Politics: the Basics

Politics:the Basics sells all over the world and has been translated into Polish, Turkish, Arabic , Chinese, Brazilian Portuguese and Persian. (The Persian editions are unauthorised and may not be accurate). It is an introduction to the subject suitable for those with no previous academic background who are, or are considering, studying at undergraduate level. First published in 1995, it has been regularly updated, laterly by Dr Nigel Jackson of Plymouth University. World-wide sales exceed 30,000 copies.


The fifth edition of Politics: the Basics was published by Routledge in September 2014 & now costs £19.99 (Paperback),£84.99 (Hardback) £17.09 (ebook).

The  ISBN numbers are 978-0-415-844142-9 paperback;  978-0-415-84141-2, hardback; ebook versions  - 978-1-315-75474-4 .

The amendments to the fifth edition are primarily the work of Nigel Jackson. The blame for infelicities and errors remains, of course, with both of us.

The new chapter headings are:-











Who the Book is for ­ and what it is About


This book is designed as a basic introduction to twenty-first century politics. We do not claim to be able to predict with certainty the political shape of the century. However, it is already clear that many of the old perspectives of superpower rivalry, class and ideological warfare which dominated the Cold War seem to be of reduced relevance. Issues such as ecology, new technologies, Islam, terrorism, feminism and the role of what used to be described as the Third World (referred to as 'the South' in this book) are likely to move to centre stage. An introduction to politics that takes a parochial single country approach no longer seems sensible in an era of increased international interdependence.


The readers we have in mind are without a systematic knowledge of, or rigid attitudes towards, politics. This book is intended both to enable such readers to make up their minds about politics, and to understand more about the academic discipline of political science. In particular pre-university students, whether or not they have studied politics at school, have found this book a useful indication of the ground covered by university courses. The book has also been found useful for undergraduates beginning courses in politics. It has also formed the basis of short subsidiary courses in politics at undergraduate, postgraduate and extra-mural level. However, we hope that open-minded and intelligent older and younger readers will also find much of interest in this approach. Nor would we have any objection to the occasional practising politician quarrying something useful from the work!


We have not taken the view that a 'social scientific' approach requires the assumption of an attitude of detachment from the politics of the day. But neither have we tried to sell a short-term political programme. The approach here is to search for long-term principles that can help guide political actions. 'Politics' has been taken to mean the essential human activity of deciding how to live together in communities. This activity has been put in a long-term and wide geographical context. Frequent reference has been made to both Europe as a whole and the US as well as to the United Kingdom. The focus is on the relatively prosperous industrialised countries of the 'West', but this cannot be detached from those of the rest of the world. Previous editions of the book have sold all over the world and been published in Polish, Arabic and Portuguese. We hope this edition too will be of interest to readers world-wide. In considering such an ambitious agenda we have drawn extensively on the work of many academics, whose ideas have in many cases already been borrowed (often in caricatured form) by politicians.


In a book designed to help readers to make up their own minds about politics, no attempt has been made to hide the authors’ liberal and socially progressive point of view. This has inevitably been reflected in such matters as the choice of topics for discussion. Yet it is hoped to give a fair representation of all other major points of view, and to give an indication of where the reader can find accessible versions of alternative perspectives at first-hand.


How the Book is Organised

The book begins with a discussion of the nature of politics and the variety of academic approaches to its understanding. The next two chapters illustrate how and why politics is exercised, the following chapter then surveys competing ideas about the aims of that political activity.


The next four chapters consider in more detail what and how political decisions are reached. Chapter Five reviews the variety of different states. Chapter Six views politics beyond domestic confines and considers international politics. Chapter Seven considers the detail of how decisions are made. Chapter Eight addresses more specifically some particular areas of public policy making, the limitations of public policy making processes and the role of individuals in politics are discussed. The last chapter looks ahead to the key issues and problems which liberal democracies face.


How to Use This Book

There are many ways to attempt to introduce students to a discipline, and in this book we have chosen to concentrate on introducing some of the major arguments within politics and the concepts associated with them. Logically we have begun with the methodology and boundaries of a discipline. Complete novices to the subject may find this introductory chapter of limited interest at first and can be forgiven for skipping through the second half of the chapter at first reading.


Students already started on a politics course should find that this broader perspective on their studies stimulates more thought than many more detailed and limited textbooks. It should prove useful especially at the beginning of such courses and by way of revision at the end. It is also intended to help those contemplating such courses to decide if politics is the appropriate subject for them. By encouraging an evaluation of the reader's own political position and analysing many basic political concepts as part of a sustained argument, we hope to encourage a critical and individual approach which is more valuable than a more 'factual' approach both in the examination room and in practice.


A feature of the book which readers should find particularly useful is the definition of key concepts found in Boxes at intervals in the text and indexed in capitals at the end. Students will quickly find that any work they submit which does not clearly define its terms will obtain an unfriendly reception, and, conversely, such definitions contribute greatly to clear analysis and communication.

More About Politics: the Basics

There is an additional page on this site Notes and Queries which records the history of the book and includes corrections and answers to queries from readers of general interest.

Politics Web Links

7 Links

Political Studies Association
Association for lecturers in Politics in UK (and others interested in politics) - excellent general source of information on Politics.Contains briefing papers on House of Lords Reform, AV etc.
Publishers of Politics: the Basics and Business, Information Technology and Society
House of Commons Library
As impartial information as you will find from the House of Commons Library on many policy issues as well as parliamentary activities
Full Fact
Another good source of balanced comment on policy issues including Coronovirus, vaccines, Brexit, abortion etc. A charity devoted to checking factual assertions by media and campaigners
CIA World Fact Book
Interesting material on every country in the world. (Allow for the obvious bias of where the material comes from!)
Political Data Yearbook
Basic data on government and politics for all European countries and some other major powers.
Academic Earth
Includes Free Yale University Introduction to Political Philosophy course. See also FutureLearn on Adult Education Links List.

Another Publication

 25th Sep 2010

"Politics, Political Theory, Political Philosophy" Thinking Philosophy (U3A Philosophy Network), Summer 2010, 11-14. This is the text of a lecture to the Bournemouth U3A Philosophy Workshop. It is mainly based on Chapter 1 of Politics: the Basics. If you would like to read this, please contact me via the contact button on most pages of the site.