Politics is the study of decision-making power (who's got it, and who
hasn't) at the inter-social and societal levels. When considered at smaller
scales, e.g. within a profession, it is indistinguishable from applied
ethics or specialist ethical codes - for these issues see the list of ethics
At whatever scale, politics is the rather imperfect way that we actually do
coordinate individual actions for mutual (or strictly personal) gain. What
distinguishes the political from the ethical or merely social is a
much-debated question. Most theorists would acknowledge that to be
political, a process has to involve at least some potential for use of force
or violence - politics is about conflict that is about much more than theory
and fashion. To win a political conflict always implies that one has taken
power away from one group or faction to give it to another. Most would also
acknowledge that political conflict can easily degrade to zero-sum games,
with little learned or settled by conflict other than "who won and who lost":
Lenin said politics was about "who could do what to whom" (Russian "Kto-Kgo"
for "Who-Whom"). As political scientist Harold Lasswell said, politics is
"who gets what, when and how." It also concerns how we resolve moral
conflicts that are sufficiently serious that they constitute a risk of
social disruption - in which case commitment to a common process of
arbitration or diplomacy tends to reduce violence - usually viewed as a key
goal of civilization. Bernard Crick is a major theorist of this view and
also of the idea that politics is itself simply "ethics done in public",
where public institutions can agree, disagree, or intervene to achieve a
desirable culmination or comprehensive (process) result.
In addition to government, journalists, religious groups, special interest
groups, and economic systems and conditions may all have influence on
decisions. Therefore, politics touches on all these subjects.
Authors of studies of politics have both reflected and influenced the
political systems of the world. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote The Prince, an
analysis of politics in a monarchy, in 1513, while living in a monarchy.
Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote "The Communist Manifesto" in 1848 and
it went on to be one of the most influential works of the twentieth century.
Today, much study of politics focuses on democracies, and how their form
affects the decisions they make.
Other lines of political inquiry attempt to answer philosophical questions such as;
* is there a moral justification for government.
* what is the purpose of government?
* is there any possible empirical or more formal method for evaluating
and quantifying ethicality and morality of human actions that could
augment or replace religion or authority or political contention in
deciding what political leaders "should" do?
* is there an objective way to evaluate the quality of a decision,
policy, leader or party?
These are ongoing debates that are millenia old.
As well being influenced by these weighty matters, politics is also a social
activity, and as such it is subject to the whims of fashion as any other.
Political scientists are academics who research the conduct of politics.
They look at elections, public opinion, institutional activities (how
legislatures act, the relative importance of various sources of political
power etc), the ideologies behind various politicans and political
organisations, how politicians achieve and wield their influence, and so on.