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.