All Things Political

By Maeve Maddox

During the Pope’s visit to the United States, social media and television abounded with comments discussing what is and isn’t political.

For example, a television anchor expressed surprise that anyone would categorize such things as “caring for the poor, protecting religious minorities and integrating refugees” as political: “I think we are in a weird place in the world when [such things] are considered political.”

The anchor’s surprise would have surprised Aristotle (384-322 B.C.E.):

The end [or goal] of politics is the best of ends; and the main concern of politics is to engender a certain character in the citizens and to make them good and disposed to perform noble actions.”—Aristotle, “Nicomachean Ethics.”

English owes the words politics and political to an ancient Greek word that meant “public matters, civic affairs.” Through time, different meanings have attached to these words.

Here are traditional definitions of politics:

The science or study of government and the state.

Activities or policies associated with government.

Public life and affairs involving matters of authority and government.

Public life and affairs viewed as a profession.

The word politics is also used in the context of nongovernmental activities:

Management or control of private affairs and interests, especially as regards status or position. For example, “office politics.”

The political ideas, beliefs, or commitments of a particular individual, organization, etc. For example, “the politics of the NEA,” “the politics of a film,” “the politics of George Clooney.”

(with an indefinite article) A political structure, outlook, or ideology. For example, “a politics of denial,” a politics of denunciation,” “a politics of love.”

For many modern speakers, the word politics has a derogatory connotation. For example, “to play politics” is “to act on an issue for personal or political gain rather than from principle.”

Like the noun, the adjective has more than one application. A “political issue,” for example, is an issue associated with government policy. A “political football” is a subject of contentious political debate. “Political correctness” is language or behavior intended to avoid controversy.

In a broad sense, political describes just about anything that affects the way people live their lives in an organized state.

Here are a few random quotations on the topic of politics:

In politics stupidity is not a handicap.—Napoleon Bonaparte

In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics.’ All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred and schizophrenia.—George Orwell.

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.—H. L. Mencken.

The greatest power is not money power, but political power.—Walter Annenberg.

I believe that political correctness can be a form of linguistic fascism, and it sends shivers down the spine of my generation who went to war against fascism.—P. D. James.

Politics is the greatest calling in a democracy.—Boyd A. Martin.

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5 Responses to “All Things Political”

  • John

    “I think we are in a weird place in the world when [such things] are considered political.” Really? How can he possibly be surprised by that when in US even a scientific matter like global warming is considered only a political issue?

  • Ben Throop

    Harry Truman knew he was a politician. As President he described his supposed great powers as “kicking and kissing people to make them do what they ought to have done in the first place”.

  • Caitlin

    Surely “caring for the poor, protecting religious minorities and integrating refugees” are quintessentially political, even as just matters for debate. I don’t think the anchorman has any idea what ‘political’ means; he must see the term as pejorative.

  • Mike Rose

    Climate change is absolutely not “only” a political topic in the United States. We do, in fact, have scientists. We also have one or two educated citizens floating about. Oh, there’s one now. “Hi, Bill.” (Bill says “hi” and is wearing a t-shirt with a picture of Earth on it, which proves beyond any doubt that for him, climate change is more than just a political topic.)

  • venqax

    Hmm… Probably best to say, on a writing site, that the “political” nature of any subject regards the Who, What, and How…if At All… the subject should be addressed by public policy, i.e. “the government”. In that sense the anchor in question is expressing his ignorance (at the least) on more than one level and why anyone should be surprised by that is a question that should be second to, When did making such a statement publically cease to be an embarrassment if not a career-ender for anyone in media with aspirations of being taken seriously? The idiocracy that governs media coverage today is as vast and all-encompasing as it is vapid and shallow.

    As for “climate global warming change” or whatever it’s being called this week, it is political for exactly the same reasons that poverty and unicorns are. The latest from Freeman Dyson is worth checking for those who have been convinced that all the smart people know that around 3 o’clock next Wednesday the world will burst into flame unless we shut down all of the power plants and stop driving anywhere by 8 pm today.

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