Politics > Government and Politics > The Unit that Counts

The Unit that Counts in Politics

Persons, Alliances, Factions

Political power refers to «the power to influence choices made by a group».

All political power, like the power of ethical choice, starts as the possession of a person e.g. in a small group like a family or a team, political power is naturally personal.

However, as a group increases in size, it becomes increasingly difficult for a person to exert influence alone. Small groups that share political objectives then form.

Political alliances often have shifting membership. When stable and enduring, alliances are termed «factions». These may become formalized. Members of political alliances or factions work together to influence choices affecting the group as a whole.

The Primary Unit in Society

Due to the size and complexity of a society, the uniqueness of individual members cannot be managed. When choices are made for society, specific individuals are not considered. Instead, society views its members by virtue of a general abstract quality like class, status, wealth, role.

So a person is identified as a mother, doctor, journalist, resident, citizen, consumer, tax-payer, catholic, voter, pensioner, trade unionist, prisoner, immigrant, child, middle-class &c. 

An aggregation of individuals—like a crowd at a rally, children, a socio-economic class—increases its chances of becoming a politically relevant group if it organizes itself to this end, or others do that on their behalf.

The result is that a single person alone cannot influence societal choices, only a group can do this—via certain of its individual members, of course.

As a result, the primary unit of politics is the «organised group» of some of society’s members. To obtain and maintain access to the levers of power and wealth in society, the group needs sufficient size, organisation and determination. The situation that results is:

Any person seeking to exert political power must choose or form a suitable group as their base and serve that group's interests. As interests are not inherently ethical, the seeds of future problems are sown.

Social Groups in Society

Active organized groups define and sustain the structure of power in society, and largely determine political choices by governments. Groups typically represent interests or ideas: so the departure of any individual member has no more than a transient effect.

Societies evolve as a result of geographical and historical circumstances, usually including waves of conquest and immigration. So there are numerous sub-divisions into personal identifications based variously on social status, religion, ethnicity, beliefs, languages, occupations, interests and life-styles.

Some of these groups, like ethnicity, are given; while others, like occupation, can be personally chosen. Any of these can form the basis for political association and may lead to formation of a political party.

ClosedVarieties of Politically-aware Group

The inescapable political challenge is to handle the plurality of groups in society by ensuring that their members support or at least tolerate society’s political institutions, political modus operandi, and specific choices. Hence the term:  «pluralism».

Originally posted: July 2009; Last updated: 24-Feb-2014

All posted material is part of a scientific project and should be regarded as provisional. Visitors are encouraged to think through the topics and propositions for themselves. Copyright © Warren Kinston 2009-2016.
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