What Is Politics?

28 Pages Posted: 20 Feb 2007 Last revised: 20 Oct 2007

See all articles by T. J. Donahue

T. J. Donahue

Institute for Philosophical Research, UNAM

Date Written: October 14, 2007


What is politics? An oddity of political philosophy is that it spends so little time answering this question. By contrast, "What is law?" is almost universally considered the chief question of legal philosophy, and "What is morality?" is a question moral philosophers regularly address. But political philosophers rarely ask what politics essentially is. Yet this question is important, because unless we answer it, then we shan't know what is common to all instances of politics, wherever and whenever they are to be found. In answer to the question, this paper argues that politics is the activity of either (1) making, breaking, or preserving the general arrangements of a group's affairs, or (2) trying to get a group to take a certain action when some group members of the group oppose taking it, where one can use any means to pursue this activity, except violence against others. I call this the "Arrangements of Affairs Thesis." In arguing for this thesis, I first consider and refute 15 leading analyses of the concept of politics offered by political writers. I then explicate the Thesis by discussing its implications. I then argue for the Thesis and refute two objections to it: an argument from politics's essentially concerning the pursuit of social power, and an argument from manipulation's being sufficient for politics.

Keywords: Nature of politics, concept of politics, arrangements of affairs, rules, group actions, violence, power

JEL Classification: D70, H10, P16

Suggested Citation

Donahue, T. J., What Is Politics? (October 14, 2007). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=963511 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.963511

T. J. Donahue (Contact Author)

Institute for Philosophical Research, UNAM ( email )

Circuito Maestro Mario de la Cueva s/n
Ciudad Universitaria
Coyoacán, Mexico, Distrito Federal C.P. 04510

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