What is Politics?
Government is the regulation
of public affairs, and politics is the means by which people determine whose
views of government will prevail. “Politics ain’t beanbag,” said the American
humorist Finley Peter Dunne, pretty much summarizing Niccolo Machiavelli’s
advice to Lorenzo di Piero de’ Medici in The Prince (1513).
is a mixture of the high and the low. Politics is the realm in which we attempt
to make real some of our highest aspirations: our desire for political freedom,
our longing for justice, our hope for peace and security. At the same time,
politics is laced with individuals and groups seeking their selfish interests at
the expense of others.
The academic discipline of political theory examines
what great thinkers have discerned about the nature of human government. Plato
and Aristotle sharply disagreed about the principles that should inform
politics, and any serious effort to grasp political theory begins with the
contrast between Plato’s hypothetical account of a truly just society in The
Republic and Aristotle’s attempt in Politics to identify the actual qualities of
the successful state and the statesman.
Politics deals with messy and
complicated situations. For this reason, the study of politics is concerned not
only with the political ideal, but also with the best that can be achieved here
and now. When should we compromise and when should we stand fast on principle?
Political theory helps us to see such questions clearly. The American Revolution
took place when a group of statesmen decided to stand on principle and reject
further compromise. But shortly after the Revolution, many of the same statesmen
worked together to draft the United States Constitution, built on a series of
compromises. The Federalist Papers, urging the adoption of the Constitution,
offer a brilliant account of how a principled government can thrive in a world
of self-interested factions.
Christians are often ambivalent about politics.
On one hand, the Bible often presents God in the language of politics: a
sovereign ruler over his kingdom, with Christians called to help build the
kingdom. On the other hand, the Bible distinguishes between the kingdoms of this
world and the kingdom of heaven. The King’s College is rooted in the tradition
that urges Christians to engage the political realities of their time. We study
politics, in part, to learn how to transform our largely secular and pluralistic
society for the better.