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322. Politics

See also 185. GOVERNMENT .

the attitude of taking an active part in events, especially in a social context. activist, n.
the doctrine of an equal division of landed property and the advancement of agricultural groups. Also called agrarian reform . agrarian, adj.
analytical stasiology
an attempt, through the construction of conceptual frameworks, to develop a science of political parties.
opposition to doctrines on citizenship, especially those promulgated in France during the French Revolution. anticivic, adj.
opposition to the Jacobins, one of the revolutionary parties of the French revolution; by extension, the term denotes opposition to the French Revolution and any of its supporters. anti-Jacobin, n.
the quality of being opposed to the establishment or maintenance of a governmental military force. antimilitarist, n. antimilitaristic, adj.
the techniques, policies, and training of special police who deal with terrorists, especially those who take hostages. antiterrorist, adj.
the holding of no particular belief, creed, or political position. Cf. nothingarianism . anythingarian, n.
a devotion to Arab interests, custom, culture, ideals, and political goals.
a follower of Arnold of Brescia, 12th-century Italian political reformer, especially his attacks upon clerical riches and corruption and upon the temporal power of the pope.
independent self-rule free from outside influence.
a social and political doctrine advocating egalitarianism and communism. Babouvist, n.
the state of being composed of members of two parties or of two parties cooperating, as in government. bipartisan, adj.
the practice, during war, of promoting propaganda and defeatist activities favoring an enemy country.
1. support of the actions and doctrines of Napoleon Bonaparte.
2. the desire for a leader to emulate Napoleon Bonaparte. Bonapartist, n.
U.S. Slang, the practice of bribery or illicit payments, especially to or from a politician. Also boodling . boodier, n.
U.S. a control by bosses, especially political bosses.
1. an adherence to the ideas and system of government developed by the Bourbons.
2. an extreme conservatism, especially in politics. Bourbonist, n. Bourbonian, Bourbonic, adj.
brinkmanship, brinksmanship
the technique or practice in foreign policy of manipulating a dangerous situation to the limits of tolerance or safety in order to secure advantage, especially by creating diplomatic crises.
the characteristics shown by a dictatorship or imperial authority. Caesarist, n.
a theory or system in which property and investment in busines; are owned and controlled by individuals directly or through ownership of shares in companies. Cf. communism . capitalist, n., adj. capitalistic, adj.
adherence to Don Carlos of Spain and to his successors. Carlist, n.
the doctrines and policies of Fidel Castro, communist premier of Cuba.
adherence to a middle-of-the-road position, neither left nor right, as in politics. centrist, adj., n.
the principles of a movement or party of English political reformers, chiefly workingmen, from 1838 to 1848, advocating better working and social conditions for laborers in its Peoples Charter (1838). Chartist, n.
the doctrine that all citizens have the same rights and obligations.
Obsolete, a person who studies politics.
a system of political clubs, especially the clubs of the French Revolution. clubbist, n. clubbish, adj.
the political doctrines of Richard Cobden, who believed in peace and the withdrawal from European competition for balance of power.
the socialist principle of control by the state of all means of productive or economic activity. collectivist, n., adj. collectivistic, adj.
1. a theory or system of organization in which the major political and social units are self-governing communes, and the nation is merely a federation of such groups.
2. the principles or practices of communal ownership. Cf. communism, socialism . communalist, n. communalistic, adj.
a theory or system in which all property is owned by all of the people equally, with its administration vested by them in the state or in the community. Cf. capitalism . communist, n., adj. communistic, adj.
1. the disposition to retain what is established and to practice a policy of gradualism rather than abrupt change. Cf. radicalism .
2. the principles and practices of political conservatives, especially of the British Conservative party. conservative, n., adj.
1. the principles of the form of government defined by a constitution.
2. an adherence to these principles.
3. constitutional rule or authority. constitutionalist, n.
1. an attitude or policy of favoritism or partiality to a continent.
2. a policy advocating a restriction of political or economie relations to the countries of one continent. continentalist, n.
a person who practices or advocates corruption, especially in politics or public life.
favoritism, especially in the giving of political appointments.
the habits and principles of nonrevolutionaries, of the bourgeoisie. Cf. sansculottism . culottic, adj.
1. an autocratic government.
2. dictatorship. Also spelled tzarism, tsarism. czarist, n., adj.
one of those who conspired to overthrow Russian Czar Nicholas I in December, 1825. Also Dekebrist .
demagogism, demagoguism, demagogy
the art and practice of gaining power and popularity by arousing the emotions, passions, and prejudices of the people. Also demagoguery.
a doctrine of or belief in social equality or the right of all people to participate equally in politics.
1. the policy of being sectarian in spirit, especially in carrying out religious policy.
2. the tendency to separate or cause to separate into sects or denominations. denominationalist, n., adj.
advocacy of the division of something, such as an educational institution, into departments. departmentalization, n.
the actions used by a saboteur against his own government and military forces. diversionist, n. diversionary, adj.
the activity of terrorists who use dynamite to blow up public places.
a social and political philosophy asserting the equality of all men, especially in their access to the rights and privileges of their society. Also equalitarianism. egalitarian, n., adj.
a form of state socialism.
a policy of expansion, as of territory or currency. expansionist, n., adj. expansionistic, adj.
factionalism, factionism
the state or quality of being partisan or self-interested. factional, adj. factionalist, n.
the doctrines and practices of the Spanish fascist party. Falangist, n., adj.
the beliefs and activities of the followers of the Marquis de Lafayette.
the principles and practices of an Irish revolutionary organization founded in New York in 1858, especially its emphasis on the establishment of an independent Irish republic. Fenian, n., adj.
(in France) a member of a club of constitutional monarchists, named after their meeting place at Notre Dame des Feuillants.
Free Soilism
the principles of the Free Soil party (1846-56), which opposed the extension of slavery into any new territories of the United States. Free Soiler, n.
the quality of having a coalition between certain political parties. fusionist, n.
Gandhism, Gandhiism
the principles of Mohandas K. Gandhi, Indian political and spiritual leader, especially his advocacy of passive resistance and noncooperation to achieve social and political reforms. Gandhist, Gandhiist, n. Candhian, adj.
1. the principles and policies of Charles de Gaulle during World War II in support of the Free French and opposed to the Vichy regime.
2. the political principles, chiefly conservative and nationalistic, of de Gaulle as French president, 1959-69. Gaullist, n., adj.
1. the study or application of the effect of political or economic geography on the political structure, programs, or philosophy of a state.
2. a policy or policies based on such factors.
3. the complex of geographical and political factors affecting or determining the nature of a state or region.
4. the study of the relationship between geography and politics, applied especially to the study of the doctrines and actions of Nazi Germany in the context of world domination. geopolitician, n. geopolitical, adj.
the principles of the imperial and aristocratic party of medieval Italy, especially their support of the German emperors. Cf. Guelphism . Ghibelline, n., adj.
a form of mild republicanism in France, 1791-1793, led by natives of the Gironde. Girondist, n., adj.
the principle or policy of achieving a goal, as political or economic, by gradual steps rather than by sudden and drastic innovation. Cf. conservatism, radicalism . gradualist, n., adj. gradualistic, adj.
Guelphism, Guelfism
the principles and practices of the papal and popular party in medieval Italy. Cf. Ghibellinism . Guelphic, Guelfic, adj.
the principles of Marxian socialism as interpreted by the French socialist, editor, and writer Jules Guesde. Guesdist, n., adj.
the political theories, doctrines, or policies of Alexander Hamilton, especially federalism, strong central government, and protective tariffs. Hamiltonian, n., adj.
the condition of being under the rule or domination of another.
the body of doctrine, myth, symbol, etc., with reference to some political or cultural plan, as that of communism, along with the procedures for putting it into operation. ideologist, idealogue, n. ideologic, ideological, adj.
opposition to liberalism.
1. the system of institutions or organized societies devoted to public, political, or charitable, or similar purposes.
2. a strong attachment to established institutions, as political systems or religions. institutionalist, n.
the state of being an insurgent or rebel; the activities of insurgents or rebels.
1. the belief in cooperation between nations for the common good.
2. advocacy of this concept, internationalist, n., adj.
Rare. the holding of mutual citizenship.
the doctrine supporting intervention, especially in international affairs and the politics of other countries. interventionist, n., adj.
1. a national policy advocating the acquisition of some region in another country by reason of common linguistic, cultural, historical, ethnic, or racial ties.
2. (cap.) the policies of a 19th-century Italian party that sought to annex parts of certain neighboring regions with chiefly Italian populations. irredentist, n., adj.
the policy or doctrine directed toward the isolation of a country from the affairs of other nations by a deliberate abstention from political, military, and economic agreements. isolationist, n.
the possession of equal political and legal rights by all citizens of a state.
the granting of equal or reciprocal political rights by different countries to each others citizens. isopolite, n. isopolitical, adj.
the practices of the Jacobins, a political group advocating equalitarian democracy during the French Revolution. Jacobin, n. Jacobinic, adj.
the political theories, doctrines, or policies of Thomas Jefferson, especially rigid interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, belief in an agrarian economy, states rights, and in the political acumen of the ordinary citizen. Jeffersonian, adj.
jusquaboutism, jusquaboutisme
a policy of self-sacrificing and determined radicalism. jusquaboutist, n., adj.
the autocratie political system and policies of a German kaiser.
the religious and political doctrines of the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini (1900?-), who founded the Islamic Republic in Iran in 1979.
doctrines of the American Party (1853-1856), the main goal of which was to bar foreign-born citizens from participating in government. know-nothing, n.
a radical or liberal position or doctrine, especially in politics. leftist, n., adj.
1. a political or social philosophy advocating the f reedom of the individual, parliamentary legislatures, governmental assurances of civil liberties and individual rights, and nonviolent modification of institutions to permit continued individual and social progress.
2. the principles and practice of a liberal political party. liberalist, n., adj. liberalistic, adj.
the principles of the liberationists, an English society opposed to a state or established church and favoring disestablishment. liberationist, n.
the practice of influencing legislators to favor special interests. lobbyist, n.
the doctrines of the Locofocos, a radical faction of the New York City Democrats, organized in 1835 to oppose the conservatives in the party. Locofoco, n., adj.
1. a dedication to the British cause during the American revolution; Toryism.
2. an adherence to the cause of the republic during the Spanish Civil War. Loyalist, n., adj.
1. the principles of government set forth in The Prince by Machiavelli, in which political expediency is exalted above morality and the use of er aft and deceit to maintain authority or to effectuate policy is recommended. Also Machiavellism .
2. activity characterized by subtle cunning, duplicity, or bad faith. Machiavellian, n., adj.
the principles and attitudes of Daniel F. Malan, prime minister of the Union of South Africa (1948-54), whose policies of apartheid and Afrikander supremacy were first made law during his term of office.
1. U.S. the practice of making accusations of disloyalty, especially of pro-Communist activity, often unsupported or based on doubtful evidence.
2. any attempt to restrict political criticism or individual dissent by claiming it to be unpatriotic or pro-Communist.
an attitude of sympathy towards the Medes (Persians), held by some Greeks in the 6th and 5th centuries B.C.
1. the principle of maintaining a large military establishment.
2. the policy of regarding military efficiency as the supreme ideal of the state, and the subordinating of all other ideals to those of the military. Also militaryism. militarist, n. militaristic, adj.
the principle or policy of moderation, especially in politics and international relations. moderantist, n.
1. the practice of independence, especially in politics.
2. an inability to make up ones mind, especially in politics; neutrality on controversial issues. Also mugwumpery. mugwump, n. mugwumpian, mugwumpish, adj.
a doctrine that lays stress on the importance of the multitude instead of the individual. multitudinist, n., adj. multitudinal, adj.
Nazism, Naziism
the principles and practices of the National Socialist Workers party under Adolf Hitler from 1933 to 1945. Nazi, n., adj.
the advancement and advocacy of equal rights for Negroes. negrophilist, n. negrophile, adj.
domination of a small or weak country by a large or strong one without the assumption of direct government. neocolonialist, n., neocolonial, adj.
a new movement in conservatism, usually seen as a move further to the right of the position currently occupied by conservatives in politics or in attitudes. neoconservative, n., adj.
a movement that modifies classical liberalism in light of 20th-century conditions.
the practice or policy of remaining neutral in foreign affairs. neutralist, n.
the doctrine that governments should not interfere in the politics of other countries. noninterventionist, n., adj.
the practice or policy of nonsupport for established or regular political parties. Also nonpartisanship . nonpartisan, n., adj.
the holding of no belief, creed, or political position. Cf. anythingarianism . nothingarian, n.
the doctrine or advocacy of alliance or cooperation among all African states. Pan-Africanist, n., adj.
the idea of a single state including all of North and South America.
the doctrine or advocacy of alliance or cooperation among all Arab states. Pan-Arabist, n., adj.
a 19th-century political movement whose aim was the unification of all Germans.
an action or spirit of partiality for a specific political party. Also partisanship . partisan, n., adj.
1. the system of political parties.
2. a strong adherence to a party. partyist, n.
1. the state or quality of being passive.
2. the doctrine or advocacy of a passive policy, as passive resistance. passivist, n.
the principles and doctrines of political economists following the ideas of Francois Quesnay in holding that an inherent natural order adequately controlled society and advocating a laissezfaire economy based on land as the best system to prevent interference with natural laws. physiocrat, n. physiocratic, adj.
the policies of William Pitt the Younger, chief minister under King George III of England and sympathizer with the colonies during the American Revolution. Pittite, n.
1. Ecclesiastic. the holding of two or more church offices by a single person.
2. the state or condition of a common civilization in which various ethnic, racial, or religious groups are free to participate in and develop their common cultures.
3. a policy or principle supporting such cultural plurality. pluralist, n. pluralistic, adj.
a mania for politics.
the study of politics; political science. Also politicology. politologist, n. politological, adj.
the existence of a number of basic guiding principles in the political system of a Communist government.
popular sovereignty
1. the doctrine that sovereign power is vested in the people and that those chosen by election to govern or to represent must conform to the will of the people.
2. U.S. History. a doctrine, held chiefly before 1865 by antiabolitionists, that new territories should be free of federal interference in domestic matters, especially concerning slavery.
1. the principles and doctrines of any political party asserting that it represents the rank and file of the people.
2. (cap.) the principles and doctrines of a late 19th-century American party, especially its support of agrarian interests and a silver coinage. populist, n., adj. populistic, adj.
domination of government by prostitutes, especially in reference to the Roman government in the flrst half of the lOth century.
1. Also called progressionism, progressism . the principles and practices of those advocating progress, change, or reform, especially in political matters.
2. (cap.) the doctrines and beliefs of the Progressive party in America. progressivist, n.
the practices, attitudes, social status, or political condition of an unpropertied class dependent for support on daily or casual labor. proletarian, n., adj.
the principle of electing officials by proportionality. proportionalist, n., adj.
the study of elections. psephologist, n. psephological, adj.
the traitorous rejection of ones native country foliowed by the acceptance of a position of authority in the government of an occupying power. quisling, n.
1. the holding or following of principles advocating drastic political, economie, or social reforms. Cf. conservatism, gradualism .
2. the principles or practices of radicals. radical, n., adj.
realism in politics, especially policies or actions based on considerations of power rather than ideals.
the beliefs of rioters in South Wales in 1843-44, who were led by a man dressed as a woman and called Rebecca. Rebeccaite, n.
the doctrine or movement of reform whether it be social, moral, or of any other type. reformist, n. reformistic, adj.
adherence to reactionary politics. retrogradist, n., adj.
the support or advocacy of a royal government. royalist, n., adj. royalistic, adj.
any extreme republican or revolutionary principles. Cf. culottism. sanscullotist, n. sanscullotic, sanscullotish, adj.
the doctrines and practices of the secessionists. secessionist, n., adj. secessional, adj.
an advocacy of separation, especially ecclesiastical or political separation, as the secession of U.S. states before the Civl War. separatist, n., adj.
a secret Mexican counterrevolutionary movement, advocating the return to Christian social standards and opposing communism, labor unions, conscription, and Pan-Americanism. Sinarquist, n.
fear or hatred of things Slavic, especially of real or imagined political influence. Slavophobe, n. Slavophobic, adj.
1. a theory or system of social organization advocating placing the ownership and control of capital, land, and means of production in the community as a whole. Cf. utopian socialism .
2. the procedures and practices based upon this theory.
3. Marxist theory. the first stage in the transition from capitalism to communism, marked by imperfect realizations of collectivist principles. socialist, n., adj. socialistic, adj.
1. a member of a German socialist party founded in 1918.
2. an extreme socialist. [Allusion to Spartacus, leader of a slave revolt against Rome, 73-71 B.C.]
the principles and actions characteristic of one who is a strong partisan of a cause. stalwart, n.
stand pattism
extreme conservatism.
militant advocacy of suffrage for women. Cf. suffragism .
any advocacy of the granting or extension of the suffrage to those now denied it, especially to women. suffragist, n.
1. an economic system in which workers own and manage an industry.
2. a revolutionary form or development of trade unionism, originating in France, aiming at possession and control of the means of production and distribution and the establishment of a corporate society governed by trade unions and workers cooperatives. syndicalist, n. syndicalistic, adj.
Tammanism, Tammanyism
1. the activities and principles of Tammany Hall, a powerful New York City Democratic political society of the 1800s, founded as a benevolent organization, which later deteriorated into a force for political patronage and corruption.
2. activities or beliefs similar to those of Tammany Hall. Tammanyite, n., adj.
1. the principle of the political predominance of the landed classes; landlordism.
2. the theory of church policy vesting supreme ecclesiastical authority in a civil government, as in 16th-century Germany. Also called territorial system . territorialist, n.
1. a method of government or of resisting government involving domination or coercion by various forms of intimidation, as bombing or kidnapping.
2. the state of fear and terror so produced. terrorist, n., adj. terroristic, adj.
1. a support of the British cause during the American Revolution.
2. an advocacy of conservative principles opposed to reform and radicalism.
3. the actions of dispossessed Irishmen in the 17th century who were declared outlaws and noted for their outrages and cruelty.
4. the principles of a conservative British party in power until 1832. Tory, n., adj., Toryish, adj.
the condition in a nation of having two political parties with equal voting strength and little opposition from other parties.
tzarism, tsarism
extreme conservatism, especially in politics. ultraconservative, n., adj.
1. the principles of those who advocate extreme points of view or actions, as radicalism.
2. extremist activities. ultraist, n., adj. ultraistic, adj.
the state or condition of being out of sympathy with or against an ideal of American behavior, attitudes, beliefs, etc. un-American, n., adj.
utopian socialism
an economie theory based on the premise that voluntary surrender by capital of the means of production would bring about the end of poverty and unemployment. Cf. socialism .
1. any underhanded, illegal, unethical, or dishonest political practice or action.
2. behavior attempting to conceal such practices or action.
Rare. government or rule by Whigs.
the doctrines and activities of the Irish Whiteboys, a secret agrarian society formed in 1761 to fight high rents [from the white shirts worn by the members at night for identification]. Whiteboy, n.

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The term politics derives from the ancient Greek word polis, meaning city-state, the main form of political community in ancient Greece. We continue to use the term even though few city-states remain in existence. A commonsense understanding of the term is illustrated by this analogy: Politics is to the polis what athletics is to athletes. Just as the world of athletics is subdivided into different types of sport, politics comes in numerous modes and orders: democratic, tyrannical, constitutionalist, oligarchic, theocratic, bureaucratic, fascist, authoritarian, and so on.

However, everyday language is not a reliable guide to defining politics, because we regularly apply the term to practices that are not political. We speak of office politics, locker-room politics, or the politics of high school cliques. These usages are too broad and fail to distinguish politics as a unique activity, distinct from business, sports, social interactions, and so on. In order to gain a more comprehensively scientific understanding of the meaning of politics, it is helpful to consider two basic components: (1) the character of political activity and (2) the scope of political activity.


Politics has been defined in numerous ways. The philosopher Plato (c. 428348 bce) defined it as the art of caring for souls, meaning that the duty of political rulers is to cultivate moral virtue or excellence in their citizens. Numerous thinkers throughout history have reiterated Platos view. The medieval theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas (c. 12241274), who closely studied the philosophy of Platos student Aristotle (384322 bce), characterized politics as the activity of bringing together diverse individuals and groups, including doctors, economists, professors, and priests, each with their own talents and characteristics, into a unity: The object for which a community is gathered is to live a virtuous life. For men to consort together that they may thus attain a fullness of life which would not be possible to each living singly: and the full life is one which is lived according to virtue (Fuller 2000, p. 85). Both Plato and Aquinas were concerned with cultivating virtue and living a good life. Aquinas further emphasizes the synthetic or architectonic dimension of politics as the activity of building coalitions and maintaining harmony among the constituent parts of political society. Politics for Plato and Aquinas reflects humanitys sociable nature.

Ancient and medieval thinkers emphasized the moral purpose of politics (the why) and the means of reaching that purpose (the how), while modern thinkers, including contemporary political scientists, are more likely to emphasize only means (the how). For example, the Renaissance thinker Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527) wrote in The Prince that it is unrealistic for princes to provide moral guidance to citizens because politics requires rulers to perform unjust deeds to ensure the security and glory of the state, including such acts as treating ones friends as subjects and killing family members if necessary. Machiavelli thus introduced what would later become known as the fact-value distinction into the study of politics. It states that facts are the only objects that can be analyzed empirically and with certainty, while values are less certain. Thomas Hobbes (15881679) provided what in the early twenty-first century one would consider a more scientific understanding of politics. His method was to deduce political principles from general and abstract theories. In his view humans resembled atoms, and human behavior was matter in motion, whose principle mode of behavior was self-preservation. Unlike Plato and Aquinas, Hobbes regarded humans not as social but as asocial. He sums this up in his famous formulation of human behavior:

So that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind, a perpetual and restless desire of power after power that ceaseth only in death. And the cause of this is not always that a man hopes for a more intensive delight than he has already attained to, or that he cannot be content with a moderate power, but because he cannot assure the power and means to live well, which he hath present, without the acquisition of more. (Hobbes 1996, p. 70)

This general principle of human behavior leads Hobbes to characterize the activity of politics as the pursuit of peace and security, not as the perfection of human social inclinations. While Hobbes was not what in the early twenty-first century one would call a liberal democrat, his theory laid the foundations for liberal democracy by making consent the basis of government. He also placed politics on a lower (and in his eyes, more stable) ground than earlier thinkers by making peace and security its purpose, not the cultivation of virtue and community.

Machiavelli and Hobbess distinction between the moral purpose of politics and the pragmatic pursuit of power can be seen in some twentieth-century definitions of politics, which deemphasize moral excellence in favor of the use of power and the distribution of goods within a community. The French thinker Bertrand de Jouvenel (19031987) defined politics as the activity of gathering and maintaining support for human projects: We should regard as political every systematic effort, performed at any place in the social field, to move other men in pursuit of some design cherished by the mover (Jouvenel 1963, p. 30). Allan Ball emphasizes conflict in his definition: [Politics] involves disagreements and the reconciliation of those disagreements, and therefore can occur at any level. Two children in a nursery with one toy which they both want at the same time present a political situation (Ball 1971, p. 20). Harold Lasswell emphasizes distribution in his treatment of politics, as reflected in the title of his 1936 treatise Politics: Who Gets What, When, and How.

While these definitions have their benefits, they fail to distinguish political activity from other forms of activity. This is especially true for Balls definition, which provides little guidance on the difference between a nursery and a nation-state like the United States. More promising is Bernard Cricks definition of politics as the activity by which different interests within a given unit of rule are conciliated by giving them a share in power in proportion to their importance to the welfare and the survival of the whole community (Crick 1972, p. 22). This definition recalls Aquinass characterization of politics as unifying different parts of society. By mentioning survival, Crick also alludes to the fact that a political society requires a large degree of autonomy, in a way that a smaller unit, such as a family, lacks. By mentioning welfare, which is broader than survival, he also indicates that a political society is organized around a set of goals and principles.


The activity of politics, then, consists of a continuous attempt to fashion a unity from a diverse set of competing interests and talents. Beyond this, any analysis of politics needs to move to a more concrete level. Politics, as the activity of the polis, depends on the form the political community takes. Political actions such as the conciliation of interests would take different forms in Nazi Germany, for example, and a liberal democracy like the United States. In the former, power is based on a personality cult surrounding Adolf Hitler for the purpose of furthering the utopian ideal of a Third Reich. In the latter, coalitions of interests form and compete with one another in a law-based constitutional system. In the former, politics is seen as something that will in fact cease once the utopia is reached (this is true of any utopian system). In the latter, politics is assumed to be a never-ending activity of negotiation and bargaining, on the assumption that a diversity of opinions and interests will always exist.

Political thinkers have devised a variety of methods for evaluating the differences among political systems. Plato distinguished five regimes, ranked according to the degree to which each is just. In descending order, they are the just city governed by philosopher kings, timocracy (ruled by warriors), oligarchy (ruled by the wealthy), democracy (ruled by the many), and tyranny (Plato 1991, pp. 449a592b). Aristotle distinguished six different regimes according to who rules and for what purpose. He identified three good and three corrupt systems: (1) monarchy and tyranny, (2) aristocracy and oligarchy, (3) polity, or constitutional democracy, and mass democracy (Aristotle 1984, pp. 1288b101296b15).

Plato and Aristotles typologies are based on the polis. Modern scholars have developed typologies that attempt to organize the different forms the modern state takes. Three separate axes can be identified: (1) the interpenetration of state and society, (2) whether the state is presidential or parliamentary, and (3) whether the state is federal or unitary (Dickerson and Flanagan 1998, pp. 209310; Finer 1999, pp. 14731484).

The first axis considers the extent to which state institutions and civil society are autonomous. For example, liberal democracies prize pluralism, which requires a multiplicity of political parties competing for power as well as a wide array of independent schools, newspapers, and other sources of opinion. Totalitarian governmentsfor example, that of Hitlerattempt to control all facets of society, including universities, newspapers, unions, and businesses. Totalitarian states permit only one party, which purportedly speaks for the nation.

The second axis considers the composition of the representative institutions. In a presidential system like the United States, the central government is divided into three branches: executive (the president), legislative (Congress), and judicial (the Supreme Court). These three branches balance one another to ensure that no single branch of government possesses complete power. In a parliamentary system like that of Great Britain, executive power (the prime minister and cabinet) is more fused with legislative (the House of Commons). According to the doctrine of responsible government, the prime minister and cabinet must continually maintain the confidence of the House of Commons, which has the power to dissolve the government. Dissolution can occur at any time, in contrast to the U.S. presidential system, where members can only be removed by election or, in extreme circumstances, by impeachment.

The third axis reflects the territorial size of a society. In ancient Greece the polis was not divided into states or provinces because city-states were small enough for government to exert control over its territory and maintain solidarity among its citizens. Modern nation-states are considerably larger in size, which poses special challenges for controlling territory and promoting social solidarity. A federal state splits up the nation-state into states or provinces and hands over to those small units specific powers appropriate to them while maintaining the powers necessary to address national concerns. Large nations such as the United States and Canada have a federal system, while smaller nations such as Great Britain are unitary. Federal systems are based on the view that citizens will have greater solidarity with those who live nearby and who share common ways of life, though this view is less salient when a society has a highly mobile population.


The political analysis of major thinkers like Plato, Aristotle, Machiavelli, and Hobbes attempted to combine the empirical study of politics with normative concerns, though the latter two dissolve that combination somewhat. Politics is studied in the early twenty-first century at the academic level in departments of political science. While the term political science is a translation of Aristotles politike episteme, modern usage, with the emphasis on science, reflects the attempt, begun by Hobbes, to study politics according to the methodologies of the physical sciences.

The division of most departments of political science into four subfields of analysis reflect this methodology. Political philosophy, which focuses on normative questions of political life, is one subfield. International relations considers the complexities of the international order, including law, organizations, war, and political economy. Comparative politics examines the politics of various countries and regions of the world. A fourth subfield examines the politics of the native country, so, for instance, every political science department in the United States has an American politics subfield, and their counterparts in Canada have Canadian politics subfields.

Political scientists frequently step outside of their subfields. This is most true of political philosophy and its relation to other fields, as few political phenomena can be separated from their normative dimensions. For instance, the study of power requires one to consider why a political actor seeks power, and these reasons usually depend on that actors particular understanding of justice. As a result, political science involves the study of the good society, just as it did for Plato 2,500 years ago.

SEE ALSO American Political Science Association; Aristotle; Campaigning; Conflict; Elections; Electoral Systems; Elites; Hobbes, Thomas; Lasswell, Harold; Machiavelli, Niccolò; Participation, Political; Party Systems, Competitive; Plato; Political Science; Political System; Political Theory; Power Elite; Power, Political


Aristotle. Politics. 1984. Trans. Carnes Lord. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Ball, Alan R. 1971. Modern Politics and Government. London: Macmillan.

Crick, Bernard R. 1972. In Defense of Politics. 2nd ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Dickerson, Mark O., and Thomas Flanagan. 1998. An Introduction to Government and Politics: A Conceptual Approach. 5th ed. Scarborough, ON: International Thomson Publishing.

Finer, Samuel E. 1999. The History of Government. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fuller, Timothy, ed. 2000. Leading and Leadership. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Hobbes, Thomas. 1996. Leviathan, ed. Richard Tuck. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. (Orig. pub. 1651.)

Jouvenel, Bertrand de. 1963. The Pure Theory of Politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Lasswell, Harold D. 1958. Politics: Who Gets What, When, and How. New York: Meridian Books.

Machiavelli, Niccolò. 1998. The Prince. 2nd ed. Trans. Harvey C. Mansfield. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. (Orig. pub. 1532.)

Minogue, Kenneth. 1995. Politics: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Plato. 1991. The Republic of Plato. 2nd ed. Trans. Allan Bloom. New York: Basic Books.

John von Heyking

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Beginning in 1970, the "environmental decade," a swift and sweeping transformation in American law radically reshaped U.S. pollution control policies. This regulatory revolution was mounted on three political foundations: skillful pressure-group politics, effective legislative advocacy, and aroused public concern about environmental degradation. These traditional American political techniques promoted, and continue to shape, contemporary pollution control through U.S. political governmental institutions.

The Political Foundations: Pressure-Group Politics

Americans and their public officials paid scant attention to growing evidence of environmental degradation across the nation until the late 1960s. Air and water pollution control was considered the responsibility of state and local governments. Most states did little more than set drinking water standards to protect public health from a few contaminants like bacterial diseases, fearing that more aggressive control of air and water pollutants would inhibit economic growth and drive resident business and industry to other states. Such mounting environmental degradation as the Cuyahoga River fire and Love Canal focused national attention on the need for environmental restoration. This was translated into bold new governmental policies largely by environmental pressure groups during the 1960s and 1970s.

The strength of the new environmental movement lay in organized political activism, coalition building, and legislative advocacythe fundamentals of effective group politics. The focus of this political pressure was primarily the federal government with its vast authority and resources for creating nationwide pollution control. No single event dramatized the environmental movement's rise to national importance more than the first Earth Day in April 1970a nationally televised Washington rally witnessed by 35 million Americansthat swiftly elevated public awareness of environmental degradation while advertising, especially for public officials, environmentalism's newly acquired political clout.

Pressure-Group Politics Old and New

Environmentalism's political strength depends on its leadership's skill in creating a broad and diverse alliance of interests to support environmental advocacy. The environmental movement embraces a great diversity of influential organizations, including traditional conservation groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation, established public health advocates like the American Cancer Society, newly formed environmental pressure groups like the Environmental Defense Fund and Friends of the Earth, major labor unions, public interest science organizations, and countless local organizations. Additionally, environmentalists are proficient recruiters. After the first Earth Day, environmentalist organizations multiplied and enriched their political resources, often creating innovative new organizational forms and strategies. Prior to 1970, fewer than twenty-five significant national environmental groups existed with a combined membership approaching 500,000of these, perhaps a half-dozen organizations were important participants in national policymaking. Several hundred influential national environmentalist groups are politically active; five of the most importantthe Audubon Society, Sierra Club, Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation, and Wilderness Societyalone have a combined membership exceeding seven million. Although all the major organizations use the sophisticated resources of pressure-group politicsmass-mailing technology, skilled media specialists, and full-time legislative lobbyiststhe environmental movement has also benefited by developing specialized legal advocacy groups, like the National Resources Defense Council, staffed primarily with lawyers and scientific experts committed exclusively to litigation that establishes important legal precedents and enforces pollution-control regulations for environmental protection.

Creating and Mobilizing Public Opinion

The radical transformation of U.S. pollution-control laws would have been impossible without strong, consistent public pressure on federal and state governments, especially on the Congress and state legislators. Current public opinion polls suggest that more than 80 percent of Americans agree with the goals of the environmental movement. The strength of this support is suggested by other polls consistently reporting since 1980 that more than two-thirds of the public believe environmental protection should be a major government priority, even at the risk of reducing economic growth. The breadth and depth of this ecological consciousness are remarkable, considering that few Americans understood the implications of ecology or the nature of domestic environmental pollution only a few decades ago. The most important political impact of this vigorous public environmentalism is on the electoral system: Candidates for major federal and state office are now customarily expected to support strong pollution controls and other ecologically protective policies, at least in principle. While Americans often disagree vigorously over pollution control methods, air and water pollution regulation itself is now an enduring component of the "American political consensus"those policies Americans overwhelmingly view as the essential responsibility of their government.

A Regulatory Revolution: The Environmental Decade

The design of U.S. air and water pollution control was crafted in federal law during the "environmental decade" between 1970 and 1980. Responding to dramatic media revelations of ecological deterioration, growing environmental group pressure, and voter concerns, Congress laid the legislative foundation for all contemporary regulation through six statutes: The Clean Air Act Amendments (1970), the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments (1972), the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), the Toxic Substances Control Act (1976), and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (Superfund) in 1980. Altogether, the Congress wrote or amended nineteen major environmental laws in this remarkable decade. And by changing the law, Congress also reordered its political underpinning.

Federal Leadership

The laws listed above radically recast the U.S. approach to pollution management. Most important, the federal government assumed the primary responsibility for air and water pollution regulation; Washington set national pollution standards and supervised their implementation, thus defining pollution control priorities and prescribing acceptable control methods. The Clean Air Act, for example, now requires all states to control at least six dangerous pollutants (sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, particulates, and volatile organic compounds) and a rapidly growing list of other substances currently believed to be "air toxins." The act additionally mandates that car manufacturers install pollution-control devices on all new automobiles. The new pollution laws also extended federal protection to the natural environment instead of exclusively to human health and safety. The Toxic Substances Control Act, for example, authorizes the federal government to regulate the manufacture, sale, or use of any chemical presenting "an unreasonable risk of injury to health or the environment."

Regulatory Federalism

Regulatory federalism has become a fundamental regulatory principle. This means that Washington prescribes national pollution standards and control procedures, but allocates the appropriate resources to states so they assume the primary responsibility for implementing and enforcing these requirements. States are then said to exercise "delegated authority." Using delegated authority, for instance, thirty-eight states as of 2002 issue permits for water pollution discharges required by the Federal Water Pollution Control Act Amendments and forty-nine states certify pesticides for local use as required by the Federal Environmental Pesticides Control Act (1972). Thus, the states assume an essential and highly influential role in national pollution regulation; pollution policymaking continually requires negotiation, conflict, and cooperation between the states and Washington.

New Regulatory Agencies

New federal agencies were created, and others reorganized, to implement these new control programs. The most important federal pollution control entity is now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created in 1972. The EPA is the nation's largest regulatory agency with 18,000 employees, a 2002 budget exceeding $7.5 billion, and responsibility to fully or partially implement all the nation's important pollution control laws. In 1970 the President's Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), a much smaller agency, was created within the White House to advise the President on environmental affairs. At the same time, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) was created within the U.S. Department of Commerce to conduct research on and monitoring of ocean and atmospheric pollution. The authority and staff of many other federal agencies concerned with environmental quality, such as the Department of the Interior, were also vastly expanded to implement new pollution control programs. These agencies also provide research support and grants to the states to facilitate the enforcement of pollution control laws. The EPA, for instance, has distributed more than $150 billion in grants to state and local governments to upgrade their sewage treatment systems.

New Policymaking Procedures

Federal pollution laws created new, often controversial, regulatory procedures. The most contentious of these is risk assessment the process used by regulatory agencies to determine if a substance constitutes a sufficient threat to human health and safety, or to the environment, to require control. Federal pollution laws, including the Toxic Substances Control Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and Superfund, require the EPA or other responsible agencies to conduct such risk assessmentsusually focused on the risk of canceron thousands of chemicals never previously evaluated according to the rigorous new standards. Risk assessments proceed slowly due to the huge number of substances involved, a lack of basic information about their distribution and impact, and intense controversy about the appropriate procedures for the assessments.

Federal pollution legislation has also vastly increased opportunities for the public, and particularly environmental advocacy groups, to become informed and involved in federal environmental decision making. Major federal pollution laws such as the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts removed a major legal impediment to public involvement in pollution control by granting individuals and organizations standing to sue federal and state agencies for failure to enforce pollution control laws. Almost all federal environmental laws also require the responsible federal and state agencies to actively inform the public and to provide numerous opportunities for public comment and review of contemplated regulations.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, it is apparent that the environmental movement permanently and comprehensively altered the law and politics of U.S. pollution regulation. Pressure-group politics, public opinion, and congressional legislation were the powerful driving forces in this change. The result was unprecedented, aggressive federal leadership in an active national program of pollution control based on federally mandated pollution standards and pollution controls. By promoting new national pollution control laws and agencies, expanded opportunities for public involvement in pollution regulation, and vigorous public concern for environmental degradation, the environmental movement has created a continuing "environmental era."

see also Activism; Brower, David; Carson, Rachel; Citizen Suits; Earth Day; Environmental Impact Statement; Government; Industry; Laws and Regulations, United States; Legislative Process; National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); New Left; Progressive Movement; Public Participation; Public Policy Decision Making; Risk.


Buck, Susan J. (1996). Understanding Environmental Administration and Law, 2nd edition. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.

Cohen, Richard E. (1995). Washington at Work: Back Rooms and Clean Air, 2nd edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Graham, Mary. (1999). The Morning after Earth Day: Practical Environmental Politics. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press.

Marzotto, Toni; Moshier Burnor, Vicky; and Bonham, Gorden Scott Bonham. (2000). The Evolution of Public Policy: Cars and the Environment. Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Rosenbaum, Walter A. (2002). Environmental Politics and Policy, 5th edition. Washington, D.C.: CQ Press.

internet resource

Project on Teaching Global Environmental Politics Web site. Available from

Walter A. Rosenbaum

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pol·i·tics / ˈpäləˌtiks/ • pl. n. [usu. treated as sing.] the activities associated with the governance of a country or other area, esp. the debate or conflict among individuals or parties having or hoping to achieve power: the Communist Party was a major force in French politics thereafter he dropped out of active politics. ∎  the activities of governments concerning the political relations between countries: in the conduct of global politics, economic status must be backed by military capacity. ∎  the academic study of government and the state: [as adj.] a politics lecturer. ∎  activities within an organization that are aimed at improving someone's status or position and are typically considered to be devious or divisive: yet another discussion of office politics and personalities. ∎  a particular set of political beliefs or principles: people do not buy this newspaper purely for its politics. ∎  (often the politics of) the assumptions or principles relating to or inherent in a sphere, theory, or thing, esp. when concerned with power and status in a society: the politics of gender. PHRASES: play politics act for political or personal gain rather than from principle.

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513. Politics

  1. Eatanswill town where party politics arouses fierce oppositions and loyalties. [Br. Lit.: Dickens Pickwick Papers ]
  2. Prince, The handbook of advice on acquiring and using political power. [Ital. Lit.: Machiavelli The Prince ]
  3. Skeffington, Frank old-time machine politician loses mayoralty and dies on election night. [Am. Lit.: Edwin OConnor The Last Hurrah in Hart, 457]

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politics Sphere of action in human society in which power is sought in order to regulate the ways in which people shall live together. For a society to engage in politics, it must conceive of society as being in a state of perpetual change.

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