by Roger Bourke White Jr., copyright April 2012
Politics is about how a community makes important decisions that effect the community. Politics is the top of the community decision-making heap. Other institutions can handle decision making, such as religious institutions, healthcare providers and charities, but when push-comes-to-shove the political institutions make the final choices.
Sounds simple, but it's not. Humans have been arguing about the best way to handle politics since they learned how to argue. This argument has gotten more diverse in its points of view as prosperity has made the human lifestyle more diverse.
This essay is about some of those changes.
The choice of which political systems a community embraces is deeply connected to the lifestyle of the community. If the community is living in a primitive, low resource environment -- the Neolithic Village environment, as I call it -- then the community size will be small and the politics will be centered on kinship. There will be a band and a band leader who gets advice from the band elders. This is the simplest and earliest political system.
When a community becomes agricultural all sorts of changes take place, and one of those changes is in the politics. It now becomes important to have an "absolute ruler" because suppressing band and tribal feuding becomes important. This ruler is absolute as far as the lower classes are concerned, the peasants and artisans, but among those who support this ruler and have wealth of their own -- the priests and nobles -- the relation can show a lot more variation. The ruler needs their support, so things can be more democratic.
The coming of the Industrial and Information Ages has brought even more variety to human lifestyles and even more variety to political systems. We now have dozens of "ocracies", but what they all have in common is some form of decision-making at the top and some way of enforcing those decisions throughout the community. This is politics.
Politics is as old as mankind having an organized community, it is how the community's top-level decisions are made. But how it is expressed depends a lot on the environment the community is living in, and as a community's environment changes it politics will change as well.