Key Concepts in Politics

Key Concepts in Politics

Key Concepts in Politics

Key Concepts in Politics

Synopsis

This is an accessible and comprehensive guide to the major concepts encountered in political analysis. Each is defined clearly and fully, and its significance for political argument and practice is explored.

Excerpt

Concepts have a particular importance for students of politics. It is no exaggeration to suggest that political argument often boils down to a struggle over the legitimate meaning of terms. Enemies may argue, fight and even go to war, each claiming to be ‘defending freedom’, ‘upholding democracy’ or ‘supporting justice’. The problem is that words such as ‘freedom’, ‘democracy’ and ‘justice’ have different meanings to different people, so that the concepts themselves come to seem problematic.

At least three reasons can be suggested to explain the unusual importance of concepts in political analysis. The first is that political analysis typically deals in generalisations. The significance of this can be highlighted by considering differences between politics and history in this respect. Whereas a historian is likely to want to make sense of a particular event (say, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution or the Eastern European Revolutions of 1989–91), a political analyst is more likely to study such events with a view to making sense of a larger or more general phenomenon, in this case the phenomenon of revolution. For historians a special study of the concept of ‘revolution’ is of marginal value, because what they are primarily interested in is what is different, even unique, about a particular set of events. For political analysts, on the other hand, a study of the concept of ‘revolution’ is not only necessary – it is the very process through which political enquiry proceeds.

The second reason is that the language used by students of politics is largely the same as that used by practitioners of politics, and particularly by professional politicians. As the latter are primarily interested in political advocacy rather than political understanding, they have a strong incentive to use language to manipulate and sometimes confuse. This, in turn, forces students of politics to . . .

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