Politics In Politics

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In the history of political science, there is a long tradition which identifies the very emergence of politics with an attempt to avoid the inevitable conflicts that structure human existence. For example, Thomas Hobbes is commonly interpreted as a crucial figure in the history of “social contract” theories, whereby the organization of political entities such as governments is the result of an attempt by the human community to preserve itself against conflict. As Mushred (2012) concisely summarizes this Hobbes’ position: “the state of nature as anarchical, akin to perpetual war, with each man taking what he could and no legal basis for right or wrong. Consequently, it was in the interest of individuals to collectively surrender their personal freedom of action….in return for personal security and rule-based interactions in society.” (p. 59) This is an intuitive position: political forms of organization guarantee some sense of conflict resolution through shared norms and laws. However, from another perspective, it is also apparent that politics itself produces its own series of conflicts. For example, realist theories of international relations maintain that politics is itself defined by struggles for power between political actors. This thesis is also clearly valid for a political actor such as a nation-state’s internal politics, as in democracy, for example, there is clear conflict between political parties regarding what policies to pursue. Accordingly, conflict is unavoidable for politics. The question as to whether political institutions in contemporary societies remain adequate to resolve conflict is in this sense profound, to the extent that it is a question concerning the essence of politics itself. Namely, if politics rem...

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...element of conflict even when problems are claimed to be politically resolved through consensus.
From this perspective, the question as to whether politics can or cannot adequately resolve conflict takes a new form, whereby the question becomes whether the conflicts that are essential to politics simply become so debilitating that political organizations such as governments can no longer function. If conflict is essential to politics, therefore, then we cannot expect politics to resolve all conflict: it rather, instead, must be expected to continually re-define where irresolvable conflict lies in the social organization. This is not a critique of the effectiveness of politics itself, but rather a critique of what we expect from politics: it becomes a naïve position to think that politics can resolve all our conflicts if it is in fact founded in forms of conflict.
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