature of the EU. Laws are proposed by the European Commission which is appointed by and accountable to the Parliament and Council although it has very few executive powers.
Although direct elections take place every five years, there are no cohesive political parties in the national sense. Instead, there are alliances of ideologically associated parties who sit and vote together in Parliament. The two largest parties are the European People's Party (centre-right) and the Party of European Socialists (centre-left) with the former forming the largest group in Parliament since 1999. As well as there being left and right dividing lines in European politics, there are also divides between those for and against European integration (Pro-Europeanism and Euroscepticism) which shapes the continually changing nature of the EU which adopts successive reforming treaties. The latter is stronger in northern Europe, especially the United Kingdom, and some member states are less integrated than others (Opt-outs).
The constitutional basis and organisation of the European Union is based on its treaties. There are two principle core treaties which have been amended over its history to give the EU more competencies and reconfigure the relationship between its institutions. The treaties declare the EU to be based upon representative democracy and "on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities".
The EU itself as a legal personality and a set of governing institutions empowered by the treaties.
An important project on challenges of European politics is the Jean Monnet Programme. This programme aims to enhance knowledge and understanding about (the process of) European integration and the working of the European institutions. The programme also stimulates teaching, research and reflection on European integration in higher education institutions worldwide. For more information, please check the website of the European Commission.
'The National Interest’s editor, Jacob Heilbrunn, spoke with Henry Kissinger in early July in New York:
Jacob Heilbrunn: Why is realism today an embattled approach to foreign affairs, or perhaps not as significant as it was when you had figures such as Hans Morgenthau, George F. Kennan, Dean Acheson, then yourself in the 1970s—what has changed? Henry Kissinger: I don’t think that I have changed my view on this subject very much since the seventies. I have always had an expansive view of national interest, and much of the debate about realism as against idealism is artificial. The way the debate is conventionally presented pits a group that believes in power as the determining element of international politics against idealists who believe that the values of society are decisive. Kennan, Acheson or any of the people you mentioned did not have such a simplistic view. The view of the various realists is that, in an analysis of foreign policy, you have to start with an assessment of the elements that are relevant to the situation. And obviously, values are included as an important element. The real debate is over relative priority and balance.
Heilbrunn: One of the things that struck me in the new biography of you by Niall Ferguson is his quotation from your personal diary from 1964. You suggested rather prophetically that “the Goldwater victory is a new phenomenon in American politics—the triumph of the ideological party in the European sense. No one can predict how it will end because there is no precedent for it.” Kissinger: At the convention, it seemed to be true to somebody like me, who was most familiar with the politics of the Eastern Establishment. Later in life, I got to know Goldwater and respected him as a man of great moral conviction and integrity. Heilbrunn: Right, but I was more interested in your interpretation of the ideological force that emerged in ’64. Kissinger: It was a new ideological force in the Republican Party. Until then, the Eastern Establishment view based on historic models of European history was the dominant view of foreign policy. This new foreign-policy view was more missionary; it emphasized that America had a mission to bring about democracy—if necessary, by the use of force. And it had a kind of intolerance toward opposition. It then became characteristic of both the extreme Right and the extreme Left, and they changed sides occasionally.
Heilbrunn: And they both vehemently attacked the Nixon administration. Kissinger: Yes. Heilbrunn: I remember that in your memoirs, you indicate that you were perhaps most astonished to be attacked from the right— Kissinger: Totally unprepared. Heilbrunn: —for allegedly appeasing the Soviet Union. Kissinger: Well, and some, like Norman Podhoretz—who’s a good friend today—attacked me from both the left and the right sequentially.
Heilbrunn: I’d forgotten that he’d managed that feat. In the end, though, détente played a critical role in bringing down the Soviet Union, didn’t it? Kissinger: That is my view. We viewed détente as a strategy for conducting the conflict with the Soviet Union. Heilbrunn: I’m amazed that this doesn’t get more attention—in Europe, this is the common view, that détente was essential toward softening up Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, and getting over the memory of World War II, whereas in the United States we have a triumphalist view.
Kissinger: Well, you have the view that Reagan started the process with his Evil Empire speech, which, in my opinion, occurred at the point when the Soviet Union was already well on the way to defeat. We were engaged in a long-term struggle, generating many competing analyses. I was on the hard-line side of the analysis. But I stressed also the diplomatic and psychological dimensions. We needed to wage the Cold War from a posture in which we would not be isolated, and in which we would have the best possible basis for conducting unavoidable conflicts. Finally, we had a special obligation to find a way to avoid nuclear conflict, since that risked civilization. We sought a position to be ready to use force when necessary but always in the context of making it clearly demonstrable as a last resort. The neoconservatives took a more absolutist view. Reagan used the span of time that was available to him with considerable tactical skill, although I’m not sure that all of it was preconceived. But its effect was extremely impressive. I think the détente period was an indispensable prelude.
Heilbrunn: The other monumental accomplishment was obviously the opening to China. Do you feel today that— Kissinger: —Reducing the Soviet role in the Middle East. That was not minor. Heilbrunn: That’s correct, and saving Israel in the ’73 war with the arms supply. Kissinger: The two were related.
Heilbrunn: Is China the new Wilhelmine Germany today? Richard Nixon, shortly before he died, told William Safire that it was necessary to create the opening to China, but we may have created a Frankenstein. Kissinger: A country that has had three thousand years of dominating its region can be said to have an inherent reality. The alternative would have been to keep China permanently subdued in collusion with the Soviet Union, and therefore making the Soviet Union—already an advanced nuclear country—the dominant country of Eurasia with American connivance. But China inherently presents a fundamental challenge to American strategy
Heilbrunn: And do you think they’re pushing for a more Sinocentric world, or can they be integrated into some sort of Westphalian framework, as you outlined in your most recent book, World Order? Kissinger: That’s the challenge. That’s the open question. It’s our task. We’re not good at it, because we don’t understand their history and culture. I think that their basic thinking is Sinocentric. But it may produce consequences that are global in impact. Therefore, the challenge of China is a much subtler problem than that of the Soviet Union. The Soviet problem was largely strategic. This is a cultural issue: Can two civilizations that do not, at least as yet, think alike come to a coexistence formula that produces world order?
Heilbrunn: How greatly do you rate the chances of a real Sino-Russian rapprochement? Kissinger: It’s not in either of their natures, I think— Heilbrunn: Because the Russians clearly would like to create a much closer relationship. Kissinger: But partly because we’ve given them no choice.
Heilbrunn: How do you think the United States can extricate itself from the Ukraine impasse—the United States and Europe, obviously? Kissinger: The issue is not to extricate the United States from the Ukrainian impasse but to solve it in a way conducive to international order. A number of things need to be recognized. One, the relationship between Ukraine and Russia will always have a special character in the Russian mind. It can never be limited to a relationship of two traditional sovereign states, not from the Russian point of view, maybe not even from Ukraine’s. So, what happens in Ukraine cannot be put into a simple formula of applying principles that worked in Western Europe, not that close to Stalingrad and Moscow. In that context, one has to analyze how the Ukraine crisis occurred. It is not conceivable that Putin spends sixty billion euros on turning a summer resort into a winter Olympic village in order to start a military crisis the week after a concluding ceremony that depicted Russia as a part of Western civilization.
So then, one has to ask: How did that happen? I saw Putin at the end of November 2013. He raised a lot of issues; Ukraine he listed at the end as an economic problem that Russia would handle via tariffs and oil prices. The first mistake was the inadvertent conduct of the European Union. They did not understand the implications of some of their own conditions. Ukrainian domestic politics made it look impossible for Yanukovych to accept the EU terms and be reelected or for Russia to view them as purely economic. So the Ukrainian president rejected the EU terms. The Europeans panicked, and Putin became overconfident. He perceived the deadlock as a great opportunity to implement immediately what had heretofore been his long-range goal. He offered fifteen billion dollars to draw Ukraine into his Eurasian Union. In all of this, America was passive. There was no significant political discussion with Russia or the EU of what was in the making. Each side acted sort of rationally based on its misconception of the other, while Ukraine slid into the Maidan uprising right in the middle of what Putin had spent ten years building as a recognition of Russia’s status. No doubt in Moscow this looked as if the West was exploiting what had been conceived as a Russian festival to move Ukraine out of the Russian orbit. Then Putin started acting like a Russian czar—like Nicholas I over a century ago. I am not excusing the tactics, only setting them in context.
Heilbrunn: Another country that’s obviously taken a lead role in Europe is Germany—on Ukraine, on Greece— Kissinger: They don’t really seek that role. The paradox is that seventy years after having defeated German claims to dominating Europe, the victors are now pleading, largely for economic reasons, with Germany to lead Europe. Germany can and should play an important role in the construction of European and international order. But it is not the ideal principal negotiating partner about the security of Europe on a border that is two hundred miles from Stalingrad. The United States has put forward no concept of its own except that Russia will one day join the world community by some automatic act of conversion. Germany’s role is significant, but an American contribution to Ukrainian diplomacy is essential to put the issue into a global context. Heilbrunn: Is that absence a mistake, then?
Kissinger: If we treat Russia seriously as a great power, we need at an early stage to determine whether their concerns can be reconciled with our necessities. We should explore the possibilities of a status of nonmilitary grouping on the territory between Russia and the existing frontiers of NATO.
The West hesitates to take on the economic recovery of Greece; it’s surely not going to take on Ukraine as a unilateral project. So one should at least examine the possibility of some cooperation between the West and Russia in a militarily nonaligned Ukraine. The Ukraine crisis is turning into a tragedy because it is confusing the long-range interests of global order with the immediate need of restoring Ukrainian identity. I favor an independent Ukraine in its existing borders. I have advocated it from the start of the post-Soviet period. When you read now that Muslim units are fighting on behalf of Ukraine, then the sense of proportion has been lost.
Heilbrunn: That’s a disaster, obviously. Kissinger: To me, yes. It means that breaking Russia has become an objective; the long-range purpose should be to integrate it. Heilbrunn: But we have witnessed a return, at least in Washington, DC, of neoconservatives and liberal hawks who are determined to break the back of the Russian government.
Kissinger: Until they face the consequences. The trouble with America’s wars since the end of the Second World War has been the failure to relate strategy to what is possible domestically. The five wars we’ve fought since the end of World War II were all started with great enthusiasm. But the hawks did not prevail at the end. At the end, they were in a minority. We should not engage in international conflicts if, at the beginning, we cannot describe an end, and if we’re not willing to sustain the effort needed to achieve that end. Heilbrunn: But we seem to recapitulate this over and over again. Kissinger: Because we refuse to learn from experience. Because it’s essentially done by an ahistorical people. In schools now, they don’t teach history anymore as a sequence of events. They deal with it in terms of themes without context.
Heilbrunn: So they’ve stripped it of all context. Kissinger: Of what used to be context—they put it in an entirely new context.
Heilbrunn: The kind of book you wrote—your first book, for example—would never pass muster in political science today because it’s not filled with abstract theories. It actually tells a narrative lesson. Kissinger: That’s why I get attacked from the left and the right—because I don’t fit either of their categories.
Heilbrunn: Speaking of history, what is your assessment of Germany’s role in Europe right now? Are we back to a new German problem, where southern Europe views them as an occupying power, and in Germany itself there are hints of nationalism—I wouldn’t say that it’s an efflorescence. Kissinger: Well, there are hints. Some groups in Germany, in the group below fifty, sometimes act as if the country that once sought to shape Europe by force now claims the right to reshape it by absolute moral judgment. It’s unfair to tempt Germany into such a role. It’s easy domestic politics for the countries of southern Europe to blame the Germans rather than themselves. What is the German sin in Greece? The Germans are saying that what is put forward as a bailout perpetuates irresponsibility. They are seeking to define a responsible process of recovery. Considering that their history has made inflation such a nightmare to Germans, I have sympathy for their position. Germany has never in its national history starting in 1871 had to run an international system. From 1871 to 1890, Bismarck conducted a spectacular tour de force that was not sustainable. You can’t have a great policy if it requires a genius in every generation. But from 1890 to the end of the Second World War—nearly a century—Germany was embattled in its perception of the world around it. Britain and France have much more experience in multilateral diplomacy. So I have sympathy for the German dilemma. They can help, they may be decisive in helping, but they need a bigger, more global framework, which we need to contribute.
Heilbrunn: The Atlanticist generation in Germany and the approach it embodied have largely disappeared. Kissinger: That’s a pity. Heilbrunn: The younger CDU [Christian Democratic Union] politicians that I’ve met are not that interested in the United States, which is a dramatic shift, since the whole Adenauer policy was based on Westbindung. Kissinger: It’s partly their fault and partly our fault.
Heilbrunn: I saw Robert McFarlane recently, who worked for you, and in the Reagan administration. He said to me, “The last strategic thinker as an American president was Richard Nixon.” Is that true? Kissinger: I think that’s right. He had substantial strategic vision. At the end of the first volume of my memoirs, White House Years, I wrote that the question is: What would have happened if the establishment that Nixon both admired and feared had shown him some love? Would he have retreated further into the wilderness of his resentments, or would such an act have liberated him? I leave it open.
Heilbrunn: Do you trace many of the problems in American foreign policy back to Vietnam, to that shattering of foreign-policy consensus? Kissinger: I think Vietnam was the pretext. It made the protest legitimate. Because after all, you had student demonstrations in the Netherlands, which had no Vietnam, and in France.
Heilbrunn: Nixon was clearly somebody who had a tremendous amount of foreign-policy experience before he became president in 1969. Kissinger: And he was thoughtful, and his psychological attitude made him unwilling to deal with too many people, so he had to think and read—he couldn’t push a button and get a Google answer—and travel. He was not threatened personally when he traveled abroad, so he was at ease in many conversations with foreign leaders. For all of these reasons, he thought deeply about foreign affairs. Heilbrunn: He must have learned a lot from Eisenhower, too, I assume. Kissinger: Well, like everything with Nixon, it was always a good combination of resentment and admiration, so nothing was ever unambiguous.
Heilbrunn: Do you think that Barack Obama is a realist—he’s reluctant to get involved in Ukraine, for example—or do you think that’s overdone? Kissinger: Well, on the prudential level he’s a realist. But his vision is more ideological than strategic
Heilbrunn: Thank you for the interview
The Chinese philosopher Confucius, who lived from 551 to 479 BCE, was one of the first non-Western thinkers to adopt a distinct approach to political philosophy. His philosophy, according to one scholar, was "rooted in his belief that a ruler should learn self-discipline, should govern his subjects by his own example, and should treat them with love and concern." His political beliefs were strongly linked to personal ethics and morality, believing that only a morally upright ruler who possessed "de", or virtue, should be able to exercise power, and that the behavior of an individual ought to be consistent with their rank in society. He stated that "Good government consists in the ruler being a ruler, the minister being a minister, the father being a father, and the son being a son."
The Greek philosopher Plato, in his book The Republic, argued that all conventional political systems (democracy, monarchy, oligarchy and timarchy) were inherently corrupt, and that the state ought to be governed by an elite class of educated philosopher-rulers, who would be trained from birth and selected on the basis of aptitude: "those who have the greatest skill in watching over the community." This has been characterised as authoritarian and elitist by some later scholars, notably Karl Popper in his book The Open Society and its Enemies, who described Plato's schemes as essentially totalitarian and criticised his apparent advocacy of censorship. The Republic has also been labelled as communist, due to its advocacy of abolishing private property and the family among the ruling classes; however, this view has been discounted by many scholars, as there are implications in the text that this will extend only to the ruling classes, and that ordinary citizens "will have enough private property to make the regulation of wealth and poverty a concern."
In his book Politics, the Greek philosopher Aristotle asserted that man is, by nature, a political animal. He argued that ethics and politics are closely linked, and that a truly ethical life can only be lived by someone who participates in politics.
Like Plato, Aristotle identified a number of different forms of government, and argued that each "correct" form of government may devolve into a "deviant" form of government, in which its institutions were corrupted.
In this sense, Aristotle does not use the word "democracy" in its modern sense, carrying positive connotations, but in its literal sense of rule by the demos, or common people.
In his work The Prince, the Renaissance Italian political theorist Machiavelli put forward a political worldview which described practical methods for an absolute ruler to attain and maintain political power. His work is sometimes viewed as rejecting traditional views of morality for a ruler: "for Machiavelli, there is no moral basis on which to judge the difference between legitimate and illegitimate uses of power." It is from Machiavelli that the term Machiavellian is derived, refering to an amoral person who uses manipulative methods to attain power; however, many scholars have questioned this view of Machiavelli's theory, arguing that "Machiavelli did not invent 'Machiavellism' and may not even have been a 'Machiavellian' in the sense often ascribed to him." Instead, Machiavelli considered the stability of the state to be the most important goal, and argued that qualities traditionally considered morally desirable, such as generosity, were undesirable in a ruler and would lead to the loss of power.
In 1651, Thomas Hobbes published his most famous work, Leviathan, in which he proposed a model of early human development to justify the creation of polities, i.e. governed bodies. Hobbes described an ideal state of nature wherein every person had equal right to every resource in nature and was free to use any means to acquire those resources. He claimed that such an arrangement created a “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). The book has been interpreted by scholars as posing two "stark alternatives"; total obedience to an absolute ruler, or "a state of nature, which closely resembles civil war...where all have reason to fear a violent death". Hobbes' view can therefore be interpreted as a defense of absolutism, arguing that human beings enter into a social contract for their protection and agree to obey the dictates of the sovereign; in Hobbes' worldview, "the sovereign is nothing more than the personal embodiment of orderly government." Hobbes himself argued "The final cause, end, or design of men (who naturally love liberty, and dominion over others) in the introduction of that restraint upon themselves, in which we see them live in Commonwealths, is the foresight of their own preservation, and of a more contented life thereby."
The English philosopher John Locke was "one of the greatest philosophers in Europe at the end of the seventeenth century". His political philosophy is contained primarily in his Two Treatises of Government. In the First Treatise of Government, Locke refutes the theory of the Divine Right of Kings as put forward by Robert Filmer; he "minutely examines key Biblical passages" and concludes that absolute monarchy is not supported by Christian theology. "Locke singles out Filmer's contention that men are not 'naturally free' as the key issue, for that is the 'ground'...on which Filmer erects his argument for the claim that all 'legitimate' government is 'absolute monarchy'."
In the Second Treatise of Government, Locke examines the concept of the social contract put forward by other theorists such as Thomas Hobbes, but reaches a different conclusion. Although he agreed with Hobbes on the concept of a state of nature before existing forms of government arose, he challenged Hobbes' view that the state of nature was equivalent to a state of war, instead arguing that there were certain natural rights belonging to all human beings, which continued even after a political authority was established. "The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone...being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, liberty, health or possessions". According to one scholar, the basis of Locke's thought in the Second Treatise is that "contract or consent is the ground of government and fixes its limits...behind [this] doctrine lies the idea of the independence of the individual person." In other words, Locke's view was different from Hobbes' in that he interpreted the idea of the "state of nature" differently, and he argued that people's natural rights were not necessarily eliminated by their consent to be governed by a political authority.
The 18th century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in his book The Social Contract, put forward a system of political thought which was closely related to those of Hobbes and Locke, but different in important respects. In the opening sentence of the book, Rousseau argued that "...man was born free, but he is everywhere in chains" He defined political authority and legitimacy as stemming from the "general will", or volonté generale; for Rousseau, "true Sovereignty is directed always at the public good". This concept of the general will implicitly "allows for individual diversity and freedom...[but] also encourages the well-being of the whole, and therefore can conflict with the particular interests of individuals." As such, Rousseau also argues that the people may need a "lawgiver" to draw up a constitution and system of laws, because the general will, "while always morally sound, is sometimes mistaken".
Rousseau's thought has been seen by some scholars as contradictory and inconsistent, and as not addressing the fundamental contradiction between individual freedom and subordination to the needs of society, "the tension that seems to exist between liberalism and communitarianism". As one Catholic scholar argues, "that it [The Social Contract] contains serious contradictions is undeniable...its fundamental principles--the origin of society, absolute freedom and absolute equality of all--are false and unnatural." The Catholic Encyclopedia further argues that Rousseau's concept of the general will would inevitably lead to "the suppression of personality, the reign of force and caprice, the tyranny of the multitude, the despotism of the crowd", i.e. the subordination of the individual to society as a whole.
John Stuart Mill
In the 19th century, John Stuart Mill pioneered the liberal conception of politics. He saw democracy as the major political development of his era and, in his book On Liberty, advocated stronger protection for individual rights against government and the rule of the majority. He argued that liberty was the most important right of human beings, and that the only just cause for interfering with the liberty of another person was self-protection. One commentator refers to On Liberty as "the strongest and most eloquent defense of liberalism that we have." Mill also emphasised the importance of freedom of speech, claiming that "we can never be sure that the opinion we are attempting to stifle is a false opinion, and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still."
Karl Marx, most reviled revolutionary and most admired thinker, was among the most influential political philosophers of history. His theories, collectively termed Marxism, were critical of capitalism and argued that in the due course of history, there would be an "inevitable breakdown of capitalism for economic reasons, to be replaced by communism." He defined history in terms of the class struggle between the bourgeoisie, or property-owning classes, and the proletariat, or workers, a struggle intensified by industrialisation: "The development of Modern Industry, therefore, cuts from under its feet the very foundation on which the bourgeoisie produces and appropriates products. What the bourgeoisie therefore produces, above all, are its own grave-diggers. Its fall and the victory of the proletariat are equally inevitable.
Marx was married with Jenny Westphalen. Her brother became the reactionairy Prussian minister of Interior, who brought actions against revolutionaries and other oposers. After the failure of the 1848 revolution and the ban on the liberal 'Rheinische Zeitung', where Marx was editor-in-chief, a chronicle of flee and exile started which drove the family through Europe, harassed by diseases and a lack of money. Friedrich Engels played a solid role in the life and work of Karl Marx and kept the familiy financially up as much as possible.
Many subsequent political movements have based themselves on Marx's thought, offering widely differing interpretations of communism; these include Marxism-Leninism, Maoism and libertarian Marxism. Possibly the most influential interpreter of Marxist theory was Lenin, founder of the Soviet Union, who created a revolutionary theory founded on Marxist thinking. However, libertarian Marxist thinkers have challenged Lenin's interpretation of Marx; Cornelius Castoriadis, for instance, described the Soviet Union's system as a form of "bureaucratic capitalism" rather than true communism.
There are numerous other notable philosophers and political theorists who have influenced the development of contemporary political thought, among them Thomas Jefferson (whose political theories were central to the foundations of the American system of government), Edmund Burke, Baruch Spinoza, the Baron de Montesquieu, Thomas Paine, Jeremy Bentham and David Hume.
Power is a concept that is central to politics. Max Weber defined power as the ability to impose one's will "even in the face of opposition from others", while Hannah Arendt states that "political power corresponds to the human ability not just to act but to act in concert." Many different views of political power have been proposed.
The multiple notions of political power that are put forth range from conventional views that simply revolve around the actions of politicians to those who view political power as an insidious form of institutionalized social control - most notably "anarchists" and "radical capitalists". The main views of political power revolve around normative, post-modern, and pragmatic perspectives.
Normative faces of power debate
The faces of power debate has coalesced into a viable conception of three dimensions of power including decision-making, agenda-setting, and preference-shaping. The decision-making dimension was first put forth by Robert Dahl, who advocated the notion that political power is based in the formal political arena and is measured through voting patterns and the decisions made by politicians. This view has been criticised by many as simplistic, notably by the sociologist G. William Domhoff, who argues that political and economic power is monopolised by the "elite classes".
A second dimension to the notion of political power was added by academics Peter Bachrach and Morton Baratz involving "agenda-setting". Bachrach and Baratz viewed power as involving both the formal political arena and behind the scenes agenda-setting by elite groups who could be either politicians and/or others (such as industrialists, campaign contributors, special interest groups and so on), often with a hidden agenda that most of the public may not be aware of. The third dimension of power was added by British academic Steven Lukes who felt that even with this second dimension, some other traits of political power needed to be addressed through the concept of 'preference-shaping'. Lukes developed the concept of the "Three faces of power" - decision-making power, non-decision-making power, and ideological power.
This third dimension is inspired by many Neo-Gramscian views such as cultural hegemony and deals with how civil society and the general public have their preferences shaped for them by those in power through the use of propaganda or the media. Ultimately, this third dimension holds that the general public may not be aware of what decisions are actually in their interest due to the invisible power of elites who work to distort their perceptions. Critics of this view claim that such notions are themselves elitist, which Lukes then clearly admits as one problem of this view and yet clarifies that as long as those who make claims that preferences are being shaped explain their own interests etc., there is room for more transparency.
Postmodern challenge of normative views of power
Some within the postmodern and post-structuralist field claim that power is something that is not in the hands of the few and is rather dispersed throughout society in various ways. As one academic writes, "...postmodernists have argued that due to a variety of inherent biases in the standards by which ”valid“ knowledge has been evaluated...modernist science has tended to reproduce ideological justifications for the perpetuation of long-standing forms of inequality. Thus, it is the strategy of postmodern science...to identify and, thereby, attack the ”deceiving“ power of universalizing scientific epistemologies."
Pragmatic view of power
Samuel Gompers' maxim, often paraphrased as,"Reward your friends and punish your enemies," hints at two of the five types of power recognized by social psychologists: incentive power (the power to reward) and coercive power (the power to punish). Arguably the other three grow out of these two.
Legitimate power, the power of the policeman or the referee, is the power given to an individual by a recognized authority to enforce standards of behavior. Legitimate power is similar to coercive power in that unacceptable behavior is punished by fine or penalty.
Referent power is bestowed upon individuals by virtue of accomplishment or attitude. Fulfillment of the desire to feel similar to a celebrity or a hero is the reward for obedience.
Expert power springs from education or experience. Following the lead of an experienced coach is often rewarded with success. Expert power is conditional to the circumstances. A brain surgeon is no help when your pipes are leaking.
Most political analysts and politicians divide politics into left wing and right wing politics, often also using the idea of center politics as a middle path of policy between the right and left. This classification is comparatively recent (it was not used by Aristotle or Hobbes, for instance), and dates from the French Revolution era, when those members of the National Assembly who opposed the monarchy sat on the left, while those who supported it sat on the right.
The meaning of left-wing and right-wing varies considerably between different countries and at different times, but broadly speaking, it can be said that the right wing is often linked to moral and social conservatism, law and order, and religion, while the left wing is often linked with redistribution of wealth and resources towards the poorer or less successful sections of society (which are generally perceived by the left as unfairly disadvantaged), and with secularism. The right wing is more often linked to the idea of social equity, and the left wing to the idea of social equality.
According to Norberto Bobbio, one of the major exponents of this distinction, the Left believes in attempting to eradicate social inequality, while the Right regards most social inequality as the result of ineradicable natural inequalities, and sees attempts to enforce social equality as utopian or authoritarian.
Some ideologies, notably Christian Democracy, claim to combine left and right wing politics; according to Geoffrey K. Roberts and Patricia Hogwood, "In terms of ideology, Christian Democracy has incorporated many of the views held by liberals, conservatives and socialists within a wider framework of moral and Christian principles." Movements which claim or formerly claimed to be above the left-right divide include Gaullism in France, Peronism in Argnetina, and National Action Politics in Mexico.
While left and right refer to different methods of developing an economically stable and just society, authoritarianism and libertarianism refer to the amount of individual freedom each person possesses in that society relative to the state. One author describes authoritarian political systems as those where "individual rights and goals are subjugated to group goals, expectations and conformities", while a libertarian political system is one in which individual rights and civil liberties are paramount. More extreme than libertarians are anarchists, who argue for the total abolition of government, while the most extreme authoritarians are totalitarians who support state control over all aspects of society.
Authoritarianism and libertarianism are separate concepts from the left-right political axis. For instance, classical liberalism and contemporary American libertarianism are socially liberal, but reject extensive governmental intervention in the economy and welfare. According to the libertarian Institute for Humane Studies, "the libertarian, or 'classical liberal,' perspective is that individual well-being, prosperity, and social harmony are fostered by 'as much liberty as possible' and 'as little government as necessary.' "Likewise, anarchists may be left-wing (anarcho-syndicalism) or right-wing (anarcho-capitalism).
Authority and legitimacy
Authority, in a political sense, is different from political power in that it implies legitimacy and acceptance; it implies that the person or state exercising power has a perceived right to do so. Legitimacy is an attribute of government gained through the acquisition and application of power in accordance with recognized or accepted standards or principles.
Max Weber identified three sources of legitimacy for authority, known as the tripartite classification of authority. He proposed three reasons why people follow the orders of those who give them:
Traditional authorities receive loyalty because they continue and support the preservation of existing values, the status quo. Weber called this "the authority of the eternal yesterday". Patriarchal (and more rarely matriarchal) societies gave rise to hereditary monarchies where authority was given to descendants of previous leaders. Followers submit to this authority because "we've always done it that way." Examples of traditional authoritarians include absolute monarchs.
Charismatic authority grows out of the personal charm or the strength of an individual personality (see cult of personality for the most extreme version). Charismatic regimes are often short-lived, seldom outliving the charismatic figure that leads them. For a charismatic regime to survive the rule of the individual personality, it must transform its legitimacy into a different form of authority. An example of this would be Augustus' efforts to create the position of the Roman principate and establish a ruling dynasty, which could be viewed as a shift to a traditional form of authority, in the form of the principate that would exist in Rome for more than 400 years after his death.
Legal-rational authorities receive their ability to compel behavior by virtue of the office that they hold. It is the authority that demands obedience to the office rather than the office holder; Weber identified "rationally-created rules" as the central feature of this form of authority. Modern democracies are examples of legal-rational regimes. People also abide by legal-rational authority because it makes sense to do so for their own good, as well as for the greater good of society.
These three forms of authority are said to appear in a "hierarchical development order"; states progress from charismatic authority, to traditional authority, and finally reach the state of rational-legal authority which is characteristic of a modern liberal democracy.