Why consider politics? Why is it important in daily life? And how might an interest in it develop into wanting a more solid academic understanding and ability to discourse? Over the course of three blog posts I aim to provide answers.
The word ‘politics’ goes far beyond the narrow concept of political parties. It is associated with the activity of decision making for people living in groups. Finding ways and ‘agreement’ for the multitude of actions in our complex daily lives often follows a complex set of rules or parameters. Whether living in a particular country or in a particular style with others, there are usually rules that guide our behaviour and create levels of accord within which we can all live.
Politics can appear to be a dry and theoretical academic subject, and is often considered within humanities subjects to be in the realm of ‘interesting but useless for getting a job’. In truth, it is an essential part of the daily lives of everyone in the world, making it entirely relevant.
The understanding that we have of other groups is often derived in reference and counterpoint to the systems of our own governance, and the ability we have to directly influence our daily lives is grounded in our understanding of our personal ideals, morality, and politics.
In order to understand our global systems ‘better’ (by which we mean be able to assess them in line with our individual values) and create directives that follow our views and paths, the need to understand where we fit on the political schema is essential. After all, without this how can we find allies, places to go, new potential to update our ever evolving ideas, and historical precedents which can inform and advise us on the different narratives we are wishing to engage with?
Alongside political theory lies economic theory. These two, whilst different, have many interdependent and interrelated areas. Political theory is the bedrock for the active expression of the financial and economic market and therefore could be seen as the ‘parent’ of modern economics. However, the reality in the modern world is that economics has enough of a solid base to stand on its own feet and be counted as a separate entity from politics. The history of both subjects is massively interwoven into the history of humanity. To study either is to delve back and understand history, as well as postulating far forward into the future, all whilst still holding the reins of the present.
In conversations about politics there is often a reference to ‘the left’, ‘the right’ and ‘centrist’ styles of policy and political viewpoints. This is usually a reference to the strength of political leaning and whether it is utilising the middle ground of any particular theory. Swaying ‘left’ is to mean in the direction of liberalism and views which are dominated by ideals of freedom, equality, social rights, progress, reform and internationalism. Swaying ‘right’, on the other hand, is towards conservatism, characterised by ideals of authority, hierarchy, order, duty, tradition, reaction and nationalism. I.e., in UK democracy ‘the left’ is associated with closer affiliations to concepts of socialism but is still within the traditional democratic structure. We will further cover the various political stances in my political blog posts yet to come.
This is a form of governance where the ‘eligible individuals’ of a system, be it a country (large scale) or a housing cooperative (small scale), have a right to a single ‘vote’. This can enable the individual to show their favour for specific rules or legislation – for example, in a shared housing co-operative (direct democracy), choosing what rules to have and how to allocate tasks to ensure everyone enjoys their time there. Democracy can also enable the individual to show preference for another individual or group who they trust to follow the spirit of their ideas and wishes (representative democracy) and to create laws and systems based upon those wishes. One example would be the UK’s parliamentary system, which was designed around this idea.
The cornerstone ideas of democracy are about the ‘rule of the people’, consensus and inclusivity, and ensuring that the concept of elitism, as can be found in aristocracy and monarchy, are not present. Democracy is the antithesis of tyranny and dictatorship, systems which favour the ideas of a specific individual above those of the majority.
Within the idea of democracy sits the necessity for ‘freedom of the press’, ‘freedom of speech’, ‘freedom of assembly’, the ‘safety of individuality’, and ‘freedom from oppression’ as a minority.
In the next part of this primer we will take a look at the broad ‘Left’ of political theory, Socialism, Communism, and Anarchy. We will also consider Capitalism which although not strictly a political theory, is essential to juxtapose with the others to understand today’s globalised market, as well its political arena and the spectrum of its ideas.