Remember the End

What is Politics?

Given the current climate of the world, I thought a short essay on Political Philosophy might be in order. As we delve deeper into the COVID-19 crisis that grips the world, it is more important than ever that we take stock and understand the rights and responsibilities we have as citizens of our countries.

Political Philosophy takes it’s history, as almost all great philosophies from the Greeks. The root of the word Political is the Greek word πόλις or Polis (plural Poleis), which means “the City”, specifically referring to the administrative and religious centre of a city where the business of public policy took place. Generally, if we’re talking about a Polis, we’re talking about one of those great City-States we are familiar with: Sparta, Athens, Thebes, etc. Each Polis had its own form of Government, however most importantly to this discussion, the City-State of Athens had a relatively unique (for the time) form of Government, involving it’s “common people” who are known the δῆμος or Demos. This type of rule is known as δημοκρατία dēmokratía or (literally) “rule by the people”, and is more commonly known to modern society as Democracy. The people who were eligible to engage in this work were known as πολίτης or Politis, in English: Citizens; literally “Members of the City”.

Polis, the City. Demos, the Populace. Politis, Member of the City.

It is imperative to note that the Athenian definition of democracy was not as inclusive as that of today. Citizen were always men and almost exclusively ethnically Greek. Women, slaves, and foreigners had no political rights in Ancient Athens, so only about 20% of the total population was eligible to be politically active. Sparta had more freedoms for women than most Poleis, and even let them be educated, but most people who were under Spartan rule were part of a slave class known as Helots. They had almost twice the amount of slaves per capita than Athens.

The roots of our modern form of Government are found in Ancient Greece, and having an understanding of the components of these political systems gives you a real understanding of the source of many of our contemporary political systems. Today, it is slightly different, as we have a Representative Democracy in most modern countries, which enables Politis to vote for representatives on fixed terms who engage in the business of the Demos by proxy, at our Polis or centre of Government. The requirements to become a citizen are much less stringent and no longer discriminate based on sex, race, wealth, or background in most modern countries.

Fundamentally the power of Government is held by those who participate and enforce the system through participation, the Citizens. When the Government stops responding to the desire of the wants of the Citizenry, they are removed. Ultimately political power is wielded by individuals, and individuals need to be aware of their motivations, what outcomes they want from their political representatives, and what they can do within the system.

Adam is a student at Deakin University, studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in Philosophy. This blog is about making the learning experience more helpful by encouraging me to write and share.