From RationalWiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Oh no, they're talking about
Icon politics.svg
As usual
Country sections
United States politics British politics Canadian politics Chinese politics French politics Indian politics Iranian politics Israeli politics Japanese politics South Korean politics

Politics is the means by which public policy is decided. Technically, politics refers to the interactions between people in a given polity (Ancient Greek for the city-states that were dominant during that time), or community. The general application refers to policy-making at a government level; however, it has also come to mean the ins and outs of complex social situations, often having nothing to do with the reason the situation exists - for example, "office politics."

Whatever the system a government uses for its organization (democratic republic, dictatorship, theocracy, etc.), there is bound to be political wrangling for power, glory, and occasionally, the public good. Some systems attempt to keep much of this political give-and-take in the public eye (usually much to the disgust of the public), while in other systems, almost everything save the occasional "announcement" takes place behind closed doors. The difference is mostly based on the degree to which political participation by the broader public is desired or allowed.

The art of politics mostly consists of obtaining a position of power or responsibility, and then figuring out how to get other people in such positions to agree to one's grand schemes in order to make them into laws. This usually involves complex negotiations and so many compromises between the parties involved that the final result is unrecognizable to either, or their constituencies. Usually, bribery of some form is the best way to get one's desired results.[note 1] Threats also work. Democracies usually have strong rules and structures governing the political process, while autocracies are more accustomed to naked power struggles. Politics at the international level still bears the hallmarks of the latter due to the anarchic nature of the system and the sovereignty of states, although organizations like the United Nations and multilateral treaties can rein them in to some extent.

Since politics is the means by which interests are brokered in a community, it is usually heavily entangled with economics. The academic discipline dedicated to the study of politics is creatively named "political science", and has similarly strong connections to other social sciences like sociology and psychology.

Political parties[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Political party

In most countries in which people have a say in politics, political parties form. Political parties are (in theory) a means for people to band together and present a united voice on issues of importance for them. Sometimes, these parties are loose coalitions of individuals who are mostly out to fight for themselves and retain a great deal of independence, like in the United States.[note 2] On the other hand, many European parliamentary democracies are characterized by strong, highly organized and hierarchical parties, in which politicians who defy the will of the leadership seldom thrive. Depending on several factors, different countries will give rise to specific party systems, affecting the number of choices that are available to voters.

Political spectrum[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Political spectrum
The often-used Nolan chart

Modern politics and policymaking is heavily influenced by the participants' ideology and underlying political philosophy. In the West, political views have traditionally been defined in terms of "left" and "right", mostly describing differences regarding the economic agenda.[note 3] There have been attempts to create more accurate models of political leanings that use multiple axes, such as the Nolan Chart and the Political Compass™. The two most common axes are the social axis and the economic axis, each of which deal with issues regarding the respective term (social and economic). The image on the right shows the position on a two-axis compass of several leading political figures.

Even this concept has led to lightweight proseletyzing - the Libertarian Party has a compass with a very short quiz to go with it,[1] that is designed to make everyone discover that they are actually libertarians.[2]

In order to truly show where someone falls in their political views, of course, many more more axes would be needed - perhaps as many as one for every major issue in their times and locale.[note 4]

To be rid of politics[edit]

Politics can often become annoying, and in some places may rise to the level of being a public nuisance. A desire to be rid of politics, or to circumscribe its appropriate subjects in ways that would strangle it by making it irrelevant, is a consistent feature of a variety of universalizing utopian ideologies.

Both socialism and libertarianism imagine a future state of affairs, where the problems that politics attempts to address have been solved. This tendency however is not unique to the far-left or right. In the early 1990s, neoconservative Francis Fukuyama proclaimed the "End of History", claiming that the triumph of an ideology he called 'capitalist democracy' meant that the age of ethnic, religious, and ideological conflict was over. This seems not to have worked out as planned. The neoreactionary movement explicitly rejects politics in the name of order. Somewhat more surprisingly, the academic liberalism of John RawlsWikipedia also envisions an ideal universal society where most of the issues addressed by politics have been rendered moot by a robust jurisprudence of civil rights.[3]

However, people have always had different interests, desires, needs, etc, and it is impossible for any society to address all of them equally, either due to physical limits or the fact that some interests are mutually contradictory (to build a factory on a certain plot of land or cultivate it as a natural preserve, for instance). Politics is a direct result people having, to some extent, free will. Unless humans lose independent agency, there is no way to end, or even temporarily stop, politics. Stopping politics, after all, is also a political thing to do.

Famous quotes[edit]

Politics is the art of controlling one's environment.
—Hunter S. Thompson[4]
Laws, like sausages, cease to inspire respect in proportion as we know how they are made.
—John Godfrey Saxe (often misattributed to Otto von Bismark)[5]
...Politics" is derived from 'POLY', meaning many, and 'TICS', meaning small, blood sucking insects.
—Chris Clayton[6]
Question: How do you know when a politician is lying?
Answer: When their mouth moves.
Question: What is the difference between a politician and a statesman?
Answer: A statesman tells you the truth, whether it is popular or not; a politician tells you what is popular, whether it is true or not.
A politician was given a lie detector test. It flashed when they told the unfamiliar truth.
Politicians are not born, they are excreted


  1. In civilized republics, bribery is usually called "campaign contributions".
  2. This is still true for the Democrats, but the Republicans have achieved a much greater extent of ideological uniformity and party discipline over the last decades.
  3. This terminology comes from the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly in 1789.
  4. However, there is a marked tendency for people who hold certain opinions (say, on same-sex marriage) to also hold similar views on completely unrelated topics (like economics). It is not exact, but there is a correlation that political scientists have been studying for some time now.


  1. The "World's Smallest Political Quiz"
  2. See here for some critiques of their quiz
  3. For further background, see generally John Gray, Enlightenment's Wake (Routledge; 1999)
  4. [1]
  5. [2]
  6. [3]