Welcome to our first week of POLI330. This week, we will explore the difference between a government and its politics, as well as the importance behind the field of political science.
The Difference Between Government and Politics
To understand the difference between government and politics, let’s consider the following simulation. Imagine that you’re holding an uninflated balloon in your hand. It is flat and lifeless. Now picture yourself slowly filling the balloon with helium. The more you put into it, the bigger it becomes. When you tie it off and let it go, you then watch as the balloon floats into the air and, depending on the wind, goes one way or another. This symbolizes a perfect example of the relationship between government and politics. The uninflated balloon represents government. Without politics, it simply exists in a limp form. Its potential for something more is unapparent until the helium, representing politics, is introduced. The helium provides the balloon with a sense of direction—though at times it will take the balloon places you’d rather it didn’t. Can you now see their relation to one another?
As shown, politics and government are not the same and it isn’t possible to sense just how different and codependent they are. For example, if the world is a place with decreasing resources and increasing demand for access to those resources, how is it that decisions are made regarding their distribution? The answer is, in a word, politics, not governments. Two renowned political scientists, Harold Laswell and David Easton, have some pretty succinct ideas as to just what politics is. Laswell said it is the process of determining “who gets what, when, and how,” while Easton defined it as “the authoritative allocation of values.” Regardless of how it’s defined, politics by itself is useless without the mechanisms to execute its objectives. That’s where government comes into play. Government provides the structure, laws, and rules by which politics can then operate. Politics then provides the conversation of how these frameworks are used and interpreted within society.
When governments work well, they become guardians of security, prosperity, and continuity. When they don’t, they can be seen as impediments upon their citizens. As seen in democratic regimes, governments have to respond to challenges, or else get voted out of office. If people become unhappy with how government resolves the inevitable conflicts that emerge from the political process of deciding who gets what, when, and how, those governments (meaning leaders) are going to be replaced. Consequently, democratic governments proceed with great care to be sure they continue to enjoy public support. In contrast, undemocratic states do not always listen to the wants of their citizens, which over time can cause conflict. This clash again presents the use of politics. All in all, politics is an unavoidable component of every governmental structure.
The Study of Politics
Now that you understand the difference between a government and its politics, let’s turn our focus to the study of politics itself. When you hear the term political science, do you ever consider what this actually means? To begin, consider the root of these two words. First, political comes from the Greek word politika, referring to matters of state. Science, on the other hand, is the application of research based upon a specific set of scientific principles. With this basic analysis complete, we can now conclude that political science is simply a scientific study concerning state affairs.
In utilizing the scientific method, political scientists have the ability to collect empirical data, or factual information, which allows them to present conclusions regarding human behavior as it relates to political matters. They do this in an attempt to understand the actions of people as they come into contact with their governmental structures. Unfortunately for them, human behavior is not always predictable, which is why political science is categorized as a social science, rather than a natural science.
Political science is an academic field that has been around for over a century. Its importance is clearly represented every time a new world leader steps onto the scene, or each time one nation interacts with another. This is because every change of the political realm impacts those living within and outside of its boarders. As these scientists examine how and why political actions happen, such as the particular voting habits of people from a certain region based on historical findings, they provide factual data to support their conclusions. Over the coming weeks, we will see how much this field can then influence the study of so many other professions, such as your own.
Understanding the Political Spectrum
Understanding specific terms regarding the political spectrum are the key to unlocking its mysteries. This week, you will be taking the Political Compass Test during your CO Assessment activity. This is done to help you pinpoint your exact political stance on social and economic matters, and begins to present how the government impacts your daily interactions. To fully grasp your results, let’s begin by exploring the graph structure and the terms presented in this assignment.
The Graph Structure
- The horizontal perspective
- This line represents your views regarding how much control the government should have over the economy.
- The further right your dot moves, the more you support no regulation or control by the government.
- The further left your dot moves, the more you support complete regulation or control by the government.
- The vertical perspective
- This line represents your views regarding how much control the government should have on social matters or items concerning your daily life.
- The further up the scale your dot moves, the more you support governmental regulation of daily life, such as the creation of laws to maintain order, or to support certain fundamental beliefs.
- The further down the scale your dot moves, the more you support individual regulation, rather than government control, of daily life.
- The four terms provided on the graph represent the extremes people may support
- The right: All the way to the right presents the concept of 100% capitalism.
- This means no governmental regulation of business of any kind.
- This means a completely market-regulated economy.
- The left: All the way to the left presents the concept of 100% socialism.
- This means complete governmental regulation of business.
- Production is completely owned and operated by government.
- Authoritarian: All the way to the top presents the concept of an authoritarian government.
- This means complete government control over your daily life.
- For example, the government declares there is no religion within the country, or there is a national religion that all must follow. Or it tells you what you can or cannot know, as in controlling the media or the Internet.
- Libertarian: All the way to the bottom presents the concept of individual freedom to regulate your own actions.
- This means that regulations regarding what you can or cannot do are in your hands, or at least local government hands, rather than at the national level.
- For example, all individuals can possess guns, without any regulations such as gun safety classes, registration of firearms, or wait limits.
- The right: All the way to the right presents the concept of 100% capitalism.
Usually, people do not fall on the far points of the graph, but somewhere in between the extremes. Again, your results will vary depending how much power you think the government should have in regulating business and your daily interactions.
Although government and politics might seem completely alien ideas, they are, quite frankly inseparable. Politics decides who gets what, when, and how, and government is the system that oversees the process in a way that leaves individuals and society reasonably satisfied with the outcome, and with the opportunity to peacefully seek redress of their grievances if they’re not.
When it comes to the study of politics itself, it is important to understand that political science incorporates sound scientific methods as a means of understanding the political realm. This approach, although providing validity to the research, does not always provide a clear way to predict the future. This is because human nature can never be entirely anticipated even when grounded in pure science. However, the discipline of political science can make seemingly random acts make sense by explaining the patterns and cycles behind state behavior.