Dirtying the term Politics [1] : A Drift from the Filth to a Consecrated Conceptualization-Evidence from the Empirical and Normative Perspective of Politics* A view from a Political Scientist

The term Politics has become a daily cliché among global citizens. The vernacularization of the word politics has become the order of the day owing to international and domestic news. More so, is the mass media’s prolific use of this word. The term has received attention from academics and non-academics, to some it is a demonic term and hence must not be used to avoid conflicts and division among groups and persons. This is manifested in inscriptions of ‘no politics here’ in most public places. My last sight of such inscription was on a dashboard of a Taxi in Accra, Ghana’s capital in October, 2015. The funniest episode that happened in this taxi was that the driver was complaining and talking about an increment in fuel price with the next passenger sitting at the back seat. I observed with keen interest but I kept quiet because politics was prohibited by a de jure order by the driver through his inscription. To talk about the paradox of his behavior will veer off my goal in this article. 

To others, politics is a science and a scientific discipline. Their classification includes the study of states and statecraft (state affairs and administration). This view about politics by scholars stress that politics is ubiquitous and manifests in all human endeavours. It is in line with this that Aristotle put it simply as ‘man is by nature a political animal.’ The father of politics highlights the intrinsic nature of humans with politics as a definite factor. My evidence to back the above claim stems from the daily occurrence of politics in our lives. This can be inferred from groups’ activities, families, churches, schools, institutions, friendship and even bedroom between spouse or boyfriend-girlfriend relations. This may sound complex or incongruous when categorizing what is politics from the layman’s view. In the view of scholars within the field of politics, the scope is broad and comprise all the daily human activities. Others refer to politics as a game. Base on this clarification as being a game, it is mostly described as ‘a dirty game.’ The evidence adduced by those who refer to politics as a dirty game is based on the killings, assassinations and murder, corruption, Machiavellian tactics applied by politicians to acquire power is their basis for such claims.  The element of callousness in politics have not been grouped as human behaviour. Unfortunately, this behaviour occurs in churches, mosques and football clubs and are deemed as human behaviour and human infirmity or better still fallibility of humans.

On one hand, the same human ills and weaknesses when occurring at a different sphere of our social design is not term as been caused by politics but rather caused by human weaknesses. However, this, when it happens in politics leads to a different classification of it. The ambiguity and misconception of politics is the reason for this article. I seek to offer a scholarly definition with my own definition too. At least this rudimental paper on politics will reduce or remove some shred of ignorance on the term among readers.  Based on the above, I offer four classical and one contemporary definition of politics. Within this, I will investigate politics as a sphere and activity.

Harold Dwight Lasswell: Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (1936)

David Easton: “the authoritative allocation of values.”

Hans Morgenthau: Politics is interest defined as Power

Karl Marx: Politics is a struggle between two classes, the rich and the poor. The Bourgeoisie and the Proletariats

At the classical point, Politics emanated from the Greek word Polis meaning City-State affairs. This originality of politics centers it at the formal institutionalized arena. This does not mean contemporary scope is the same.

My operational definition[2] of Politics is power which is interest-based, pursued by individuals groups, organizations and persons towards a common objective. At the core of it is the struggle for power and the safeguard of power and interest. The crux of my definition Politics has placed the cursor on interest and power-driven sought by competition.

This does not mean politics should be reduced to political parties’ competition. Politics is not mutually exclusive of social  and  human construct . It is in this vein that politics is ubiquitous in our daily life experience. In retrospect and with the happenings in our daily life, politics has not been investigated as having anything positive but evil. Politics cannot be viewed on the surface as such. The local parlance in Ghana that reduces Ghana’s politics to ‘political parties’ activities alone is myopic in its conceptualization. Beyond that, negating politics and denigrating it as dirty has no empirical basis. The lines between human behaviour and politics must be carefully investigated and drawn. The behaviorists view all happenings within the human social design. In this perspective, violence, conflicts, all malice that are portrayed in politics are viewed from the arena of behavior human perspective. It must not be excluded from this scope of human life to be categorized as an intrinsic element of politics. Hence politics is dirty. The investigation of all the challenges in politics by the behavioralists will place in the best place of it without the usual hasty fallacious generalization i.e. ‘politics is bad.’

The ubiquity of politics to be sure, comprise, human and societal levels and manifestation, state level and manifestation and purely academic level of study. In all these politics be it empirical or the normative can be tested for its validity.  

Among states, domestic and international relations possess high and low display of politics. Interest becomes the primary motor force or engine that drives and motivates the decisions of states. The zealously guided interest of states towards acquiring power- economic, military and technological is the causality of what we see in the outcome of states’ behaviour in the global system. More instructively, domestic politics and conditions of states affect its quest for power or interest globally. This is the highest level of states’ politics. This can be termed as the ‘real Politik.’ Politics manifesting in its practical sense. Here I don’t reduce politics in the practical sense to mean wars and conflicts. I use real Politik in the covert and overt conceptualization. The political terminology of ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ power is at the center there.

Politics as a discipline of study is purely scientific as mentioned in the above. The methodological approach to inquiry to the study of politics is my basis for this assertion. This paradigm exists in Social Science. In this view, politics is studied in connection with human and society, state and society relation and state to state levels of relations. Political inquiries start with a theory and apply all the scientific methods to address the hypothesis. This is predominantly, quantitative or qualitative based. The contemporary concentrically connected approach called the mixed methods is emerging with its usefulness to the study of Politics. The field of Politics and the discipline of Political Science comprise the core cum interdisciplinary approach. I have listed the following fields for a gist view of what goes on within the terrain or purview of Political Science.

The field of Politics as a discipline include this among others:

  • The Politics of States/Countries
  • Comparative Politics
  • International Politics
  • International Trade
  • Security Studies
  • Conflict and Peace Studies
  • International Organizations
  • Political Marketing
  • Political Theory
  • Public Administration and Policy
  • Public Law and Judicial Politics
  • Development Politics etc.

In conclusion, although the term politics has become a household word, it lacks certainty in definition among many of those who use it. If there is a definition offered to it, it appears through a partisan and perceived derogatory view. The classical definition viewed politics from the view of states activities. In a more practical cum theoretical view, politics goes beyond states’ affairs. Its borders cut across the social, cultural, economic, technological arena of human societies. The conjoining and associations of evil to politics arise based on the non-separation of human ills from politics itself. The classical saying that man is naturally and basically criminal must be investigated from the behavioral spectrum to avoid loading the burden and attributing the flaws of humans to politics. This will be continued. Pandora’s Box is opened!

Thank you. All comments and constructive critiques are welcome.

[1] The term Politics has become a term associated with filth. The political pundits and purists hold a different scholarly view about this. The report about politics and the practice of it globally have been dented with a misconception of evil that requires an intellectual perusal and study. In this article the author does a conceptualization of Politics and adduce the proof that it is sacrosanct from a scholar point of view. The broadening of the scope from its partisan angle to capture the holistic domain as Aristotle put it ‘Man is by nature a political animal’ situating my goal of the broader scope and the interdisciplinary approach to the study of Politics. This work does a somewhat the empirical and normative view of what is politics. This helps readers to navigate away from what is not to aggregate what it is. Above all it allays the fears of accepting academic works on what constitutes politics by NUGS China.*

[2] My operational definition teases out my own definition of Politics in this study. This definition seeks to orbit the theory and praxis of Politics and a simple but a more detailed compendium definition.

Ohene Opoku Agyemang-pic

Ohene Opoku Agyemang, PhD

(Political Scientist)
Email: oopoku56@gmail.com