Introduction to Politics


Politics:  Definition and Overview


Need for an orienting concept


Definitions of politics

1.      Harold Lasswell:  “Who gets what, when, how, and why."

2.      deRubertis:  The process through which social conflicts are resolved through binding and authoritative decisions that distribute advantages and disadvantages for society as a whole.


Essential elements of politics:  why people dislike politics


1.      Politics is a decision-making process.

2.      Politics is generated by social conflict that is largely a consequence of scarcity.

1.      Scarcity:  People’s desire for a good exceeds the quantities that are freely available from nature to satisfy that demand completely and simultaneously.
2.      Question:  How will society’s limited resources be used?  Who will benefit from their use?

3.      Political decisions are binding and authoritative.

1.      Binding:  Political decisions are not recommendations.  There will be sanctions imposed upon those who do not comply.
2.      Authoritative:  Authority is the quality that makes the exercise of power legitimate or rightful in the eyes of society.

4.      Political decisions are not neutral; there will always be winners and losers when a political decision is made.

5.      Politics is therefore always coercive since decisions are binding and biased in their impacts on society.

6.      Scope and domain of political authority are very broad.

1.      Domain of authority:  Persons or groups over which authority is exercised.

2.      Scope of authority:  Type of issues or conflicts over which authority is exercised.


Similarities and Differences Among Political Systems


All political systems share a common function or purpose, which is to serve as the conflict management subsystem for society.


The differences between political systems have to do with their structures--that is, their institutions and processes for decision-making.


NOTE:  A major objective of this course will be to describe and explain several structural features and decision-making procedures that distinguish the United States from other contemporary political systems.