Introduction to Politics the Basics

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.

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Conservative MP Steve Baker puts Politics: the Basics first on his recommended reading list for newcomers to the Conservative Candidates List.

"Politics, Political Theory, Political Philosophy" Thinking Philosophy (U3A Philosophy Network), Summer 2010, 11-14