Politics : Definitions and different views both liberal, Marxist, and others

Unlike many other discipline that parade one or two definitive and generally accepted definitions, it is a different ball game with politics. As a matter of fact, the question “What is politics ?” Is such a difficult one to answer that its hardly brings comfort, even to many scholars and. Activists. In many instances, the question generates differences in answer and even disagreement on the subject matter of politics. The import is that no meaningful attempt to understand politics can ignore or fail to acknowledge the challenges inherent in the attempt. Some examples are necessary.



You may have heard people say that politics is a dirty game. This leads us to some probing but illustrative questions. Is politics, for example, a game? Importantly, is it dirty? If politics is dirty, what is it that makes it dirty? Is it a corruptive and dishonest activity, or is it a healthy and an ennobling one? Should, indeed, can politics be brought to an end? Further still, why, for instance, are certain work groups, sections of the society or “social classes” such as we find in contemporary Nigerian situation, such as judges, traditional rurals, civil servants and even students often admonished by some authorities to avoid or keep away from politics ?

It is more intriguing when it is recalled that one of the best brains in the history of contemporary Africa , an outstanding anti-colonial ideologue and founding President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, 1909 to 1972, is known to have advised his people over 50years ago, to first seek the kingdom of politics, that is, political power, and every other things will be added unto them. Also Interesting to observe the fact that, after contesting and winning the Jomoro constituency seat in the Ghanaian parliamentary election of December 7, 2008, Kwame Nkrumah declared that “politics is in my DNA…I won by my dint of hard work, dedication and effective campaign strategy”. From all these, the fact that politics has both positive and negative connotations is discernible. This no doubt, make the exact nature of politics appear rather unfixed and sometimes very uncertain.

‘Man in the street’ view of politics.

For the ordinary man in the street, politics simply connotes or is considered “a byword for crafty behavior, bargaining, angling, scheming and manoeuvring for advantage”. The existence of this view can be gleaned from every day discussion even among persons that are considered well informed by many. As a matter of fact, the preponderance of this view is largely responsible for statements which one hears quite often in the street__politics is a dirty game, if you play politics with me, I will deal with you; do not mind him, he is playing politics over the matter, etc.

Liberal view of politics

Liberal view of politics is hinged on three main characteristic points. The first is that politics is state or group activity. The implication is that liberal view of politics propagates and upholds a pluralistic view of society. In other words, liberal view of politics believes that the society is made up of a variety of individuals or groups who have, and pursue divergent interests and motives in life.



Secondly, it regards politics as a process of conciliation, that is, a process that reconciles the divergent interests inherent in the society. This point underlines the fact that the liberal view of politics believes that although different groups have interest that are conflicting, there are always some common interests which tangentially reconcile or exist to reconcile the interests of the competing groups in the society.

Thirdly, liberal view of politics sees politics as a means of promoting common good. The import of this, is that, not only does liberal view of politics believe that there is a common good or common interest that is behind the conflicting interest s of various groups, but also that the effort to discover and preserve that Common good is a means of promoting the common good itself.

Many of the notable definitions of politics align substantially with the above view. In this book titled Politics: Who gets What, When, and How? Harold Lasswell (1936) says, for instance, that the preoccupation of politics is “who gets what, when, and how?” In a nutshell, this means that politics involves making decisions and that decisions are encountered or taken in every theater of human activity. The theater of activity may be political parties, government of a country, family level, business finance, labour organizations, private clubs, educational institutions, faith organizations, etc. The bottom line or premise of Lasswell’s definition is thus that in all associations, people (that is, members) interact and decision has to be taken about who gets what as well as when and how he gets it. The implication of this is that politics obtains wherever or whenever decisions that affect members of a group are taken.

Marxist view of politics

The Marxist or Marxian view of politics is clearly different from the views canvassed by the liberal view and the ‘ man-in-the-street’ view of politics. In the first place, Marxist view of politics underlines the primacy of economic interest or role economics play in the determination of the character of politics. Differently stated, to understand and explain politics in a given situation, Marxist view says that attention must first focus on the relations of production, that is to say, the location an individual or group occupies in the process of social production and benefits accruing from it. Those who benefit more from the process of social production do not only dominate economic life but also the political life. An essential ingredient of Marxist view of politics is, thus, that the platform of economic domination is both the basis and the determinant of both the emergency and continued domination of political life by the dominant class in the society.

Secondly, Marxist view of politics sees politics as an instrument of class domination. Accordingly, Marxist view of politics canvasses that politics and state are indications of the existence of dominant and dominated classes in a society. Each epoch since communalism, namely: slavery, feudalism and capitalism; has witnessed the contradictory roles of two major classes – dominant and the dominated classes. Very importantly, irrespective of the epoch, the members of the dominant class are characteristically powerful, while the members of the dominated class are weak and powerless. Politics and the state – including state institutions and processes- are employed by the dominant class so as to further appropriate resources and to effectively exploit, dominate or deal with the dominated class. In specific terms, Marxist perspective considers the state as nothing but the executive committee of the exploiting class.

Communitarian view of politics

The communitarian view of politics hinges on two main pillars. The first pillar of communitarian view of politics is that politics is an area of natural cooperation. Accordingly, this view of politics does not subscribe or believe that conflicts plays critical role in the precept and practice of politics.



Secondly, the communitarian view of politics regards politics as a major instrument for the pursuit and attainment of the common good. The implication is that it assumes that human beings are not only intrinsically good, but that this human goodness is waiting to be harnessed.

The problem with the communitarian view of politics however, is how is this common good to be determined or established? Furthermore, the fact that conflict and instability are facts of every day political life puts additional question mark on the place of communitarian view of politics.

Characterization and definitions of politics

It is perhaps already obvious from the contending foregoing views, that the underlining current is that no matter the way one looks at it, that politics has some identifiable characteristics. Basically, politics is an activity which involves individuals and groups that are involved in self-interested interactions among them and with others.

Taking cognizance of what we have said so far on the different views of politics, it is logical to note, inter Alia, that politics:

  • Deals with a specific pattern relation
  • Involves rivalry and the expression of different opinion
  • Entails the exercise of power and authority
  • Is a social activity and a means of organizing collective human activity
  • Operates within the context of the state, government and power.

Accordingly, we definitely politics as that which deals with specific pattern of human relation which involves power and authority as a means of organizing collective human activity usually within the context of state and government. It is important to also note that this specific pattern of human relation is characteristically associated with a central body of varying legitimacy, whose function is to make and implement overriding decisions for the whole population.

As will be seen later in the next volume, legitimacy is critical factor for every regime. Defined as the widespread acknowledgement or agreement that authority rightfully belongs to person, group or political institutions that enforce it within a society; every regime strives to attain a reasonable level of legitimacy.

Read also:purpose of political Analysis

Understanding Political enquiry and Research

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