Author: Naldo Helmys*
If everyone could get what they want, there would be no politics. Then, what politics is? While this article does not provide rigid definition, here is the essence of politics you might want to know.
We live in an unequally limited world. Mostly people cannot get what they want, purchase expensive things, control natural resources, decide injustice regulation, or obtain privilege. However, about top 1% population get unmatched access not only for basic needs, but also luxurious things. Common folks accept that inequality, but the rest do not want to rest. They strive for public goods to be accessible properly, power and authority to be controlled and supervised, resources and wealth to be distributed equally, and law to be implemented justly. Some political movements endeavour to actualize human rights so that marginal and minor groups are able to live as free as noble or royal family.
However, there is only imperfect world. Human being exists with problem and difficulties. We, Homo sapiens, are the only creature that had created two world wars, besides there is no end of violent conflicts throughout history. We contribute to pollute environment thanks to transportation, food, and home energy use. Even historian Jared Diamond accuses prehistoric human of doing huge mammal extinction in America and Australia before 9000 B.C. Besides, for the sake of country, religion, tribe, or other identities, we kill each other.
Then, how to strive a common good life? Who will rule? Who will be ruled? What kind of legitimacy should authorities bear to govern societies? Those are common examples of political problem, and here is the essential aspect of politics you should know.
Politics is Strategy to Achieve Common Goals
According to both Bible and the Qur’an, human being was expelled from heaven. Unlike living in the Garden of Eden, human should struggle to meet even their basic needs. How to do that? Politics could be, if not the only one, an answer.
In Arabic, politics is called siyâsah, which meant tactics or strategy. It is obvious why Arabian names the term like that, isn’t it? People deploy advance strategy to get important political gain. While many strategies are pervasive, they could be grouped into two: conflict and cooperation. Do not limit the political conflict with warfare, battle, or arm struggle since it could be experienced in peaceful situation such as in democratic presidential election to vote the best one among the candidates. Sometimes certain political party oppose one candidate but make compromise with one’s rival. By cooperation, we could mention diplomacy, agreement, convention, alignment, or even ceasefire. This action of getting together is noticeable either in war or peace.
What define either conflictual or cooperative strategy using? It depends on political interest. Be considered that this interest cannot be individual purpose. A younger child, for instance, can use brilliant strategy to get the biggest slice of cake among his or her sibling. It was not politics though it was strategy. What we meant by politics should be social activity requiring collective action. One can complain by using Facebook that the air quality is poor, but it cannot be politics. However, if that complain provokes many user accounts, and then collectively demands that the parliament regulate industries and motor vehicle users not to pollute the air in certain limit, it could be politics. Ergo, the first elemental point is what we call politics actually is strategy to achieve common needs.
Moralistic or Realistic Goals?
A Greek philosophers Aristotle argued that politics is beyond the strategy to get what we need. While communities are getting complexes, issues that are more political emerge. Who should rule the community? What kind of authority they should have? Where does legitimacy to rule come from? Those questions are often related to what political goals and ends are demanded from. In other word, though people could agree that politics is about achieving mutual goals, they have a different opinion over what that is meant by common purpose. This is the second essence of politics.
Regarding political ends, look at two main perspectives. First is moralism. Moralist argues that politics should be directed to reach substantial goals or to protect the most important values. To illustrate, by this point politics aim to bring justice, equality, liberty, happiness, fraternity, or national self-determination into reality. What will happen if this spirit takes too-far goals? In extreme point, moralist hunger after ideal state or utopia. This term is named after Thomas More’s Utopia, but the tenet itself had been discussed in Plato’s Republic and Al-Farabi’s the Virtuous City. Let us check them whether you are interested.
While pursuing value is so substantial, what if moralists have no power to hold. Is it possible to implement justice without power? Could equality emerge naturally or should be constructed politically with power?
By focusing on power, we should deal with the second paradigm, realism. Power should be reached first preceding other political goals. Meanwhile, since this purpose is too hard to achieve by compromise, realists then focus more in conflict and war, rather than cooperation and peace. They are even more cynical toward human nature as Thomas Hobbes mentioned it, “all men against each other.” It might be no other ways to govern society than ensuring first that power has already been grabbed. Thus, spoke Niccolò Machiavelli in his work, the Prince. So, politics has moralistic or realistic goals.
Dividing moralism and realism is not rigid, and it does not mean being moralist you could not be realistic, or vice versa. So be ready when another paradigm exists. Confucianism is an example. Having been one of the main Chinese philosophers, Confucius values how public administrators do behave as his main political goal. If they are wise, the State will run well. People require model to act, and leader could fit that role by becoming junzi or superior man, which having both power and substantial values such as wisdom, allegiance, and sincerity. So, this is an alternative if you will not be confused whether to choose ideal or realistic goals. Being pragmatic could be an option in political essence.
Well, we have depicted what politics is and what its ends are in general. The next to describe is political thoughts. Imagine a parliamentary election in a direct democratic country. Before the voting day, the candidates deploy all their energy and strategy to keep parliamentary seat. They registered themselves in strong political party and lured constituents to vote them. They do politics in practical sense. However, after the election, what if none of them have no good political thoughts and ideas? It is not a joke, isn’t it?
Our next discussion will be some political thoughts briefly. It includes political philosophy as well as ideology. So, if you are interested how to differentiate between liberalism and communism for example or are wondered by some eastern political thoughts such as Islamism or Indonesian Pancasila, stay tune in our website.