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Encyclopedia > Political movement

Politics is the process and method of decision-making for groups of human beings. Although it is generally applied to governments, politics is also observed in all human group interactions including corporate, academic, and religious. Political science is the study of political behavior and examines the acquisition and application of power, i.e. the ability to impose one's will on another.

One theorist, Harold Lasswell, has defined politics as "who gets what, when, and how."


A Social Animal

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 human associations. 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. Hobbes noted that such an arrangement created a “war of all against all”. Further, he noted that men would enter into a social contract and would give up absolute rights for certain protections.

While it appears that social cooperation and dominance hirearchies predate human societies, Hobbes’s model goes a long way to illustrate the rational for creating societies (polities).

Early history

V.G. Childe describes the transformation of human society that took place around 6000 BCE as an urban revolution. Among the features of this new type of civilization were the institutionalization of social stratification, non-agricultural specialised crafts (including priests and lawyers), taxation, and writing. All of which require densely populated settlements - cities.

The word "Politics" is derived from the Greek word for citystate, "Polis". Corporate, religious, academic and every other polity, especially those constrained by limited resources, contain dominance hierarchy and therefore politics. Politics is most often studied in relation to the administration governments.

The oldest form of government was tribal organization. Rule by elders was supplanted by monarchy, and a system of Feudalism as an arrangement where a single family dominated the political affairs of a community. Monarchies have existed in one form or another for the past 5000 years of human history.

Evolution of government in the European tradition

The Greeks were the first to develop democracy as a means of governance of the people, by the people. However, this democracy was limited to free, male, landholders. Nevertheless, it demonstrated the viability of government by the governed.

The Roman Republic is credited with significant innovation in types of government. It was an early example of a bicameral legislative system, which divided power between the patrician aristocracy and plebian general citizens. It also contained the beginnings of representative democracy, having various officers selected for fixed terms by popular election. Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe reverted to feudal monarchy.

The Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Industrial Revolution each increased the availability of education and leisure to otherwise disenfranchised classes along with a desire to participate in governance. In the 18th century democracy re-emerged as politics by the people, for the people. In the 19th century Karl Marx believed the process of political progress would not be complete until after economic classes no longer existed and every person was the master of his own fate.

Political power

  • Power is the ability to impose one's will on another. It implies a capacity for force, i.e violence.
  • Authority is the power to enforce laws, to exact obedience, to command, to determine, or to judge.
  • Legitimacy is an attribute of government gained through the application of power in accordance with recognized or accepted standards or principles.
  • A government is the body that has the authority to make and enforce rules or laws.

Authority and legitimacy

Max Weber identified three sources of legitimacy for authority known as (tripartite classification of authority). He proposed three reasons why people followed the orders of those who gave them:


Traditional authorities receive loyalty because they continue and support the preservation of existing values, the status quo. Traditional authority has the longest history. Patriarchical (and more rarely Matriarchal) societies gave rise to hereditary monarchies where authority was given to descendents of previous leaders. Followers submit to this authority because "we've always done it that way." Examples of traditional authoritarians include kings and queens.


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. Examples include Hitler, Napoleon, and Mao (however, Mao ruled long enough that his successors could invoke tradition as the source of their authority). Napoleon Bonaparte is a notable case, he was a foreigner who took the place of a traditional authority.


Legal-Rational authorities receive their ability to compel behavior by virtue of the office that they hold. It is the office that demands obedience rather than the office holder. Modern democracies are examples of legal-rational regimes.

Political systems and ideologies

Anarchism | Anarcho-capitalism | Anarcho-Communism | Anti-communism | Authoritarianism | Capitalism | Classical definition of republic | Classical liberalism | Communism | Conservatism | Corporatocracy | Democracy | Democratic socialism | Green | Fascism | Federalism | Leftism | Liberalism | Libertarianism | Libertarian socialism | Marxism | Meritocracy | Minarchism | Monarchy | Nationalism | National Socialism | Oligarchy | Post-Communism | Radical centrism | Republicanism | Socialism | Stalinism | Totalitarianism | Theocracy

Political components

City | City-state | Confederation | Country | Empire | Federation | Government | Nation state | Prefecture | Principality | Province | Republic | State | World Government

Classical political theorists

Plato | Aristotle | Thucydides | Cicero | Saint Augustine | Thomas Aquinas

Modern political theorists

Niccolò Machiavelli | John Calvin | Martin Luther | Baruch Spinoza | Jean Bodin | Thomas Hobbes | John Locke | David Hume | Adam Smith | Jeremy Bentham | the Federalist Papers | Jean-Jacques Rousseau | Immanuel Kant | G.W.F. Hegel | Johann Gottfried von Herder | Alexis de Tocqueville | John Stuart Mill | Karl Marx | Friedrich Engels | Max Weber | Lenin

Contemporary political theorists

David Friedman | Noam Chomsky | John Rawls | Jan Narveson | David Gauthier | Amartya Sen | Jürgen Habermas | James M. Buchanan | Bernard Crick | Michel Foucault | Jane Jacobs | Carol Moore | Antonio Negri | Robert Nozick | Hannah Arendt | Mohandas Gandhi | Ayn Rand

See also

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